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GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition in which food and acid in the stomach leak backward into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms 1. MedlinePlus says that left untreated, GERD can lead to other problems, ranging from tooth erosion and the formation of scar tissue to breathing problems, bleeding and increased risk of cancer. Treatment begins, according to MedlinePlus, with diet and lifestyle change. Vegetarians with GERD face special challenges, so ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian to make sure you meet your nutritional needs.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
The American Dietetic Association says that a vegetarian diet is one that does not include meat, poultry, seafood or foods made from these items 4. The ADA distinguishes between lacto-ovo, lacto- and total vegetarian diets. The adaptations required for GERD symptoms vary by the type of vegetarian diet you follow.
Foods to Enjoy
Foods That Don't Cause Heartburn
Fruits and vegetables -- with the exception of citrus and tomatoes -- form the foundation of a healthy diet for GERD. Dr. Rian Podein of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables curb the growth of bacteria that contribute to stomach acidity. Podein specifically suggests eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts at least twice a week. Grains are generally GERD neutral. Safe protein sources for vegetarians with GERD include egg whites, egg substitutes, non-cow’s milk dairy products such as feta or chevre cheese, and legumes.
- Fruits and vegetables -- with the exception of citrus and tomatoes -- form the foundation of a healthy diet for GERD.
- Safe protein sources for vegetarians with GERD include egg whites, egg substitutes, non-cow’s milk dairy products such as feta or chevre cheese, and legumes.
Foods to Limit
In the 2007 edition of his book “Integrative Medicine”, University of Washington professor David Rakel says that substances in cow’s milk trigger GERD symptoms for some people 23. Cow’s milk foods to limit include milk, yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella. Foods made from whole soy -- such as tofu, edamame, soy milk or cheese and soy "nuts" -- peanuts, tree nuts or egg yolk are protein staples for many vegetarians. However, because their fat content can potentiate acid secretion, you should proceed with caution and avoid consuming them at the end of the day or as part of a large meal.
- In the 2007 edition of his book “Integrative Medicine”, University of Washington professor David Rakel says that substances in cow’s milk trigger GERD symptoms for some people 2.
- Foods made from whole soy -- such as tofu, edamame, soy milk or cheese and soy "nuts" -- peanuts, tree nuts or egg yolk are protein staples for many vegetarians.
Foods to Avoid
Protein Foods & Acid Reflux
For vegetarians, this means avoiding fried tofu, fried eggs and fatty dairy products such as ice cream or sour cream. Fermented foods such as miso and tempeh also can pose problems.
The ADA says that some vegetarians have difficulty meeting needs for vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc. If you are a vegetarian who also takes over-the-counter or prescription medications for GERD, ask your doctor about monitoring these nutrients. Over time, deficiencies in these nutrients can produce complications such as:
- osteoporosis and
- in the case of B12 deficiency
- neurological problems
If you continue to experience symptoms despite making changes to your diet, see your doctor, who might recommend other treatments to control your GERD. Also ask about registered dietitian services. Modifying a vegetarian diet to accommodate GERD can be difficult. A registered dietitian can help you tailor your diet to your individual food preferences and lifestyle, or to manage another health problem, such as diabetes.
- If you continue to experience symptoms despite making changes to your diet, see your doctor, who might recommend other treatments to control your GERD.
- A registered dietitian can help you tailor your diet to your individual food preferences and lifestyle, or to manage another health problem, such as diabetes.
Foods That Don't Cause Heartburn
Protein Foods & Acid Reflux
Diet to Help With an Esophageal Sphincter Problem
Esophageal Erosion Symptoms
Side Effects of HCL Supplements
Good Things to Eat if You Have Acid Reflux
Pain in the Left Shoulder After Eating
Acid Reflux and Regurgitation
What Are the Causes of Heartburn Every Day?
Heartburn and Breastfeeding
- MedlinePlus: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- “Integrative Medicine”; David Rakel, M.D.; 2007
- University of Wisconsin: Integrative Medicine: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets
- Ruszniewski P, Soufflet C, Barthélémy P. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use as a risk factor for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: an observational study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008;28(9):1134-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03821.x
- Monajemzadeh M, Haghi-ashtiani MT, Soleymani R, et al. Is There any Association Between Passive Smoking and Esophagitis in Pediatrics?. Iran J Pediatr. 2013;23(2):194-8.
- Ramu B, Mohan P, Rajasekaran MS, Jayanthi V. Prevalence and risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux in pregnancy. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2011;30(3):144-7. doi:10.1007/s12664-010-0067-3
- Cleveland Clinic. Lifestyle Changes to Treat GERD. Aug 21, 2018.
- Jarosz M, Taraszewska A. Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease: the role of diet. Prz Gastroenterol. 2014;9(5):297-301. doi:10.5114/pg.2014.46166
- Mastronarde JG. Is There a Relationship Between GERD and Asthma?. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2012;8(6):401-3.
- Festi D, Scaioli E, Baldi F, et al. Body weight, lifestyle, dietary habits and gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(14):1690-701. doi:10.3748/wjg.15.1690
- Kahrilas PJ. Pathophysiology of Reflux Esophagitis. UpToDate. Updated March 6, 2018.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Mayo Clinic. Updated March 9, 2018.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for GER & GERD. Published November 2014.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD. Published November 2014.
- Ping W, Xiao-Hu Z, Zi-Sheng A, et al. Dietary Intake and Risk for Reflux Esophagitis: A Case-Control Study Gastroenterology Research and Practice. 2013;2013:691026. doi:10.1155/2013/691026.
Heather Gloria began writing professionally in 1990. Her work has appeared in several professional and peer-reviewed publications including "Nutrition in Clinical Practice." Gloria earned both a Bachelor of Science in food science and human nutrition from the University of Illinois. She also maintains the "registered dietitian" credential and her professional interests include therapeutic nutrition, preventive medicine and women's health.