By R. Morgan Griffin WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD
You’ve heard about the foods that can make your heartburn worse, from coffee to chocolate to tomatoes. But what about foods that could make your heartburn better? Check out some key eats you should add to your diet.
Eat More Low-Acid Foods
When acid and other liquids in your stomach back up into your esophagus, you get heartburn. The acid that’s already in your stomach isn’t the only problem, though.
The natural acids in foods you eat – like many fruits, vegetables, and drinks — play a role, too, says Bani Roland, MD. She is a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. To curb heartburn, build your meals around naturally low-acid foods like:
Melons and bananas. While most fruits have a high acid content, these don’t. Bananas are always handy as a snack food. All sorts of melons are good, like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.
Oatmeal. It’s a great way to start your day. Oatmeal doesn’t cause reflux, it’s filling, and it has lots of healthy fiber.
Bread. Choose whole-grain – it will be the first ingredient on the label – which is made with unprocessed grains. Other healthy-sounding breads – like wheat, whole-wheat, or 7-grain – may be made with refined grains, which are stripped of natural fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients.
Rice and couscous. These healthy complex carbs are great if you have reflux. When choosing rice, go for brown rice, which has more fiber.
Green veggies. Broccoli, asparagus, green beans, celery, and cauliflower are all low in acid.
Lean poultry and meats. Prepare chicken and turkey grilled, broiled, baked, or steamed. Just remove the skin – and don’t fry it, Roland says. Even ground beef and steak can be fine, as long as they’re lean.
Potatoes. Other root vegetables are good, too – just not onions.
Fish. Grilled, poached, and baked fish are all good choices. Just don’t fry it or use fatty sauces.
Egg whites. They’re a good source of protein and are low in acid. Just skip the yolk, which is more likely to cause symptoms.
You can’t tell how acidic a food is by looking at it. It’s not on the nutrition label either. But you can research a food’s pH, which is a score of its acid content. The lower the pH number, the higher the acid — lemon juice has a pH of 2.0. If you aim for foods with a pH of 5 or above, you may have fewer symptoms. You can find the pH level of foods on some government sites and in low-acid diet cookbooks.
More Foods to Soothe Heartburn
Other foods and herbs have long been treatments for reflux and upset stomach. But keep in mind that while they may provide relief for some, “they won’t work for everyone,” says gastroenterologist Jay Kuemmerle, MD, of Virginia Commonwealth University. You might want to try:
Fennel. This crunchy vegetable with a licorice flavor makes a great addition to salads. There’s some evidence that fennel can improve your digestion. It has a pH of 6.9, so it’s low in acid, too.
Ginger. A long-standing natural treatment for upset stomach, ginger does seem to have benefits for reflux.
Parsley. That sprig of parsley on your plate isn’t only for decoration. Parsley has been a traditional treatment for upset stomach for hundreds of years. And there’s some evidence that it can help with acid reflux.
Aloe vera. This is another old treatment for GI problems that seems to help with reflux. You can buy aloe vera as a plant or as a supplement — in capsules, juices, and other forms. It works as a thickener in recipes.Just make sure it’s free of anthraquinones (primarily the compound aloin), which can be irritating to the digestive system.
Fight Heartburn With Healthy Food
Add the right foods to your diet. They could really help with your heartburn. But there are limits to what they can do.
Remember that good foods can’t counteract the effects of trigger foods. “Eating a little ginger won’t stop you from getting heartburn after a big dinner of a fatty steak, a salad with tomatoes, a couple of glasses of wine, and a coffee,” Kuemmerle says.
And while eating a low-acid diet is a good strategy, it may not be enough on its own. For some people it’s not so much the acids in the stomach, but the reflux of other stuff in gastric juices – like bile – that trigger heartburn, he says.
“The specific causes of heartburn vary a lot from person to person,” Kuemmerle says. “That’s why treatment always needs a personalized approach.”