Nutrition Tips for Reflux (GERD)
What is reflux (also known as heartburn or GERD)?
Reflux is when the stomach contents flow back into the food pipe (esophagus). This often leads to a burning
feeling in the chest that can spread to the throat. This is called heart burn. Reflux may also leave a bitter taste
in the mouth.
What causes reflux?
Reflux occurs when stomach acid irritates the sensitive lining of the esophagus. Most often, the cause is a
weak or poorly working muscle sphincter that is located at lower end of the esophagus. Increased pressure on
the abdominal area also often leads to reflux.
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) keeps higher pressure above the stomach which prevents the
backwash of stomach acid. If the LES pressure decreases, reflux may occur. Creating greater LES pressure
and keeping a healthy body weight may help prevent heartburn.
How you eat:
This may be more important than what you eat.
Eat slowly, taking about 30 minutes for a meal.
Chew foods well to make it easier to swallow and to help clear food from the esophagus more quickly.
Try to not “wash” down partially chewed foods with liquids.
Avoid getting too full by trying to relax before, during, and after mealtimes. Try to sit down for all
meals and snacks, not “grabbing” food on the run.
Give your body enough time to register a satisfied feeling by eating smaller meals more often. Try
pausing mid-meal to check your level of satisfaction.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Allow 2-3 hours before bedtime for complete digestion.
Sit upright for at least one hour after eating. If you can, try gentle walking for 15 minutes after eating.
Even getting up to wash dishes or do laundry may help food to move as it should.
What you eat is also important:
Try new things to learn which diet changes work for you, since each person reacts in different ways to foods.
If getting rid of a food does not affect your symptoms, there is no need to avoid it.
Eat protein-rich foods in small amounts throughout the day, rather than in one large meal. Lean
proteins include chicken, turkey, tuna, tofu, lean beef and pork, low fat cheese, skim or 1% milk, dried
Reduce intake of high fat foods like fatty ground beef, marbled meats, sausage, hot dogs, brats,
chicken nuggets, chicken wings, whole milk, chocolate, salad dressings, donuts, pastries, candy bars,
etc. Fat takes longer to digest and may worsen reflux.
Avoid coffee (decaf and regular) and caffeinated tea, all carbonated drinks (with and without caffeine).
The effect of decaf tea on reflux is unclear.
Avoid alcohol, peppermint or spearmint candies, gums and liquors.
Try eating less citrus fruits and juices, highly seasoned (garlic and onion or spicy foods), as well as
Choose whole-grain and high-fiber foods often, to prevent constipation and irregularity, as well as
reduce risk of developing cancer of esophagus.
Limit use of chewing gum and hard candies, as well as use of drinking fountains. This will decrease
the amount of swallowed air which often leads to belching and reflux. Some people may find that
chewing a non-mint flavored gum for 30 minutes after a meal increases saliva production and
Other Lifestyle Tips:
Avoid cigarettes, tobacco products or nicotine replacements.
Ask your primary care provider or pharmacist about medicine that may help reflux.
Plan some physical activity every day to help maintain good bowel function.
Maintain a healthy weight for your body. Avoid excessive weight gains and
losses. Excess abdominal fat puts pressure on your stomach, which makes reflux
Elevate the head of your bed six to eight inches. Avoid reclining for up to three hours after a meal.
Adding more pillows does not work, but a special foam wedge can be purchased. One idea is called
Mattress Genie© Adjustable Bed Wedge as www.contourliving.com
Try sleeping on your left side. Studies have shown that reflux time can be greater when subjects were
on their right side.
Keeping a daily diary for a week can help figure out foods or habits that cause symptoms. You can
download a form at www.aboutgerd.org/library/download/7DD .
More information about reflux can be found at: www.aboutgerd.org
(International functional Gastrointestinal Disorders)
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the phone
numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH)
can be reached at: (608) 890-5500
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at: (608) 287-2770
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you have any
questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical advice. This
is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are different, you should
talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911.
Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Clinical Nutrition
Services Department and the Department of Nursing. HF#597