Many people with heartburn or peptic ulcer disease find that their symptoms are related to food and drink. Certain foods and drinks seem to trigger symptoms or make them worse. If this is really the case, they should be avoided. However, there are no special diets for acid-related disorders. The so-called "ulcer diets" of many years ago are today recognised to be of no value.
The term ‘diet’ relates to both the quantity and quality of food that you eat. However, it may also be important to consider how and when you eat if you have an acid-related disorder.
Your general health will benefit if you can maintain your body weight within the normal range for your height. This can be achieved if you can balance the energy in your diet with the energy you use each day.
Excess weight can lead to health problems in the long-term and it can also worsen reflux symptoms. If you are overweight, the fat in your abdomen leaves less room for your stomach so that if you consume a large meal, some of the contents of your stomach may be squeezed back into your gullet (oesophagus), leading to heartburn. Bending or wearing tight clothing may also worsen reflux symptoms, particularly if you are overweight.
Large meals and large quantities of fluid make reflux more likely, especially if you have them before lying down or going to bed. "Little and often and not late at night" will make reflux less likely. Smaller meals and fewer calories, combined with increased exercise, will help you lose weight.
A healthy diet depends on variety and balance. Some people with reflux or an ulcer find that certain foods can aggravate their condition but, in general, a normal balanced diet is all you need if you have an acid-related disorder.
A balanced diet has the right proportions of carbohydrates (including fibre), proteins and fats, together with adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and water. These can all be obtained from ordinary foods.
A good starting point is to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables each day. This is easy to achieve. For example, you could have an apple in the morning, a banana after lunch, and one or two tablespoons of vegetables at both lunch and dinner.
Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and fibre that may be missing from convenience foods. Extra carbohydrate is best obtained from starch rather than sugar. Foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and beans provide a lasting supply of energy and contain other nutrients. High sugar and high fat foods contain a lot of calories without much other food value.
It is usually not necessary to look for sources of fat in the diet. However, there is evidence to suggest that oily fish, nuts and pure seed oils including olive oil may have beneficial effects. The fats in meat, eggs, dairy products and much fried food are probably not essential, especially if you have your own fat supply to burn off. Fatty food may also be one of the things that trigger heartburn. So fat could be on your list of foods to avoid. Grill rather than fry and beware of the fat content of ready meals and other processed food products.
Protein is readily available in meat and fish as well as peas, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Meat is not essential to your diet but it is rich in protein and iron. Choosing lean meat or eating smaller portions will help reduce your intake of saturated fat. Fish is also a useful alternative that you could consider having at least once per week. Eggs and dairy products are nutrient rich.
Although special diets were once used to treat acid-related disorders, it is now thought that a balanced diet is all you need. Nevertheless, you may find that certain foods can make your condition worse.
Discovering the foods that trigger your attacks of heartburn or reflux may be a case of trial and error. To help identify problem foods, you could keep a diary. You may find certain foods are soothing whilst others cause pain. If you suffer severe or persistent symptoms you should consult your doctor.
If you have an acid-related disorder it may be helpful to eat little and often rather than the traditional three larger meals. Avoid eating a large meal at night. If you have reflux it may be wise not to lie down for a couple of hours after eating. You should have your last food and drink two to three hours before retiring to bed, especially if night time reflux is a problem. Hurried, unrelaxed meals can give anybody indigestion so take your time when eating.