Nutrition Articles

Dietary Tips for Digestive Distress

Stop Your Bellyaching!

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Diet and Lifestyle Habits to Stop Your Bellyaching

You're not doomed to suffer from digestive distress for the rest of your life. In addition to your doctor's advice, the following dietary and lifestyle changes can help prevent and control heartburn, indigestion, GERD and ulcers by decreasing gastric secretions and minimizing regurgitation.

Foods to Avoid
Although every person reacts to foods differently, it's a good idea to narrow down the foods that might cause you problems.  Avoid or limit the following foods and beverages, which are known to cause irritation and spasms, until you can pinpoint your specific triggers:
  • Alcohol
  • Butter or margarine
  • Caffeine-containing foods and beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Citrus fruits and citrus juices
  • Coffee (regular and decaf)
  • Cream-based sauces
  • Fatty meats
  • Fried foods
  • Garlic
  • Gravy
  • High-fat foods
  • Mint flavors
  • Nuts and nut butters (including peanut butter)
  • Oils
  • Onions
  • Pastries
  • Pepper
  • Peppermint
  • Salad dressings
  • Spearmint
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Vinegar
Tips for Meal Planning
Planning your meals and meal times can help prevent heartburn in the first place.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals that are higher in protein, which helps keep acid levels more consistent.
  • Drink fluids between meals, but limit beverages during meals since they may cause bloating.
  • Avoid stressful situations at mealtimes. Eat in a calm, relaxed atmosphere making sure to eat slowly and chew your food completely.
  • Attain and maintain a desirable weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdomen and internal organs and can lead to digestive problems.
  • Remain upright (standing or sitting) for 30 minutes after eating. This helps relieve pressure.
  • Stop eating several hours before bedtime. If you lie down or fall asleep soon after eating, you're more likely to suffer acid reflux.
Other Lifestyle Habits
These other tips will also help prevent digestive distress.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking causes a host of serious diseases, but it also negatively affects your digestive system. Smoking is known to cause heartburn, peptic ulcers and other digestive distresses.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Tight clothing and belts put pressure on the abdomen and increase reflux and discomfort.
  • Elevate the head of your bed while sleeping.
  • Ask your doctor about antacids. They can help increase pressure on the lower sphincter (a good thing!) and neutralize gastic contents. Always use as directed and with your doctor's approval.
  • Don't exercise on a full stomach. Wait at least two hours between eating and exercising to prevent the exercise-induced heartburn.
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About The Author

Tanya Jolliffe Tanya Jolliffe
Tanya earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition and has more than 20 years of experience in nutrition counseling and education. She is a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. See all of Tanya's articles.

Member Comments

  • Losing some weight and cutting sugar and wheat carbs and all the reflux is gone ... - 5/26/2016 6:34:56 AM
    I was told by a Professor with a doctorate and works with hundreds of different families of chiles all day, that the capsaicin in capsicums actually fight the stuff that produce ulcers and help your digestive health. Your receptors might be firing, but it isn't physically doing damage. - 2/15/2016 8:34:34 AM
  • Wouldn't it just be easier to say "don't eat"?? - 10/6/2015 5:28:19 PM
  • Yikes, I eat all but 6 of the items on the list. - 6/29/2015 10:30:56 AM
  • If you stop eating all the foods on the list, what is there left to eat? - 3/14/2014 11:54:53 AM
  • Ditto what Woubbie said.
    I have had GERD for more than 20 years.
    I can eat all kinds of fatty or spicy foods without heartburn, but a few bites of bread will bring on the pain.
    As my GI recommends, eat a "no white" diet - 2/9/2014 3:26:22 PM
    if you have a little heartburn eat 1/2 banana - 2/7/2014 6:30:40 PM
  • No starch, no sugar, no GERD. - 2/7/2014 8:32:18 AM
  • Drinking water can cause my Gerd at night. If it is really bad at night even though I took my morning meds a tablespoon of vinegar will help the burning in your throat. Took me awhile to try this as it seemed so strange but it did work. - 1/25/2014 2:23:22 PM
  • A tbs of juice from a jar of pickles can relieve indigestion very quickly. - 1/4/2014 10:24:40 AM
  • Helpful, but the list is only a very general guide. Many foods that bother me aren't on the list. Other helpful foods are. For example, I have found that peppermint is actually good for my belly. Nuts are good, too, in moderation and chewed thoroughly, especially for those of us trying to keep our fiber intake up. I think you have to keep a food diary and just figure it out for yourself what bothers you and what doesn't - 9/6/2013 9:39:44 PM
  • To Princessdi62, I have heard of LINX, but it is fairly new technology. Last year I had Nissan fundoplication for severe GERD. It's major surgery and not for everyone, but I am pretty much reflux free after having reflux since I was a small child, so I am pleased with the outcome. - 8/16/2013 9:06:12 AM
    What amazes me is that nobody is mentioning the importance of drinking plain ordinairy water.Quite often the acidity felt is due to the body being in need of water.Many people fail to drink enough water throughout theday,perfering to drink tea,coffee, carbonated drinks ,fruit juice when in fact all of these can affect the gut.Strong tea and coffee can cause indigestion.....M
    any people say they are unable to eat breakfast first thing because they feel sick,drinking a glass of water can prevent that. - 8/8/2013 7:08:12 PM
  • Hello there,

    Has anyone considered the LINX procedure at Hoag Hospital? I have heard it does wonders. - 7/29/2013 3:17:02 PM
  • Please go to an Allergist. They found out in 2 visits that I have intolerance to foods. I was a mess the next day. I went to the office and said now what? They stuck me with an Epi Pen and had me sit in the office for an hour.

    Also; older adults who never knew they had food intolerance or knew but food didn't bother them that bad, (when they were younger) may experience a more often episode of acid reflux, indigestion/heart burn or in my case a sensitive mouth/ lip, or tongue, hives or swollen eyes. - 5/29/2013 3:33:46 PM

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