The Best And Worst Foods For Acid Reflux, According To Science

Most people experience heartburn every now again. But if you suffer from acid reflux multiple times a week, you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which affects 20% of Americans. Because of these symptoms, patients may struggle to choose food that won’t cause heartburn.

Although there is no “GERD-proof” diet, gastroenterologists have recommended certain foods to eat and avoid. You may be surprised which starchy vegetables help acid reflux and which healthy oils harm it. If you want to know which foods to eat and avoid for heartburn, see what science says.

Fried Foods Are The Worst For Acid Reflux

A woman clutches her throat because of acid reflux.
Twitter/@acidrefluxtips1
Twitter/@acidrefluxtips1

Fried foods are perhaps the worst meal choices for acid reflux. According to registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, greasy foods weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. When the esophagus doesn’t close properly, acid freely rises to cause heartburn.

Plus, fried foods take a long time to digest, which can prolong the “burning” feeling you receive from acid reflux. Almost every health organization from UW Health to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy advises against fatty food. If the fried food is greasy or high in fat, that will make heartburn worse.

Aloe Vera Juice Decreases Acid In The Stomach

A sliced aloe vera plant shows the juice inside.
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Reddit/u/jelaras

Aloe vera soothes not only skin burns but also heartburn. As an anti-inflammatory, aloe vera syrup provides “a safe and effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of GERD,” according to the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. You can buy jugs of aloe vera juice at the store.

In 2014, a study in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine concluded that aloe vera lowers the amount of gastric acid in the stomach. Since most cases of acid reflux come from too much acid, aloe vera juice could supply some relief.

Tomatoes Are An Acidic Fruit

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Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Although citrus fruits have a reputation for acid, tomatoes are also highly acidic foods. Tomatoes add malic and citrus acids to your stomach to break down food, says Manhattan Gastroenterology. According to Family Practice, people who suffer from acid reflux may be sensitive to tomatoes, although the sensitivity varies by person.

In the same vein, tomato sauces–including marinara, ketchup, and tomato paste–can also trigger heartburn in some people. Still, that hasn’t deterred GERD patients. In 2014, BMC Gastroenterology reported that most people with GERD ate tomato sauce, despite experiencing symptoms.

The Debate About Milk

An illustration shows the stomach lit up as if burning from stomach acid.
Pinterest/Elizabeth Gallagher Kennedy
Pinterest/Elizabeth Gallagher Kennedy

In 2011, a study in Gut and Liver found a connection between a milk allergy and acid reflux. One-third of patients did not receive relief from medication, but their symptoms lowered after stopping milk. But what does this mean for people without a milk allergy? The short answer: maybe.

Some experts believe that fatty milk can exacerbate symptoms since high fat worsens GERD, says Health Promotion Perspectives. According to a 2004 study, calcium can relieve heartburn, and low-fat dairy could assuage acid reflux in some people.

Ignore The Home Remedies With Apple Cider Vinegar

A woman pours apple cider vinegar into elderberry syrup.
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

In the past couple of years, health advocates have promoted apple cider vinegar as a cure-all for GERD. While some say that heartburn stems from having too little acid in the stomach, the opposite is true. Research in Europe PMC found that people with GERD have too much acid in their stomach, so a vinegar that’s more acidic than orange juice will only make symptoms worse.

Claims that apple cider vinegar soothes acid reflux are not supported by science, says gastroenterologist Maged Rizk. On the other hand, gastroenterologist Ashkan Farhadi says that apple cider vinegar may relieve heartburn in some people.

Potatoes May Soothe Heartburn

Peeled potatoes soak in water in a blue bowl.
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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Although some health advocates give potatoes smack, they can make a healthy dish for GERD patients. In countries such as Germany and Switzerland, potatoes are juiced for their health benefits. A 2006 study discovered that potato juice assuaged symptoms in participants complaining of acid reflux and indigestion.

In 2013, a case-control study in Gastroenterology listed potatoes as one of the heartburn-healthy foods to eat. However, patients’ reactions to potatoes may depend on how it’s cooked. For instance, french fries or mashed potatoes made with heavy cream could irritate GERD, while baked potatoes could help it.

Why Yogurt Is Better For Heartburn Than Milk

Clipart shows a man dipping a spoon into yogurt.
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Pixabay/mohamed_hassan

Yogurt provides gut-healthy bacteria called probiotics, which can help with acid reflux. In 2011, research in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that probiotics can assuage nausea and regurgitation, which are both symptoms of acid reflux. Plus, yogurt includes plenty of stomach-healthy fiber.

