First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.  Consistent acid reflux can be a sign of more serious problems than over-indulging in pizza. But after that– there are also some choices you make with your fork that can help or harm you.

What is acid reflux?

In short, your stomach has a little valve at the top.  Normally, it closes pretty tightly after you finish swallowing.  Sometimes, it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, the food and acid found in your stomach can be pushed back up into the esophagus.  Your esophagus isn’t designed to tolerate that acid, so it can be damaged (which hurts!).

A certain pattern of severe acid reflux is called GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disorder.  Gastroenterologists usually diagnose and manage this condition.

How can nutrition help with acid reflux or GERD?

So why does overindulging in a wing, pizza, and beer night lead to reflux symptoms?  First, the spicy sauces with wings are a trigger.  Second, the tomato sauce can be a trigger.  Third, alcohol is a likely culprit.  Finally, a large meal later in the day often leads to night-time symptoms.

Several basic steps can help manage acid reflux symptoms.

  1.  Avoid alcohol.  At least most of the time– it relaxes that little valve, so it opens more easily.
  2. Reduce or avoid caffeine.
  3. Eat several smaller meals instead of one large meal.  For example, instead of a large lunch, eat a morning snack, a light lunch, and an afternoon snack.
  4. Avoid eating for four hours before bed, if possible.
  5. Limit irritating foods.

Often, the first four steps are enough to manage symptoms most of the time.  Other people have to limit trigger foods and add in some lifestyle changes (like stress management or changes in the way they sleep) to help.

Do you know what foods trigger your symptoms?

Keep reading to learn about some possible culprits.

Foods that can trigger acid reflux

Occasionally, even after making basic changes to how they eat, people may find that some additional foods still lead to symptoms. Some common problem foods include:

  • Tomatoes and tomato-based sauces
  • Chili peppers and hot sauces
  • Peppermint candies and gums
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Fried food
  • Garlic and/or onions.

If you don’t experience symptoms after consuming one of these foods, there is no reason to avoid it.  But if you are experiencing symptoms after eating, it may be helpful to consider whether one of these (or another) food may be the culprit.  A dietitian can help you figure which foods are problems.

When there are many irritating foods, or someone continues to have symptoms often, I refer them to their doctor or gastroenterologist for evaluation.  It’s important to manage frequent acid reflux (called GERD) which can damage the esophagus.  In rare cases, GERD even leads to a type of pre-cancer called Barrett’s esophagus.

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