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Why do Certain Foods cause GERD Symptoms?
The occasional attack of acid reflux is a common thing for most people, especially after drinking alcohol, or eating highly-spiced or fatty foods. But what if you start having these attacks more frequently? Someone who consistently has two or more episodes per week is said to have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
GERD is the result of a disorder of a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus and the stomach. This ring of muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), is normally closed in between meals, to prevent regurgitation of stomach contents.
When acid reflux occurs it is because the LES has relaxed and allowed stomach acid or food to be regurgitated.
Spicy foods, fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine, are among those foods known to make the LES muscle relax. In someone with GERD this tendency is exacerbated because the LES is weaker due to repeated episodes of reflux. Smoking and being overweight can also reinforce the LES weakness.
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Foods to Avoid for a GERD Diet
Someone with this disease can help ease his or her symptoms, and reduce the frequency of attacks, by following a GERD diet. Foods to avoid on this type of diet can vary from person to person, but in general include spicy, acidic, and fatty foods.
Acidic fruits such as all citrus fruits, tomato, and pineapple, trigger GERD symptoms for many people. This includes juices made from these fruits, as well as the fruits themselves.
Alcohol triggers GERD symptoms because it causes muscle relaxation, and this includes the LES muscle.
Baked goods including pies, cakes, and cookies. High-fat breads such as croissants, and breads made with white flour, can also trigger symptoms for some people.
Caffeine-containing foods and beverages, including coffee and tea, as well as caffeine-containing sodas, must often be avoided. Some people can tolerate tea, while others must eliminate caffeine altogether.
Carbonated beverages often trigger GERD symptoms.
Chocolate contains a molecule called methylxanthine, which is known to cause smooth muscle to relax. Therefore, chocolate promotes relaxation of the LES, and can trigger GERD symptoms.
Fatty foods such as fried food, butter, margarine, full-fat dairy, cream soups, cream gravy, and high-fat dressings and condiments.
Mint is a common trigger. As with caffeine, some people can tolerate mint in very small amounts, while others cannot.
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Food Journaling for a GERD Diet
Not all people with GERD react in exactly the same way to all foods. For this reason, it's a good idea for someone with this disorder to spend a week or two on a food journal before settling on a specific GERD diet. Foods to avoid can then be chosen based on how they specifically affect individual symptoms.
To make a food journal, write down what foods you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat. For each meal or snack, also note down whether you had any GERD symptoms during or after the meal, as well as exactly when the symptoms occurred, and how severe they were.
Over a period of a couple of weeks, this information can help determine exactly what foods you can tolerate, and in what quantities, as well as which GERD diet foods to avoid.
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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House: Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
National Institute of Health MedlinePlus: GERD
University of Illinois McKinley Health Center: The GERD Diet (PDF)