Using plant-based diets in the management of acid reflux (GERD)

vegan gerd

Do you often have heartburn, or uncomfortable chest pain after eating? Do you find it difficult to lie down after meals? Do you often take antiacid medications to reduce symptoms of GERD?

Did you know?

Almost half of all adults will experience acid reflux sometime during their life.

According to research, plant-based diets help relieve GERD symptoms, due to their high fiber, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties, and many more.

Before going into more detail, allow us to expand on acid reflux or GERD.

What causes GERD? 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when gastric acid or content goes back up into the esophagus. 

It is one of the most common gastrointestinal diseases affecting approximately 18 – 28% of adults in North America, by which 11% have symptoms at least weekly and 5% experience heartburn almost every day.

This occurs due to inhibition of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tone or increase of the gastric pressure leading to reflux of the gastric acid and content into the esophagus. The problem is that the esophagus can not handle the acidity of the stomach acid (hydrochloric acid (HCL)). Therefore the reflux could result in serious complications. 

Who is at higher risk of getting GERD? 

Risk factors for acid reflux include: 

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Low physical activity
  • Stress and anxiety

What do you feel if you have GERD?

The most common symptoms of GERD or acid reflux include:

  • Heartburn: This is the classic symptom of GERD, which is a burning sensation in the chest moving towards the mouth. It is especially common after eating and it could be worse during the night or while lying down.
  • Acid regurgitation: This occurs as gastric acid or content goes up the esophagus and it might cause a sour taste at the back of the mouth.  
  • Upper abdominal or chest pain: Due to gastric reflux
  • Cough
  • Dysphagia: Trouble swallowing which could be due to chronic esophageal inflammation or scarring.
  • Laryngitis: Inflammation of the vocal cords.

How do you know for sure if you have GERD?

Early recognition of the symptoms will help prevent complications. Consult your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms as GERD is usually diagnosed clinically using symptoms and the relieving response of antiacid medications.

Your doctor might request further investigations to confirm the diagnosis or rule out complications such as upper endoscopy, esophageal pH monitoring or upper gastrointestinal X-rays.

How long does it take GERD to heal?

It differs from one person to another depending on the cause. However, most heartburn symptoms take almost 2 hours or more to heal.

On the other hand, if left untreated, it could lead to several serious complications including:

  • Esophagitis

Chronic acid reflux into the esophagus can lead to inflammation of the esophageal wall. In severe cases, it could result in erosions, ulcerations, and esophageal narrowing.

  • Upper esophageal bleeding

This might be seen in the form of anemia, vomiting of blood (Haematemesis), or passing of darker stools (Melena).  

  • Barrett’s esophagus

It happens when stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus. It is a serious condition that should be detected early as it can lead to esophageal cancer.

How do you beat GERD naturally without medications?

  • Elevate the head of the bed during sleep to decrease acidic reflux
  • Weight loss 
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol
  • Reduce meal portion sizes
  • Avoid eating at least three hours before sleeping
  • Do not lie down after meals

Choose food that reduces the risk of GERD

Yes, foods have a tremendous effect on GERD! Therefore, you should focus on food that makes GERD go away and avoid food that triggers it.

What food makes GERD go away

Some foods help in the reduction of gastric acidity, are easy to digest, and do not produce gastric gasses or increase gastric pressure. These are the foods that you should focus on if you want to get rid of GERD:

  • Celery and lettuce
  • Brown rice
  • Watermelons and cantaloupe
  • Oatmeal
  • Ginger

What food triggers GERD

There are several foods that trigger GERD or acid reflux. You should try to avoid them as much as possible. Those are foods that have a high content of fat, salt, spices, or acids such as:

  1.     High-fat foods: 

High-fat food as they release the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) which leads to the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter resulting in acidic reflux. Additionally, they also secrete bile salts in the stomach which causes esophageal irritation. Some examples of these foods include:

  • Fried food: fried chicken, chicken wings, crispy bacon, nuggets, French fries
  • Fast food: pizza, hamburgers,
  • Potato chips
  • Fatty meats such as bacon and sausages 
  1.     Mint (Peppermint and Spearmint):

Mint contains menthol which acts as a smooth muscle relaxant. Therefore, it could lead to the relaxation of the esophageal sphincter and increases the risk of GERD.

  1.     Citrus fruits and juices (lemon, orange, and grapefruit)

These citrus fruits increase the acidity of the stomach leading to an increased risk of GERD and heartburn.

  1.     Chocolate:

They also reduce the lower esophageal sphincter pressure increases the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.  

  1.     Spicy food (Chili)

Spicy food contains capsaicin which causes the food to stay longer in the stomach, thus, increasing the risk of acid reflux. Additionally, they could aggravate esophageal irritation.

  1.     Dairy products (milk and cheese):

These foods reduce gastric emptying and prolong the exposure to gastric acid which increases the risk of GERD.

  1.     Alcohol:

Alcohol causes lower esophageal sphincter relaxation leading to acid reflux into the esophagus.

  1.     Coffee and other caffeinated drinks

Coffee stimulates the release of gastric acid from the stomach. Additionally, they also lower the lower esophageal sphincter tone increasing the risk of GERD.

  1.     Carbonated drinks (soft drinks, sparkling water)

These drinks relax the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the acidity of the stomach. They also produce a lot of gastric gasses which raises the pressure in the stomach leading to an increased risk of GERD.

How can a plant-based diet help in the management of GERD?

When eating plant-based diets, you are already avoiding many of the foods that trigger GERD such as fatty meats and dairy products.

Additionally, plant-based diets are rich in fiber which helps promote gut microbiota and protect the esophagus from acid reflux. It also helps bowel movement which reduces the abdominal pressure associated with constipation leading to decreased gastric pressure and lower risk of GERD. 

According to one study, vegetarians experienced a significantly lower prevalence and severity of GERD compared to non-vegetarian participants. 

Furthermore, another study showed that plant-based diets help reduce the risk of GERD as they are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidants which reduce oxidative stress leading to a decrease in acidic reflux and gastric inflammation. 

Frequently asked questions:

Now, after discussing GERD, and the foods that contribute to it, we would like to answer some of the most frequently asked questions, such as:

Does tofu trigger GERD?

Tofu is a great plant-based protein that does not trigger GERD because it is low in fat.

Does cutting out dairy help with GERD?

Yes! Dairy is one of the trigger foods as it reduces gastric emptying and prolongs exposure to gastric acid.


Can Apple cider vinegar cure GERD?

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a fermented vinegar made from apples. The active ingredient in ACV is acetic acid which causes injury to the esophageal mucosa and reduces gastric emptying. 

Additionally, it has an acidic pH that increases gastric acidity when consumed. Therefore, it is best to avoid using it in the management of GERD.  

Is ginger good for acid reflux?

Ginger has numerous advantages, including the ability to promote gastric health. It is also often used to treat nausea and vomiting due to its antiemetic properties. It has a carminative effect, which helps to minimize gas production.

Moreover, it also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects which results in the reduction of gastric inflammation. As a result, ginger could help reduce the risk of GERD.

Are you ready to make a change?

It is only one phone call away! Get a vegan registered dietitian to help create your healthy vegan diet!

Start with a free discovery call with one of our plant-based dietitians who will gladly assist you in planning your new vegan diet, answering your questions, and providing several tools to help you get on track.