Take the Heartburn Out of the Holidays With These Simple Food Swaps

Your favorite dishes may make GERD symptoms worse.

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The foods that make up your holiday spread are probably lurking with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) triggers. Symptoms of this digestive condition include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, bad breath, a chronic cough, a sore throat and sour tastes in the mouth.

If you have GERD, you don’t have to skip your favorite holiday foods all together, but you may want to make some tweaks to your menu. Here are 10 of the best and worst holiday foods for people with GERD.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Worst: Alcohol

2 / 11 Worst: Alcohol

Holiday parties typically boast a fully stocked bar, but if you have heartburn or GERD, getting tipsy may cause problems later. Alcohol accelerates the production of acid in the stomach and can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Even though drinking alcohol varies from person to person, it’s best to play it safe and stick to sparkling water or iced water with lime.

Worst: Onions and garlic

3 / 11 Worst: Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic may increase your risk of heartburn, a burning feeling in your chest. Some classic holiday sides like green bean casserole are loaded with fried onions and garlic, so satisfy your taste buds and stomach by trying a new side like sauteed green beans and carrots. 

Worst: Tomatoes

4 / 11 Worst: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are acidic and can cause the body to produce extra gastric acid. If you’re serving a salad, leave the tomatoes on the side for guests to add on their own and stick with lightly-creamed pasta dishes rather than marinara-based recipes. Heavy cream-based dishes may also trigger GERD symptoms.

Worst: Caffeinated beverages

5 / 11 Worst: Caffeinated beverages

Chances are you’ll need a jolt of caffeine at some point this holiday season, but too much caffeine may do more harm than good. Caffeine can create an extra build-up of gastric acid in the stomach and esophagus, and also relax the lower esophageal sphincter, intensifying symptoms of acid reflux. Try caffeine-free tea and coffee or a glass of soda water with lime to accompany your meal instead. 

Worst: High-fat foods

6 / 11 Worst: High-fat foods

Fried foods and fatty desserts like pies and cakes are high in fat, and have been known to slow down the emptying of the stomach. If you overdo it on these picks, you may have some discomfort. Steer clear of the fried turkey or pecan pie. Indulge in a small sliver of must-have desserts on special occasions, and if you’re still craving something sweet, try a whole-grain dinner roll with a light drizzle of honey. 

Best: Non-citrus fruits

7 / 11 Best: Non-citrus fruits

Many citrus fruits like lemons and oranges may actually trigger symptoms of acid reflux. Try non-citrus fruits like bananas, mangos, apples and peaches, which are low in acid and less likely to relax the esophageal sphincter. Snack on sliced apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon for dessert or a fruit salad with nuts for a snack.

Best: Vegetables

8 / 11 Best: Vegetables

Vegetables are a safe dish for people with GERD, but beware hidden ingredients like butter and added salt that can cause chest pain and trouble swallowing. Steamed asparagus, sweet peppers and mild green veggies such as arugula and collard greens with a very light sprinkle of salt and pepper are healthy, GERD-safe side options. Sauteed spinach with sliced apples and walnuts is a sweet veggie option, too. 

Best: Lean protein

9 / 11 Best: Lean protein

Fried meats are high in fat, so they relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which causes a sour taste in the mouth and acid to rise up from your esophagus. But lean meats like baked or grilled turkey or chicken are easier on the digestive system. Try a few slices of the holiday turkey or chicken, with a side of steamed asparagus, oven-roasted potatoes and a whole-grain dinner roll.

Best: Baked potatoes

10 / 11 Best: Baked potatoes

Mashed potatoes are typically filled with butter and spices, two things that can trigger heartburn and acid reflux-like symptoms. Plain baked potatoes are filled with healthy carbohydrates and dietary fiber, and may reduce the amount of acid build-up in the stomach and minimize pain in the chest. Try slicing a modest-sized baked potato in half, add freshly-sliced chives and a small amount of powdered butter—bake in the oven until crispy. Roasted potato cubes with olive oil and chives make for a yummy, decorative side, too. 

Best: Brown rice

11 / 11 Best: Brown rice

In addition to oatmeal and whole-grain bread, brown rice is a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Rice is also easy to throw together and pairs with just about any other dish. Try a serving of lean protein, steamed vegetables, a light drizzle of gravy—keeping in mind that too much gravy can trigger GERD symptoms—all served over a half-cup of brown rice.

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