“Foods with healthy bacteria may help improve digestion and reduce the frequency of acid reflux,” says nutritionist Lisa Hugh. Some people may have a better response to low-fat yogurt since dairy high in fat can irritate the stomach.

Coffee Is Bad…Or Is It?

A woman in a blue shirt holds a latte in a mug.
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Although coffee is slightly acidic, that’s not how it affects acid reflux. Instead, caffeine may increase the symptom. According to the Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, decaffeinated coffee isn’t as bad for GERD, while tea (which has less caffeine) is better than coffee.

However, not all experts agree that coffee shapes acid reflux. In June 2013, research in Diseases of the Esophagus found little association between coffee and GERD. In the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, scientists found no increased acid reflux from coffee, unless it’s consumed with an empty stomach.

Enjoy Nutritious Asparagus

A pan of asparagus cooks in oil.
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Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Asparagus has a higher zinc content compared to most vegetables, which can assuage acid reflux. According to researchers from Yale University, zinc can lower stomach acid secretion, lessening your chances of heartburn. In 2010, an animal study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology came to the same conclusion.

Asparagus is also a low-fat, alkaline vegetable that aids stomach digestion, reports AARP. Dr. Bani Roland, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at John Hopkins University, recommends green vegetables for GERD patients. Why not go with asparagus for its extra benefits?

Don’t Cook With Coconut Oil

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Despite the other health benefits of coconut oil, it is made of up 90% saturated fat–which can aggravate acid reflux over time. According to 2013 research in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the more fat people eat, the more acid enters their esophagus. Why use such a high amount of fat in cooking oil?

A year later, research in BMC Gastroenterology noted that people with severe heartburn had a higher amount of fat in their diets. As with all foods, you can eat coconut oil in moderation with no harm to acid reflux.

Your Stomach Will Love Oatmeal

A bowl of oatmeal with milk is seen on the table.
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Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends whole, high-fiber grains for people with GERD, and oatmeal fits the bill. Oatmeal’s high fiber digests slowly, but it doesn’t cause bloating like other foods. In 2005, research in Gut found that eating more fiber reduces heartburn symptoms.

Even so, reports in Acid Reflux Reviews say that some people have worse acid reflux after eating oatmeal. The reaction could depend on the contents of cereal; for instance, putting in high citrus fruits and fatty milk could irritate symptoms.

Onions Irritate Acid Reflux

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Cathal McNaughton – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Unfortunately, onions can prompt acid reflux that lasts for a long while after eating them, says The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Onions relax the sphincter and allow more acid to enter the esophagus. According to a 1990 study, patients experienced more acid reflux symptoms eating a hamburger with onion than a burger without onion.

Onion’s effect does not change depending on the type (even mild green onions). However, you reduce the flames by cooking the onions, according to registered dietitian Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo. “Try them in small quantities and see how it goes,” she advises.

If You Want Fruit, Choose A Banana

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Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

Instead of eating acidic fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, opt for an alkaline choice such as bananas. Dr. Liji Thomas of News Medical explains that bananas coat the esophagus in a protective mucus. Potentially, this coating could soothe acid reflux symptoms.

Overall, fruit is always a positive choice for heartburn. In the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, a study concluded that eating fruit lowers a person’s risk of GERD. However, some people find that bananas worsen their symptoms, according to Northwest Community Healthcare.

Another Reason To Dodge Chocolate

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises GERD patients to avoid chocolate. In 2001, scientists at the University of Michigan found that chocolate stops the sphincter from working well. The result is more stomach acid creeping into the esophagus.

Despite the evidence, some experts aren’t entirely convinced that chocolate promotes heartburn. In 2006, Dr. Lauren Gerson and her team observed no connection between chocolate and acid reflux, reports Stanford News. An occasional dessert may be alright for your stomach, after all.

Ginger Has Potential To Help

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Although several studies have linked ginger to stomach health, few have explicitly focused on acid reflux. We know that ginger can soothe symptoms such as nausea, according to a systematic review in Food Science & Nutrition. If your heartburn includes nausea, ginger tea may help you through it.

Registered dietitian and nutritionist Beth Warren recommends ginger for its anti-inflammatory properties. Harvard Health Publishing labels ginger as an effective herbal remedy to improve digestion and alleviate bloating, both of which can prevent reflux symptoms.

