Plant-Based Diet for Acid Reflux: Natural Solutions and Benefits

Plant-Based Diet for Acid Reflux: Natural Solutions and Benefits

Published on Monday, November 27, 2023 by Savannah Duffy

The Power of Plants: Managing Acid Reflux with a Plant-Based Diet

Acid reflux has become increasingly more prevalent over the past few decades. One hypothesis for this connects the Western diet with acid reflux. In response to this, many acid reflux sufferers are turning to plant-based diets for help in providing relief.  

Let’s take a look at some of the research that backs these theories up:

  • A 2017 observational study showed that vegetarians were less likely to experience acid reflux. 
  • A cross-sectional study in Eastern Asia linked the Mediterranean diet with a decreased risk of reflux disease.
  • An epidemiology study in India found that nonvegetarian food intake increased the occurrence of reflux episodes.

While there is plenty of evidence showing that various plant-based diets can impact acid reflux, let’s look at the research that proposes how:

Weight Loss and Acid Reflux Relief: The Role of Plant-Based Diets

For starters, people with excess body weight often experience relief in acid reflux symptoms with weight loss. We have evidence that a plant-based diet can help you achieve your weight goals. However, it is important to note that a plant-based diet does not always automatically translate to a healthy diet. You can technically follow a plant-based diet yet still choose heavily processed foods high in saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Doing this can make weight loss or symptom management more challenging. 

The Fiber Connection: How Plant-Based Diets Aid Digestion

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fiber is our friend! Fiber helps with increased gut motility; decreased gut motility may contribute to acid reflux. A 2018 study looked at the effects of a fiber supplement on acid reflux in individuals who typically follow a low-fiber diet. At the end of the study, participants experienced significantly less heartburn and fewer episodes of gastroesophageal reflux events. Plant-based diets can provide a natural way to increase fiber without relying on a supplement.

Protein Source: Animal vs. Plant Protein 

Another research study examined differences in protein from plant or animal sources on postprandial acid reflux. They found that the patients who consumed animal proteins were more likely to have reflux events after eating a meal. Heartburn exhibited similar patterns. The researchers hypothesize that the reason for this is that animal protein foods typically have higher amounts of dietary fat compared to vegetal (plant) proteins, even when the calorie intake is equivalent. Patients with the highest meat intake had a higher risk of esophagitis, which, again, is linked to the dietary fat content of these foods. 

Optimizing Your Plant-Based Diet for Acid Reflux Management

A Western diet is heavy on animal products, including meat and dairy, saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. A healthy plant-based diet consisting of primarily whole, unprocessed foods contains significantly less of these nutrients. Instead, you'll have an abundance of fiber, phytonutrients, and deliciousness. However, plant-based diets may still contain trigger foods. Plant foods that you may need to avoid or limit include:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomato and tomato products
  • Chocolate (yes, chocolate comes from a plant!)
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Mint
  • Spicy foods and seasonings like chili powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper
  • Fried plant foods like deep-fried vegetables, French fries, and falafel.

Are you looking to transition to a plant-based diet? Discover five helpful tips to get started!

  1. El-Serag, H. B., Sweet, S., Winchester, C. C., & Dent, J. (2014). Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut, 63(6), 871–880. 
  2. Wenzl, E. M., Riedl, R., Borenich, A., Petritsch, W., & Wenzl, H. H. (2021). Low prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in vegetarians. Indian journal of gastroenterology: Official Journal of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, 40(2), 154–161. 
  3. Mone, I., Kraja, B., Bregu, A., Duraj, V., Sadiku, E., Hyska, J., & Burazeri, G. (2016). Adherence to a predominantly Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease: A cross-sectional study in a South Eastern European population. Diseases of the Esophagus: Official Journal of the International Society for Diseases of the Esophagus, 29(7), 794–800. 
  4. Bhatia, S. J., Reddy, D. N., Ghoshal, U. C., Jayanthi, V., Abraham, P., Choudhuri, G., Broor, S. L., Ahuja, V., Augustine, P., Balakrishnan, V., Bhasin, D. K., Bhat, N., Chacko, A., Dadhich, S., Dhali, G. K., Dhawan, P. S., Dwivedi, M., Goenka, M. K., Koshy, A., Kumar, A., … Srinivasan, R. (2011). Epidemiology and symptom profile of gastroesophageal reflux in the Indian population: report of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology Task Force. Indian journal of gastroenterology: Official Journal of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, 30(3), 118–127. 
  5. Turner-McGrievy, G., Mandes, T., & Crimarco, A. (2017). A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 369–374. 
  6. Morozov, S., Isakov, V., & Konovalova, M. (2018). Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease. World journal of gastroenterology, 24(21), 2291–2299. 
  7. Martinucci, I., Guidi, G., Savarino, E. V., Frazzoni, M., Tolone, S., Frazzoni, L., Fuccio, L., Bertani, L., Bodini, G., Ceccarelli, L., Savarino, V., Marchi, S., & de Bortoli, N. (2018). Vegetal and Animal Food Proteins Have a Different Impact in the First Postprandial Hour of Impedance-pH Analysis in Patients with Heartburn. Gastroenterology research and practice, 2018, 7572430. 

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