Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the back of the esophagus, the tube responsible for transporting food from the mouth to the stomach, cannot close properly. When this occurs, food particles, acids and other stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. This can lead to burning and irritation. There are various ways to treat GERD, one of which is the implementation of the GERD diet, which can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatment plans, depending on the severity of the condition.
Individuals who suffer from GERD often experience heartburn, which is a feeling of burning in the throat or the chest. Some individuals also complain of a bitter taste in the back of the mouth, as a result of acid indigestion. Most people will experience this from time to time. However, if these conditions occur more than twice per week, you should be evaluated by your physician and checked for GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux can affect not only adults, but also children and even infants. If left untreated, GERD can lead to additional health problems, some of which may require medication or surgery.
How Can The GERD Diet Help
The gastroesophageal reflux diet is a special diet that was developed to help individuals suffering from GERD decrease their symptoms. The diet is widely used by those who suffer from GERD or any other conditions that develop as a result of GERD. These other conditions include:
- Ulcers of the esophagus
The GERD diet is not intended as a replacement for medication, but as a complementary approach that works together with lifestyle modification and drug therapy to bring the condition under control. By following the GERD diet, individuals can decrease or even prevent the occurrence of reflux, which in turn will result in less incidence of irritation and inflammation of the esophageal tissue.
Foods To Avoid On The GERD Diet
While there are many foods that individuals can eat that do not cause reflux, of more importance is avoiding the foods that are known irritants to the esophageal tissue. Some foods that should be avoided by individuals on the GERD diet include:
- Coffee, both regular and decaffeinated
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Carbonated beverages
The above list is not inclusive and not all individuals who have GERD will be affected by these foods. Individuals who suffer from GERD may wish to create a food journal, in which they document all of the foods that they eat and note any side effects that develop as a result of those foods. By doing so, they will know exactly which foods should be avoided.
Foods To Consume On The GERD Diet
There are numerous foods that can safely be consumed by individuals with GERD without triggering a reaction. The most common foods that individuals on the GERD diet consume are:
- Whole grain cereals, breads, rolls and pasta
- Brown rice
- Saltines and graham crackers
- Bananas, apples and other fresh fruits that are non-acidic
- Salad greens, steamed broccoli and other fresh vegetables
- Skim milk and low-fat yogurt (regular or frozen)
- Lean cuts of beef
- Skinless chicken breast, broiled or baked
- Jelly, jam, margarine, low-calorie mayonnaise, mustard
Additional Treatment For GERD
Initially, treatment for GERD symptoms generally begins with over-the-counter medications that help to balance out and better control acid levels. Types of over-the-counter acid medications that are commonly used include:
- Antacids. Antacids work to neutralize the acids in the stomach. They work quickly and offer temporary relief. They are available in liquid form and as chewables. Antacids will not heal a damaged esophagus, they only offer temporary relief.
- H-2 receptor blockers. These blockers are medications that are used to help decrease the amount of acid that is produced. They are not as fast-acting as antacids, however, the relief that they provide lasts much longer.
- Proton pump inhibitors. These medications work by temporarily preventing acid from being produced. By blocking acid production, the esophageal tissue is given time to heal.
Individuals who do not find relief from the GERD diet and over-the-counter medications should speak with their doctor about prescription strength medications. Both H-2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors are available in prescription strength. Also available by prescription are prokinetic agents, which can help speed up the time it takes for the stomach to empty its contents. When none of the above methods work to effectively control GERD, surgery may be necessary. Together with your doctor, you can determine which is the best course of treatment.
When on the GERD diet, there are some additional steps that you can take to help bring your GERD symptoms under control. Home care treatments include:
- Avoid eating within 2 hours of bedtime
- Refrain from lying down after eating
- Sleep on your left side
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat small meals frequently
- Chew gum (not mint) to increase saliva production
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing
- Limit the amount of fat in your diet
- Steer clear of fried foods
- Keep the head of your bed elevated or use a wedge to keep your head elevated
- Refrain from smoking
- Try herbal remedies such as chamomile, licorice, marshmallow and slippery elm
- Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and guided imagery
- Try alternative methods such as acupuncture or massage therapy
Although there is no specific diet that has been proven to effectively prevent GERD and its associated symptoms, the GERD diet has offered significant relief for many individuals who suffer from GERD. The most effective way to use the GERD diet is to implement a food journal that keeps detailed records of foods eaten and the development of symptoms associated with particular foods.
Many people will find success in managing their GERD symptoms with the use of the GERD diet and lifestyle changes. Individuals who continue to suffer from GERD despite the efforts above may require additional treatment in the form of over-the-counter medications, prescription drug therapy or surgery.