Peppermint Doesn’t Help

Peppermint leaves border a teacup with steeped mint tea inside.
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Pixabay/congerdesign

If you have frequent acid reflux or GERD, you should not drink peppermint tea, advises Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But why? According to Harvard Health Publishing, peppermint relaxes the sphincter that closes the stomach. That allows more acid to enter the esophagus and causes heartburn.

In 2014, a study in Przeglad Gastroenerologiczny noted that drinking peppermint tea daily worsens the symptoms of GERD. Although the effect of peppermint on acid reflux needs more research, you may want to choose a different tea to avoid heartburn.

Sprinkle More Turmeric Into Dishes

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Turmeric, the bright orange spice and the main ingredient in curry powder, has a stomach-protecting chemical called curcumin. According to research in BMC Systematic Reviews, turmeric has the potential to protect the stomach against many diseases, including GERD and acid reflux.

In 2019, a study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found further support for turmeric. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects can protect the esophagus and potentially guard it against acid, researchers suggest. Based on these findings, a sprinkling of turmeric could flavor your food and improve heartburn.

Think Twice About Carbonated Beverages

A man pours a sparkling drink with grapefruit and carbonated coconut water into a glass.
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Getty Images

Have you ever wondered why bubbly drinks make people burp? Carbonation creates gas in the stomach, which makes people bloat, says the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. The gas also pushes against the lower esophageal sphincter and irritates acid reflux.

According to a systematic review of studies in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, at least two studies link fizzy drinks to acid reflux. However, scientists don’t have enough evidence to conclude that carbonation encourages GERD or heartburn. Certain drinks may affect people differently.

Yes, Lentils Help

Bags of lentils and chickpeas sit in the pantry.
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Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

Although lentils can cause bloating and gas, they don’t harm acid reflux as severely as other gassy foods. In 2017, a study in JAMA found that a Mediterranean diet–which is heavy in lentils and legumes–soothes GERD as effectively as medication. Lentils provide enough protein, fiber, and nutrients to keep the stomach happy.

In Gastroenterology, researchers concluded the lentils delay gastric emptying. When foods leave the stomach quickly, it can trigger acid reflux, says Current Gastroenterology Reports. The fiber in lentils prevents that from happening.

Eat Fresh Ramen, Not Instant Noodles

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Antony Dickson/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

According to the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, ramen noodles cause the worst acid reflux out of most other foods in Korea. In 2014, scientists observed how the noodles create more stomach acid. Pre-packaged noodles digest more slowly than fresh noodles, and the preservatives promote acid during that time.

Spicy instant noodles are the worst culprit of all. Stanford gastroenterologist Lauren Gerson says that spicy foods may not cause heartburn, but they could irritate the stomach and aggravate symptoms. Either way, you may want to avoid pre-packaged and spicy ramen noodles.

Watch How Many Eggs You Eat

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Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

People with heartburn tend to be sensitive to cholesterol. According to Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, GERD patients experience more symptoms when they eat high cholesterol. Unfortunately, a single egg has 187 mg of cholesterol, including the yolk.

However, research in Digestion suggests that the link could be more complicated. Yes, high-cholesterol diets lead to more acid reflux; but participants eating those foods were often obese, which is another risk factor for GERD. While heartburn patients can still eat eggs, they may want to limit how many they have in a day.

Artichokes Are Healthy, High Fiber Options

A man holds an artichoke at a market.
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David Silverman/Getty Images

GERD patients may benefit from specific vegetables. In 2018, a study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that a high-fiber diet reduced the amount of acid reflux that participants experienced. Artichokes have 10.3 grams of fiber, about 8.6% per serving, higher than most other vegetables.

A medium-sized artichoke also offers 15 grams of vitamin C, which may assuage heartburn. The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology says that ascorbic acid, a specific form of vitamin C, can reduce acid reflux in people. Supplements don’t have that same effect.

Will Avocados Harm Or Help?

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Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Researchers debate over avocado’s effect on heartburn. It’s well-known that a high-fat diet can trigger acid reflux symptoms. Unfortunately, the same goes for healthy fats that are in avocados, says 2007 research in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. One cup of sliced avocado has 21 grams of fat.

On the other hand, avocados are a healthy source of fiber, potassium, and magnesium, all of which may alleviate heartburn symptoms. If you suffer from frequent acid reflux, test avocado in small portions. It may help or harm you on a case-by-case basis.

Consume Oranges And Orange Juice With Caution

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Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Oranges are the epitome of citrus fruits. Although they’re tasty, their high-acid content worsen acid reflux symptoms. “They are likely to cause heartburn, especially when consumed on an otherwise empty stomach,” gastroenterologist Dr. Robynne Chutkan told WebMD.

