You may never have heard of GERD – that is, unless you or a family member has been diagnosed with it. It’s not an uncommon disease, though; it’s estimated that two-thirds of young infants temporarily suffer with some form of GERD , and there are special formulas for feeding those children.
Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ll definitely understand what it is. GERD is simply the medical term – gastroesophageal reflux disease – for recurring heartburn or acid indigestion.
In more specific terms, GERD is a disease which sees food or gastric acid regularly flow up instead of down. And when that material flows up, that takes it into the food pipe (the esophagus) which connects the mouth and stomach. The result is often irritation, burning sensations in the abdomen, or chest pain.
In less-serious cases, GERD can produce belching, bloating or similar health problems. More serious cases can cause complications like esophagitis (a potentially-dangerous internal inflammatory condition) or Barrett’s esophagus (which may lead to cancer).
Another term that’s commonly used for GERD is acid reflux, but there’s a slight difference between the two. When acid reflux symptoms occur more than twice a week, it’s diagnosed as GERD. Pregnancy, obesity and hiatal hernias are three possible causes, but more often GERD is a byproduct of lifestyle and diet.
Some relatively-simple measures, like taking antacids, sleeping with your head elevated or quitting smoking (yes, we know that’s not really simple) can sometimes keep stomach contents where they’re supposed to be, relieving or easing GERD.
For mild cases, over-the-counter antacids like Pepcid may be enough to treat the issue. There are also medications that can help; H2 blockers like Pepcid and Zantac, and proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium and Aciphex, are sometimes prescribed.
But one of the best long-term approaches is to change your diet.
The Actual Reason for GERD
The tube connecting the throat with the stomach is called the esophagus. Normally, the body’s lower esophageal sphincter (somewhat similar to a valve and known as the LES) stops food or stomach acid from moving in the wrong direction. When it’s been damaged or weakened, though, acid can flow back into the esophagus, causing pain. That’s what we recognize as heartburn or reflux – and in frequently-occurring cases, GERD.
Surgical repairs to the sphincter are possible but usually not necessary, because GERD symptoms can normally be alleviated by diet and lifestyle changes. Doctors only recommend surgery when those non-invasive approaches don’t work. 
In other words, physicians prefer to treat the symptoms of GERD instead of operating. Not only is that treatment an easier and less expensive approach; diet and lifestyle improvements will also prevent further damage to the esophagus and improve the patient’s digestive health and overall wellness.
Most of the lifestyle changes aren’t hard to guess: lose weight, exercise more and quit smoking (smoke damages the LES). Medical professionals also recommend avoiding large meals and eating smaller portions (giving the stomach less to digest at one time), eating slowly and staying upright for three hours after eating (to let digestion occur naturally), wearing loose-fitting clothing (so tight waists don’t force acid into the esophagus), and sleeping on an incline. 
It’s not quite as easy to change your diet, but that may be the best way to deal with GERD and its painful symptoms.
Following a GERD-Friendly Diet
Truthfully, there’s no such thing as a universally-accepted “GERD diet.”
However, the primary dietary culprits responsible for heartburn, acid reflux and GERD are very well understood. That makes it possible to change your eating (and drinking) habits without following a rigorous diet, in order to minimize the pain and discomfort of this disease.
You may already suspect some foods as heartburn triggers, but there are many more which may surprise you.
Foods to Avoid
Certain foods and beverages are best avoided as much as possible.
- Meat: Fatty acids and cholesterol are likely to worsen the symptoms of GERD , and most cuts of meat are high in both. Fatty meats, especially red meats, should be eliminated as regular dietary staples. Sugar can also be a culprit. 
- High-fat foods and oils: Avoiding fatty foods (those made with saturated or trans fats) as much as possible will prevent the LES from relaxing too much, keeping stomach contents and acid from backing up into the esophagus. Some of those foods are obvious no-nos (French fries), but some (potato chips, full-fat ice cream) may not be.
- Dairy products: It’s been shown that the astronomically-high (and thankfully, mostly temporary) number of infant GERD cases is caused by cow’s milk.  Adults with GERD symptoms often have a milk allergy, presenting similar reactions to whole milk and other dairy products which contain large amounts of saturated fats ; low-fat milk may work as a good substitute.
- Salt: Large amounts of salt don’t necessarily cause reflux or GERD, but they can trigger reflux in those prone to it.
- Alcohol: Some people who drink alcohol regularly have found that their GERD symptoms disappear after they stop. It’s also a good idea for sufferers to avoid drinking regularly, because alcohol can damage the esophagus and make the disease even worse.
Other foods and ingredients which are often GERD triggers include chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits (particularly grapefruit), onions, tomato products, peppermint, and carbonated soda. It’s also best to avoid fried foods, spicy foods, and acidic foods and drinks.
Foods Which May Reduce GERD Symptoms
Adding some of these foods to your diet can help your digestive system work more efficiently, and may lessen the effects of acid reflux or GERD. Not all of them will help everyone, and none of them “cures” GERD. But they’re healthy dietary changes to make, and have been very helpful to many sufferers.
- Ginger and fennel: These are natural anti-inflammatories which can calm the digestive tract. Herbal teas can also help.
- Whole grains: Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain breads and similar foods boost fiber, which has been shown to limit reflux. Complex carbs like potatoes and root vegetables are also good choices.
- Healthy fats: A good way to get the body the fat it needs without worsening GERD; avocados, walnuts, olive and sunflower oils are good examples.
- Lean meats: Poultry and fish are vastly preferable to red meat for GERD sufferers.
- Green vegetables, non-citrus fruits, and egg whites.
There are also herbal home remedies which have helped some patients with GERD. They include slippery elm, marshmallow (the root, not the candy), licorice and chamomile. Only small studies show these remedies effective against GERD – but they certainly can’t hurt unless you’re pregnant or nursing; please consult your doctor in those cases.