Have Acid Reflux? Here's Exactly What To Eat (And Avoid)
Inflammation is currently taking over the health and wellness zeitgeist, becoming the holy grail of medicine and science as it can affect all of our anatomical systems and is believed to be ground zero for a wide range of medical conditions. If there is a code to how inflammation translates into illness, then unlocking it will undoubtedly revolutionize how we prevent and cure disease.
But for now, we only know one thing for sure: Inflammation is a precursor to a range of autoimmune, metabolic, and chronic diseases. And dietary acid injury, like that which occurs from acid reflux disease, illuminates this connection. The good news is that both inflammation and acid reflux can be prevented and improved through diet.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux disease affects 60 million Americans and over a billion people worldwide. Acid can be introduced to the body by the food we eat, or when it's refluxed out of the stomach. Until less than a year ago, it was thought that injury from acid reflux disease was limited to the particular area of the body exposed—but that's not accurate. What actually takes place is a body-wide inflammatory response. Effectively, the entire body can get torched from too much acid, and what's even worse is that millions of people suffer from inflammation and acid reflux and don't even know it. The subtle symptoms often go unchecked and wreak havoc on the body undetected.
The link between acid reflux and inflammation.
Acid can cause inflammation by affecting the digestive enzyme pepsin. Pepsin normally resides in the stomach and breaks down protein, but the more acidic the environment, the greater its activity. Recently, it was discovered that pepsin can float out of the stomach and attach itself to parts of the body far away from the stomach, including the lungs, throat, vocal cords, sinuses, and even the ears. Pepsin acts like a sleeper cell in those areas, only being activated when exposed to very acidic substances, like sugary soda and bottled ice tea. This can result in symptoms not usually associated with acid and inflammation, such as abdominal bloating, a chronic cough, hoarseness or a lump-like sensation in the throat.
Here's what to eat to fight acid and inflammation
My book, The Acid Watcher Diet takes advantage of these new scientific facts with a targeted strategy to both prevent and/or reduce acidity and inflammation and improve health.
Avoid highly acidic foods:
If you want to reduce inflammation (and bonus: lose weight), you'll want to avoid the acid reflux "dirty dozen," categorically broken down into six foods that are frankly acidic (less than pH 4) and six foods that loosen the muscular barrier separating the esophagus from the stomach. The acidic half dozen are sugary soda, bottled ice tea, citrus, tomato, vinegar, and wine. The "looseners" are caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, mint, raw onion, and garlic. Almost all processed foods—especially ones containing sugar—are either acidic or act as looseners.
Eat alkaline foods:
To prevent the activation of pepsin and to keep the inflammation response at bay, you should consume foods that are relatively alkaline such as melons, greens, nuts, and legumes. In the first 28 days of the Acid Watcher Diet (called the "healing phase") the focus is on the consumption of substances above pH 5. Two of my favorites are watermelon and seedless cucumber, which are not only above pH 6 but also very high in natural anti-inflammatory agents like lycopenes and lignans, respectively. Very healthy, antioxidant-laden fruits such as berries and even mandarin oranges, can have their acidity neutralized by adding what I call alkaline "CARS" (coconut, alkaline, rice, or soy) "milk" to them, in a smoothie or juice. Instead of vinegar-based dressings on salads, use dressings with olive oil, herbs, and Celtic salt, or ginger and carrot.
After putting over 6,000 people on this diet, I've found that inflammation visibly decreases in their throats, sinuses, and esophagus, thus reducing symptoms and improving health. So next time you reach for a snack or sit down to eat a meal, think about the acidity of what you're about to put in your mouth. Use these tips to keep your body free of inflammation and you'll be on your way to better health in no time.
Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS, is the Clinical Director of the Voice and Swallowing Center for ENT and Allergy Associates in New York, Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of The Acid Watcher Diet: A 28-Day Reflux Prevention and Healing Program (2017). He received his doctor of medicine degree from Columbia University.