The Journal of Thoracic Disease discovered that the correlation between acidic foods and reflux varies by person. In some cases, acidic beverages (such as orange juice) did not induce symptoms, while in other cases, they did. In any case, it may be wise to limit oranges if you have GERD.

Black Pepper Can Prompt Heartburn

A plastic shaker is filled with black peppercorns.
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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

In some people, foods loaded with black pepper can trigger heartburn, says assistant professor Deepa A. Vasudevan of the University of Texas. Black pepper can create a burning sensation in the throat and mouth, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology.

That said, people may be mixing up acid reflux with indigestion. The symptoms tend to overlap, and black pepper is known to cause indigestion in some people. According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, black pepper increases acid in the stomach, so it can harm symptoms either way.

Fennel May Alleviate Symptoms

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Fennel is a spice that tastes like licorice and is often used in tea. Just one tablespoon of these seeds offers two grams of fiber, which can improve GERD symptoms, says the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Excessive gas can trigger acid reflux, and fennel helps to reduce the gas that causes discomfort.

According to the Arabian Journal of Chemistry, fennel is also an anti-inflammatory and diuretic that can relieve gastrointestinal disorders, including GERD. You can add ground or whole fennel seeds to a recipe or brew it as a tea.

For A Healthy Gut, Eat More Broccoli

A top view shows baked broccoli in a pan.
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Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Some health websites advise against broccoli for acid reflux, since too much of it can cause gas. However, there is little evidence to support this. According to the Journal of Functional Foods, broccoli can lower inflammation in the stomach and colon, so it can actually help patients with GERD overall.

In 2002, scientists at John Hopkins University announced that broccoli is especially skilled at protecting the stomach. After analyzing the vegetable for ten years, the researchers discovered that it can even guard against stomach cancer. Why wouldn’t it help acid reflux?

Don’t Go Overboard On Cheese

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Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sure, cheese is delicious, but too much of it can trigger heartburn. Cheese is high in fat, and too much of it can aggravate heartburn symptoms and increase the risk of esophageal cancer, says the International Journal of Cancer.

You don’t have to abandon cheese entirely, though. Gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan recommends eating a small amount of cheese at the beginning of the meal. That will lower the heartburn you feel at the end of the meal. Plus, use low-fat options like Parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and feta.

Fatty Fish Helps; Fish Oil Supplements Don’t

Cans of tuna are stacked in rows.
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Getty Images

As a lean meat, fish makes an excellent addition to a GERD diet. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and anchovies contain polyunsaturated fats in the form of omega-3s. In animal studies, these fats have effectively reduced acid reflux, according to Lipids in Health and Disease.

However, fish oil supplements may do the opposite. Many people have experienced heartburn after taking fish oil supplements. This could be due to the high intake of fat, which has worsened acid reflux in studies. If you want the benefits, eat real fish; don’t take the supplements.

Depending On Caffeine, Tea May Work

A woman holds a cup of tea.
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Pixabay/freephotocc

A common misconception about the GERD diet is that patients have to avoid tea. According to the scientific journal Medicine, tea consumption has no direct relationship with acid reflux. Only teas that are high in caffeine, such as black teas, have been reported to worsen GERD symptoms.

In 2011, a study in Digestive Diseases and Sciences noted that even green tea–which has less caffeine than black tea or yerba mate–can make heartburn worse. Peppermint tea can also trigger acid reflux, but decaffeinated herbal teas (such as chamomile) are okay to drink.

Quinoa Is The Ultimate Heartburn-Free Side Dish

A person stirs quinoa in a pot.
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Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

When it comes to a heartburn diet, quinoa is the best grain choice. For one, it’s far higher in fiber than other grains, with 17 to 27 grams per cup. A 2005 study in the journal Gut associated a high-fiber diet with fewer acid reflux symptoms.

According to research in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, GERD patients on a high-fiber diet experienced less heartburn than those with less fiber. Although quinoa has a high amount of carbs, it is also gluten-free and filled with protein and vitamins. It’s far healthier than all other grains.

The Myth About Apples And GERD

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Unsplash/@priscilladupreez

For years, health authors have advocated eating apples to relieve and even cure GERD. The theory is that apples can neutralize stomach acid, but “that’s all theory with nothing to support it,” says gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz. Instead, GERD stems from a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter.

