By Kate Harveston — I’m one of the lucky ones — although I have mild gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), my symptoms cause me little of the misery many others experience. Still, consuming foods with a high acid content, such as after a Friday night pizza indulgence, can leave me with burning pain in my upper abdomen. Over the years, I’ve learned how to balance my body’s pH by selecting the right foods.
Eating to reduce acid reflux shares much in common with managing any other disease through diet. The difference is symptoms occur almost immediately after overindulging, whereas other disorders may take longer to develop. Here is what I learned about controlling my GERD by eating to balance my body’s pH naturally.
What Is GERD?
When people eat, their esophagus moves their food from their mouth to their digestive organs. The esophagus has a valve where it connects to the stomach. Normally, this valve prohibits food and stomach acid from flooding back up the esophageal pipeline.
For me and others living with GERD, though, this valve fails to function properly. When this occurs, food and stomach acid flow back up the esophagus. As the lining of the esophagus is not designed to withstand the onslaught of stomach acid, this causes burning, burping, and occasional vomiting.
Many people with GERD find certain foods tend to trigger particularly severe attacks. Specifically, foods high in acid content, such as spaghetti sauce, or high in artificial colors and preservatives, like many processed lunchmeats, can bring on the agony. Balancing out acidic foods with those lower in pH can help reduce symptoms.
Eating a diet lower in pH offers additional health benefits. Some leading cancer researchers believe when the body becomes too acidic, the disease multiplies quicker. So maybe my GERD is doing me a huge solid — always look for the silver lining in everything!
Foods Which May Exacerbate GERD
We know eating a diet high in acidity isn’t the healthiest choice, even if you don’t suffer any gastrointestinal symptoms after scarfing down a large pepperoni pizza. But which foods are the worst offenders when it comes to triggering GERD flares in the largest majority of sufferers? Here are the top 10 foods to avoid, whether you’re treating symptoms of acid reflux or merely trying to balance your pH.
- Tomato sauce: Sigh. It seems so unfair sometimes to take a hard pass on family pizza-and-a-movie night. Tomato sauce is highly acidic, and most store-bought brands have an even higher acid content due to the need to preserve freshness on store shelves longer. But don’t completely despair — you can occasionally indulge in a single serving of pasta or a slice of pizza by making it from scratch and adding a potato to the sauce while it’s cooking to draw out some of the excess acids.
- Citrus fruits: It should seem obvious citrus fruits and drinks made from their fruit are highly acidic. The technical term for vitamin C is ascorbic acid — the word “acid” is right in the scientific name for these fruits. Limit your consumption of grapefruit and orange juice and opt for water or green tea instead.
- Coffee: I know, I know, I just ruined breakfast for everyone, right? But if you suffer from GERD, drinking coffee will raise your body’s acidity. Strive to consume no more than one cup of coffee per day. I cut back to a half a cup every morning, and my body did adjust eventually. If caffeine withdrawal leaves you falling asleep at your work desk, gradually cut back on your consumption. Don’t substitute caffeine-rich sodas — all you need to do is think about how Diet Coke cleans the oil stains off garage floors and driveways to realize these drinks are highly acidic, too.
- Certain grains: Some grains are quite basic — as in the opposite of acidic, not as in plain — but processed foods made with wheat flour can exacerbate GERD symptoms in many. Instead of opting for white flour, substitute actual whole grains, preferably ancient ones like quinoa and amaranth. Alternately, use cauliflower flour as a substitute for white. Read labels carefully — those saying “made from whole grains” may nevertheless be highly processed.
- Artificial sweeteners: If you find yourself burping every time you’re chewing on sugarless gum, you may have a mild to moderate case of GERD. Artificial sweeteners do a number on the body’s pH. Sweeteners such as xylitol, found in most sugar-free gums, make the body more acidic. Four out of five dentists may recommend sugarless gum, but for those with GERD, the acid content can erode tooth enamel, especially if the person also vomits frequently.
- Processed cereals and other foods: Basically, any heavily processed food raises the body’s acidity level. It could be due to the white flour that’s often a mainstay of store-bought treats, or it could be the artificial colors and preservatives. Regardless, if a food label contains inscrutable ingredients, take a pass to ward off a flare.
- Red meats: Eating too much red meat can increase the likelihood of developing heart disease and certain cancers, so cutting back on the burgers is only common sense. My GERD improved considerably when I made the switch to a more vegan lifestyle, but that’s not necessarily for everyone. If your birthday rolls around and you can’t resist indulging in a porterhouse, pair it with a baked potato to balance out the pH, and alternate bites of each.
- Certain dairy products: Yes, dairy provides an excellent source of protein and calcium to build strong bones and teeth, but one study found children raised on cow’s milk suffer GERD more often as adults. Most people tolerate cheeses a little bit better than they do milk but consume such foods in moderation. Substitute almond milk or soymilk instead of cow’s milk.
- Lunchmeats: Lunchmeats fall into the processed food category, but deserve a special mention due to their implication in the development of certain cancers. One reason eating too many slices of bologna may spur cancer growth is by raising the body’s pH. Skip the deli counter or purchase non-cured meats free of additives.
- Alcohol: What’s Friday night without an after-hours happy hour with your favorite peeps on your work crew? I keep such celebrations on the moderate side by sipping one non-alcoholic drink for each boozy glass. If you sip on mocktails, folks will never know why you’re the only one not slurring their words slightly.
Healthier Choices and Ideas for Balancing Your Body’s pH
Many foods contain some level of acid, but you can minimize GERD symptoms when you do indulge by balancing out the acidic portion of your meal with alkaline foods. For example, have you ever wondered why hot wings come with that little side of carrots and celery few people ever eat? Break the mold and chow down on them between blazing bites, since celery lowers the body’s acidity.
Cucumbers and cruciferous vegetables lower the body’s pH. So do radishes and dark, leafy greens. I love to pick up a big box or bag of mixed raw vegetables to snack on. Making burgers during a Fourth of July picnic? Serve them with a big salad filled with spinach, kale, a rainbow of veggies and cucumber slices to cut down the acid-forming tendencies of the red meat.
Some nuts are more acidic than others. For example, walnuts have a relatively high acid content, but almonds have an alkaline base. If you’re mixing up a bag of mixed nuts at your local natural food store, make sure to include some almonds to balance out the acid level of other nuts in the blend which may prove more acidic.
Do you love your food packed with flavor? Certain spices can lower the acid content of your meals significantly. Those who are fans of Indian cuisine know turmeric, the yellow herb that gives curry its signature flavor, lowers pH. The herb is also an antioxidant-rich superfood well-known even in Western medicine these days as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Cayenne peppers also lower the body’s acidity, so if you like things a little on the toasty side, go nuts with the pepper flakes. As a bonus, spicy foods speed up your metabolism, making weight loss easier. And with summer on the way, take a clue from our brothers and sisters down in Mexico, who have long known eating spicy food helps you cool down when temperatures soar.
Controlling GERD the Natural Way
GERD can cause considerable misery and left untreated, it can shatter the quality of someone’s life. There’s nothing fun about hurting or even vomiting after every meal. Trust me when I say I tried to ignore the problem and keep eating the foods I liked, but it did not go over well, and some moderation will be important to anyone needing to manage this condition.
Fortunately, it’s easy to treat GERD the natural way by re-evaluating your diet. Bringing your body back into pH balance will also reduce your risk of contracting cancer or heart diseases. Get started on feeling better today by following the tips above to change your diet for the better — all you have to lose is pain and suffering!
About the Author
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.