A balanced, healthy diet is not only essential for quality of life, it is necessary for acid reflux relief. Regardless of your weight and BMI, if you suffer from acid reflux disease, eating a healthy diet is a must.
Learn more: Why diet matters for ALL people with GERD
Diet fads come in and out of style faster than most of us can keep up. Just when you think you understand what “healthy” means, a new diet comes along that challenges everything you thought you knew. In the eighties, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the rage. Then came the high protein, low carbohydrate craze. These fads seem to stick around until they are proven unhealthy or unsafe or until a new diet promising better results comes along, but one diet model has consistently proven safe and effective: the DASH Diet.
The DASH diet is the result of largest and most comprehensive diet research study ever undertaken. In the early 1990s, The National Institute of Health, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, funded a research study on the role of dietary patterns on blood pressure to help address the alarming increase of that disease. The initiative lasted four years and included five of the leading health research centers across the country. Though this diet’s creation had the specific intent of lowering blood pressure, the DASH Diet would become a gold standard model for a well-balanced diet that applies to all. Since its creation, the DASH Diet’s proven philosophies have time and again been a life changer for many who have followed its guidelines and principals.
The DASH Diet focuses on ensuring adequate intake of fiber, protein, minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, antioxidants, and vitamins. It also aims to significantly limit sodium, unhealthy fats, and calories. Those are just some of the reasons we based RefluxMD’s Recipe for Relief GERD-friendly meal plan and diet program on this well designed and effective diet.
In the following paragraphs, we will outline each component of this diet, the reasons why they are healthy, and how they pertain to acid reflux.
The building blocks of a healthy diet
Protein is an essential building block for muscle and its preservation, tissue repair, immunity support, hormone and enzyme creation, and when necessary, energy. Protein is a nutrient that breaks down slowly in digestion and satisfies hunger for a longer period. The DASH Diet emphasizes poultry, fish, and lean red meats as healthy sources of protein. Protein is also available in nuts, beans, lentils, soy foods, eggs, and most dairy sources.
Carbohydrates are easily broken down by the body for energy and are a critical part of a healthy diet. The DASH Diet is not considered a low-carb diet, however, the diet controls their intake and puts emphasis on healthier carbohydrates in order to reduce fat and calories in the diet. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthy sources of carbohydrates.
The DASH Diet embraces healthy fats as an important part of our diet. The right kind of fats are healthy for many reasons including cellular construction, oxygen and vitamin transportation, assisting in brain and nerve function, healthy forms of blood clotting, body insulation, and keeping our skin soft. Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Controlled amounts of each can also reduce the risk of heart disease, help regulate insulin levels, and can fight high cholesterol. Healthy fats are found in the fatty fish that are incorporated in the Dash Diet, as well as certain nuts and avocados.
The Dash Diet has strict limitations on trans fats and saturated fats by emphasizing lean meats, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy. These fats can adversely affect our blood pressure and increase our risk in heart disease and stroke.
Keep in mind that for people with GERD, too much fat in the diet can make symptoms worse. High-fat foods take longer to digest, which means they sit in the stomach longer and can increase the chance of an episode of reflux.
Nutrients of concern
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water). Soluble fiber is believed to lower your cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps move the digestive system along and provides bulk in stool that can aid in keeping regular bowel movements and an overall healthier stomach. It is also believed to be an effective aid in achieving healthy weight because it is low in calories and can feel larger and linger longer satisfying your appetite. Fiber also takes longer to chew and can slow down your eating causing you to eat less. The DASH Diet includes many sources of fiber from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, oats, barley, nuts, beans and seeds.
Minerals keep us healthy in countless ways. Some minerals we need in an abundance (macrominerals) and others only a trace (trace minerals) in order to keep our bodies working properly. Three main macro-minerals in foods that we will cover are potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Potassium plays a vital role in metabolism, regulating sodium levels, transporting nutrients to cells, hydration, blood pressure regulation, and storage of energy. Potassium also helps neutralize stomach acid and is believed to protect against osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Calcium is an essential mineral that’s main purpose is building bone density. In more recent years calcium has been found to play a larger role in metabolism by promoting fat to be burned for energy, as well as aiding the nervous system and muscular function. Some studies have shown that it is a mineral that can help in fighting cancer. An appropriate amount of calcium is emphasized (under 2,000 milligrams) in the DASH Diet since regular overconsumption of this mineral can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
Magnesium is a mineral mainly stored inside bone that plays a large part in bone metabolism, nervous system, energy production, blood sugar regulation, and controlling inflammation.
The DASH Diet aims to incorporate all these minerals. By emphasizing low-fat dairy through milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and traditional cheeses it achieves a calcium-rich diet. Potassium and magnesium are plentiful in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and low-fat dairy.
Vitamins and antioxidants
Vitamins have countless biochemical functions all of which are essential to cellular maintenance, development, and growth. A well-balanced diet, like one outlined by the DASH Diet, provides more than an ample amount of vitamins needed for regular intake.
Antioxidants are a group of nutrients made up of different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (chemical compounds in fruit that give it its color). Essentially, this group of nutrients defend cells against many different types of threats, including “free radicals.” Free radicals feed on electrons needed for cellular health. Free radicals are mainly created internally, but external factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can trigger free radical production. Nutritional eating, like the DASH Diet, minimizes free radical production and includes sufficient antioxidants can help ensure cellular health. Antioxidants are littered all throughout the DASH Diet plan as these nutrients are heavy in fruit, vegetables, and beans.
Sodium is a nutrient that is necessary for body and neural brain function; however, too much can cause high blood pressure, heart failure, osteoporosis, kidney disease, stomach cancer, and can increase your risk of stroke.
With regard to GERD, a recent study in Sweden found that those subjects who regularly applied salt to their meals were 70% more likely to suffer from acid reflux. However, the intake of sodium goes beyond the salt shaker, many processed meats and canned foods are loaded with sodium, so the DASH Diet discourages these consumables and toward “real food,” meaning food sources in their raw form emphasizing fresh, “real” food.
The role of calories in a healthy diet
Calories measure the amount of energy available in foods. Any source of food that provides energy to our bodies can be measured in calories. We need calories or our cells would die. If we consume fewer calories than we burn, we will lose weight, and if we consume more than we burn we will gain weight. The DASH Diet aims to eat the right amount of calories on a daily and weekly basis, based on your metabolism and amount of physical energy you expend.
Learn more: 5 steps to an effective acid reflux diet
Focus on a healthy, balanced diet
Overall, the DASH Diet offers a healthy, balanced approach to eating. Whether you’re at a healthy weight or could stand to lose a few pounds, focusing on lean proteins, the right carbohydrates, and fresh fruits and vegetables can help you look and feel better. Since diet is an essential tool to combat acid reflux, the DASH Diet provides an ideal course for anyone with this disease to undertake.