That said, there is a reason to eat more apples. In 2017, research in JAMA concluded that a diet heavy in plant-based foods soothed acid reflux symptoms better than medication. An apple can provide fiber and nutrients to stave off heartburn.

Consider Switching To Milk Alternatives

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Twitter/@Channel4

Milks that are high in fat can trigger acid reflux, according to the University of Southern California. If you’re not a fan of low-fat milks, consider drinking alternatives such as almond, oat, or soy milk. But the fat isn’t the only reason why non-dairy alternatives may help.

Registered dietitian Cynthia Sass says that some people with a dairy sensitivity may suffer from acid reflux. The food sensitivity triggers inflammation, which can worsen heartburn. “For many, nixing dairy can eliminate reflux,” Sass claims.

Watermelon Is Effectively Low Acid

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Valery MatytsinTASS via Getty Images
Valery MatytsinTASS via Getty Images

As its name suggests, watermelon is 92% water, which makes it less acidic than other fruits. These alkaline foods can improve acid reflux over time. In 2011, research in The Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology reported that a low-acid diet improved GERD symptoms in patients.

Because watermelon is so hydrating, it can keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy, says Medical News Today. With a better digestive tract, patients will receive less gas to irritate acid reflux. Although many BBQ foods can worsen symptoms, watermelon is there to cool things down.

Never Eat Chia Seeds Raw

Black and White Chia seeds are soaked in various juice flavors.
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Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images

With its high fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds seem like an ideal addition to a GERD diet. However, patients should never eat them raw. Because chia seeds absorb 27 times their weight in water, they can expand and obstruct the esophagus, says Carolinas Medical Center doctor Rebecca Rawl.

If the chia seeds cling to the esophagus, they could make symptoms feel worse. You can prevent this by soaking the chia seeds in water before eating them. Even two minutes can make a difference in two your body consumes the seeds.

Is Celery Juice A Miracle Cure?

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Twitter/@BevansLucy

Although some authors have claimed that drinking celery juice can cure acid reflux, others argue against it. “There isn’t much scientific evidence to support the majority of health claims about drinking celery juice,” says Malina Malkani, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Celery has some benefits that could improve acid reflux, such as high fiber and vitamin C. However, juicing it removes all the fiber, Malkani explains. You’ll have better luck eating whole celery along with other vegetables that can improve GERD symptoms.

Prepare For Pineapple, Because It’s Acidic

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ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

Like oranges and lemons, pineapple is highly acidic. Since it has a pH score between three and four, many people find that pineapples encourage acid reflux. However, there isn’t enough research linking pineapple to heartburn, so it is not yet noted by the American College of Gastroenterology food guidelines.

Dr. Jonathon E. Aviv from Livestrong recommends doing “detective work” to see if pineapple makes you feel worse. Sometimes, linking pineapple with an alkaline food can nullify the symptoms, he says. Keep these risks in mind the next time you eat pineapple.

Lemon Water May Not Hurt

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Pixabay/Makype

Because lemons are so acidic, many GERD patients are advised to avoid the fruit. But some claim that they feel fine after drinking lemon water, so what’s the truth? According to 2014 research from Arquivos de Gastroenterologia, drinking citrus juice in water caused no worse symptoms in GERD patients.

Of course, this largely depends on how much lemon juice people use, and how frequently they drink citrus-flavored water. Once in a while may not harm anyone, but constantly juicing lemons could prompt heartburn. As with all other foods on this list, learn how it affects your body.

Drinking Pickle Juice Doesn’t Help

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Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Believe it or not, some people have advertised that drinking pickle juice can improve acid reflux. They believe that the probiotics in pickles can improve stomach health. But according to Cleveland Clinic, these probiotics largely disappear during the fermentation process, so it will hardly impact GERD.

Another claim is that vinegar can delay heartburn. Harvard Health Publishing argues that no research has supported vinegar as a GERD cure. Because vinegar and pickles are incredibly acidic, they may trigger acid reflux instead of help it.

Enjoy Whole Grain Bread And Rice

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Pixabay/MelanieFHardy
Pixabay/MelanieFHardy

If you have GERD, you don’t need to give up grains. Whole grains improve the digestive tract and help your stomach break down food, explains registered dietitian and nutritionist Suzanne Dixon. “[Whole grains] are associated with reducing risk of GERD in multiple studies,” she told Vitacost.

In 2017, a study in JAMA discovered that eating a Mediterranean diet assuaged acid reflux in GERD patients. Whole grains, including brown rice and wheat pasta, are central to this diet. A quick switch from white bread to wheat can positively change your symptoms.