In a recent poll, we asked you to tell us what common foods that trigger acid reflux you miss the most, and I can’t say we were surprised to learn that alcohol, chocolate, tomatoes, and coffee were at the top of the list. Avoiding your triggers is a key part of managing GERD, but let’s face it, doing so isn’t always fun or easy. There’s a lot to miss! But it’s important to remember that you can still enjoy a huge variety of delicious (and healthy!) foods that won’t make your GERD symptoms worse, like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy.
Shifting your attitude to focus on what you CAN eat instead of what you CAN’T eat can make a world of difference. To help you do that, we put together this list delicious and satisfying swaps for your favorites to make it a little easier to stick to this important dietary change.
Easy swaps for your favorite acid reflux triggers
Mint (including mint gum) – 1%
Mint has a distinctive flavor that can be hard to replace. If you’re preparing a savory dish that calls for mint, try substituting parsley, basil, or rosemary. Basil can also work in sweet dishes. If you’re looking for an alternative to candy mints, chewing on herbs like parsley, coriander, and cinnamon can freshen your breath after a meal. Herb-based breath fresheners that don’t contain mint are also available at health food stores and online.
Fried foods – 3%
While fried foods are delicious, their high fat content slows digestion and increases the chance you’ll experience a bout of reflux. Try grilling, baking, broiling, or roasting foods instead. The possibilities are endless! If you’re really craving traditional fried favorites, our California fried chicken and Baked French fries (a regular on the menu in our house) make great substitutes.
Garlic and onions – 4%
Garlic and onions add flavor to everything from sauces and salad dressing to soups and stews, so they can be hard to avoid. Try substituting dehydrated or dried versions like garlic powder and dried onions. Many people tolerate them better than their fresh counterparts. If even the dried versions trigger your symptoms, try adding flavor with other herbs, like basil, cilantro, ginger, rosemary, thyme, dill, or oregano.
Carbonated beverages – 5%
The carbonation, caffeine, and sugar in carbonated beverages make them tough to stomach for people with GERD. Try flavored water, juices (other than citrus), or herbal iced teas instead.
Citrus fruits and juices – 6%
If you love your morning OJ or like to slice up a grapefruit for breakfast, this one can seem tough, but the options are endless (and delicious): apple, pineapple, mango, peach, grape, cranberry. Or mix things up and try a smoothie. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, give something new a try. You may just find a new favorite!
Fatty foods (high fat cheese, butter, beef, etc.) – 7%
Like fried foods above, fatty foods like cheese, butter, and beef take a long time to digest. Swap low-fat dairy for their full-fat versions or try soy versions of milk and cheese, which are generally lower in fat and calories. Ground turkey makes a great alternative to ground beef, especially in things like soups, casseroles, and tacos. And if you’re really craving a high fat option like beef, be sure to trim off the excess fat, keep your portion size small, and try a cooking method that allows the fat to drain off (like in our Braised short ribs or Beef and mushroom skillet).
Spicy foods – 7%
For some people, turning up the heat on their food can turn up the heartburn. (For others, interestingly, it can have the opposite effect.) While it’s hard to replace the heat, try recipes packed with flavor from fresh herbs. Just because you have to skip the heat doesn’t mean you have to skip the flavor.
Alcohol – 12%
While you might think of red wine when you think of acid reflux triggers, it turns out that any kind of alcohol can bring on the symptoms. That’s because alcohol relaxes the LES, so it’s best to avoid it in general. Some may find they’re able to enjoy an occasional drink, but if even a small amount of alcohol brings on your symptoms, try sipping fruit juice or flavored water instead.
Coffee and caffeinated drinks including tea – 21%
Try experimenting with low-acid coffee or decaffeinated to see how that works for you. Many people can tolerate those better than regular coffee and find them just as satisfying. If you want to skip the coffee entirely, herbal, non-mint teas can be a great alternative if a warm drink is part of your morning routine. The flavor possibilities are endless.
Tomato based foods – 22%
Many people with GERD have a hard time with acidic tomatoes, which means favorites like pizza and spaghetti and meatballs are out. If you’re craving pasta, try pesto (like in our Mini lasagna cups), olive oil with parsley, or our Pasta primavera with whole wheat pasta. If it’s pizza you’re after, look for creative alternatives like this Spinach and artichoke dip pizza (just be careful with the garlic) or this Easy white pizza.
Chocolate – 47%
Nearly half of you told us that chocolate was the thing you missed most and why wouldn’t you?! If you’re looking for something sweet for dessert, try fresh fruit or a fruit based recipe like Cantaloupe sorbet or Vanilla almond parfait. And if you’re really craving chocolate, some find they can tolerate a small piece of dark chocolate and find it’s enough to satisfy them. Or give white chocolate a try. Not technically chocolate, it’s a smooth, creamy sweet treat that just might do the trick without causing heartburn.
Triggers are different for everyone
We encourage you to read our comprehensive article, 5 steps to an acid reflux diet, where we discuss more substitutions and foods to avoid. Remember that every individual will have different triggers. In fact, according to the latest guidelines form the American College of Gastroenterology, Diagnosis and Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, “Routine global elimination of food that can trigger reflux (including chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, acidic and/or spicy foods) is not recommended in the treatment of GERD.” Why? Because there’s no evidence that routine elimination of all of these foods will improve your symptoms. Keep a food diary to identify any patterns in your symptoms and see which foods make your symptoms worse. Then avoid them and enjoy the rest!