Written for Reflux1 by Michelle Alford
The incidence of acid reflux has increased dramatically over the past two generations. Recent research shows that as many as four out of every ten Americans are suffering from acid reflux. Once considered a disease of middle age, acid reflux also affects 37% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 30. One major contributor in this increase is a change in the American diet towards eating more processed, fatty, and caffeinated foods. By altering their diets, many acid reflux suffers could relieve or completely eradicate their symptoms.
The first step to fighting acid reflux is understanding how diet affects your risk.
Any food that comes in a can or bottle includes acid. In 1973, the FDA mandated that acid be added to any processed foods in order to kill bacteria and prevent food poisoning. This includes canned baby foods, resulting in kids who grow up with more acid in their diet than previous generations.
Other foods and drinks contribute to acid reflux not because they are high in acid but because they relax the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for the stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus. Chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol are all guilty of this.
Dr. Koufman's Advice
Don't eat anything after 8pm
Minimize your consumption of carbonated drinks
You only need enough sauce or dressing for your tongue to taste; a little works as well as a lot
Don't cut out the food you love--eat it in moderation
Don't expect medication to completely cure your reflux if you're still consuming a lot of highly acidic foods and beverages
In addition, anything that puts pressure on the stomach, including fatty and fried foods that take longer to digest, eating too large of meals, or wearing tight clothes can increase the amount of food refluxing into the esophagus.
Knowing that these foods can lead to acid reflux doesn’t mean that you have to avoid them entirely. “One of the biggest concerns of my reflux patients is that they’ll have to have a restricted diet for the rest of their lives,” says reflux expert and author of Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure Dr. Jamie Koufman. “In the old days of reflux diet, they took out all fat and it tasted like cardboard. We focus on balance instead of completely removing fat and acid. If people have trigger foods, then absolutely they should avoid those, but otherwise they should be able to eat anything as long as it’s done in moderation. One glass of wine or one cocktail is fine, but not two. A few bites of rich ice cream instead of a few scoops. We’ve been practicing this for three years with great results.”
Dr. Koufman tells the tale of one patient of hers, a 27-year-old woman named Catherine with terrible lungs and a persistent cough. Dr. Koufman treated her for over a year, teaching her how to manage her reflux. “There were three things that resulted in Catherine’s serious condition,” Dr. Koufman explains. “One, she was a late night eater. Two, she was a big drinker. She drank all night and fell asleep tipsy. Three, she ate a fair amount of fried food. When she fixed these things, she got better.”
Those serious about putting an end to their acid reflux should start with a two week strict detox diet to flush their systems and break bad habits. During this period, they should only eat nonacidic, low-fat foods. The best foods to eat are grains, vegetables, oatmeal, rice, and grilled fish and chicken. After two weeks, they can reintroduce their favorite fatty and acidic foods as long as they practice moderation and balance their diet with healthy and basic foods.
The most important thing for reflux sufferers is to be aware of what they eat and how it affects them. A few diet changes can significantly improve their quality of life without taking away the foods they love.
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Photo: Sharon Mollerus