Which Foods to Avoid With Acid Reflux and Digestion Issues?

21-Day Tummy, the new diet book from Reader's Digest, tells you which foods are harming your digestion and which foods will improve it.

By Liz Vaccariello from 21-Day Tummy (Reader's Digest Association Books)
  • Loading
    iStock/Thinkstock

    What common foods are good and bad for your belly?

    Foods containing rapidly fermentable carbohydrates called FODMAPs feed bacteria in your gut and may be responsible for gut inflammation, gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable tummy troubles. Cutting back on foods that contain FODMAPs will help improve your digestion, eliminate GI problems, and lead to weight-loss. 

    Image Source/Thinkstock

    Watermelon: avoid

    This lovely summer treat isn’t as harmless as all the water it contains. Watermelon is high in fructose, fructans, and polyols, which are FODMAPs. Remember, the more the FODMAPs, the more potential for tummy trouble. 

    Fermented Foods: enjoy some, avoid some

    Some fermented foods are good for your tummy; others can create problems for certain people. Fermented foods include wine, cheese, vinegar, miso, yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles. In yogurt, milk is combined with bacterias that break down some of the lactose, so what remains may be easier for your stomach to process. So fermented foods such as yogurt are often considered “probiotic foods” that are good for your gut. Look for dairy products that are low in lactose and your digestion should be A-OK.

    Pistachios, Cashews, Hazelnuts, and Almonds: avoid

    Most nuts are good for your tummy, but pistachios and cashews are high in fructans and GOS, both FODMAPs. Hazelnuts and almonds are a little higher in FODMAPs than some other nuts so eat them in limited quantities (10 nuts or 1 tablespoon nut butter per serving). Steer clear of almond milk, which is made with large amounts of almonds.

    Acidic Foods: enjoy with caution

    In almost every list of “the worst foods for digestion,” you’ll find acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes. These are commonly thought to cause heartburn, but studies have shown that acidic foods don’t have any effect on LES pressure (pressure on the doorway between the esophagus and the stomach) and don’t cause heartburn symptoms. However, if you have severe acid reflux that hasn’t been treated and has irritated the esophagus, acidic foods can be like “salt in the wound.” So if you find that oranges or tomatoes do make your heartburn feel worse, replace them with other fruits.

    Michael Blann/Thinkstock

    Dairy Foods: enjoy some, avoid some

    Not all dairy foods have equal amounts of lactose, which can cause digestion issues, and even those with lactose intolerance are usually okay with small amounts of lactose. That means that not all milk, cheeses, and dairy products are tummy twisters! Hard cheeses, like cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan, generally have less than a gram of lactose per serving. And plain Greek yogurt is relatively low in lactose because more of the lactose-containing liquid whey is drained off than in regular yogurt. Beware of processed cheeses and flavored yogurts that may have milk, whey, or other milk products added back in for flavor; those can bump the lactose content up again.

    Soy Foods: enjoy some, avoid some

    Whole soybeans (often sold as edamame), like other beans, are a source of GOS, hard to digest chains of sugars. Tofu and tempeh are made using processes that eliminate some of the GOS, making them easier on your digestion. What about soymilk? It depends. If soymilk is made with only soybean isolates or soy protein, then it should be low in FODMAPs. Soymilk made with whole soybeans is likely a source of GOS, making soymilk a gassy beverage for some, so read the ingredients.

    iStock/Thinkstock

    Blackberries: avoid

    Strawberries, blueberries,blackberries—which is the odd one out here? Blackberries, while rich in antioxidants, are also rich in polyols, a difficult to digest sugar alcohol, which can cause some real problems if your stomach is sensitive to them.

    Tomato and Tomato Products: enjoy some, avoid some

    Fresh and canned tomatoes are fine for your tummy. But tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomato that has excess fructose, a FODMAP that makes it a no-no except in small quantities. And tomato sauces? If they’re homemade,they’re fine to eat on the 21-Day Tummy plan (just don’t cook it to the point where all the juices are lost). Most commercial sauces have onions and garlic (FODMAPs), added sugar (which may make it carb dense), and salt (which bloats you), so steer clear of the store-bought variety.

    Grapefruit: enjoy with caution

    Grapefruit does have hard to digest fructans, so you should try to limit how much you eat. A few sections should be okay, but don’t eat a half a grapefruit. If you’re looking for citrus, lemon, lime, and oranges are your best bets.

    iStock/Thinkstock

    Milk: enjoy some, avoid some

    All types of animal milk are high in tummy twisting lactose—that means goat’s or sheep’s milk can be just as problematic as cow’s milk. Plant-based milks, such as coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk, are technically not milk at all and generally do not have any lactose. Some, however, including almond milk and soy milk, may contain other FODMAPs that harm your digestion.

    Corn: avoid

    Corn comes in many varieties, such as popcorn, on the cob, and in polenta. Fresh sweet corn contains two types of FODMAPs; making corn challenging for some people to digest. Popcorn feels like a light and healthy snack, but it’s actually carb-dense (it has about 64 grams of carbs per 100 grams) and may also have trans fats added to help make it shelf stable, both of which can upset digestion. Whole meal cornmeal and corn tortillas seem to be better tolerated by most people. Whole grain polenta is also low in FODMAPs. You may need to experiment a little to figure out which corn products work for you. And stick with only limited quantities (up to 1 cup cooked per serving).

    Common Cabbage: enjoy

    Cabbage usually makes it on all the lists of foods that make you gassy, but common green cabbage doesn’t deserve that reputation. It’s actually low in FODMAPs and most of us break it down very well. Red cabbage also seems to be well tolerated but savoy and napa cabbage is much higher in FODMAPs and should be limited if you tend to suffer from gas and bloating.

    iStock/Thinkstock

    Hot Sauce: enjoy with caution

    Tolerance to hot sauce is very individual. It's more problematic for those with heartburn. If you would like to try some, pick a brand without onion and garlic. 

    Your Comments

    • jordanjones

      Ginger is really good for acid reflux due to its anti-inflamatory properties it soothes the gastro intestinal problems.