The Ultimate Food Guide For People With Acid Reflux

If you live with periodic bouts of acid reflux, you know how absolutely debilitating it can be. Some people experience milk acid reflux, and for them, popping a Tums after they eat a basket of French fries usually does the trick. However, if you live with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you might want to try adjusting your diet. GERD affects 20% of Americans. If you fall into this 20%, this list is for you.

Keep reading to find out more about the best and worst foods you could eat if you have a heartburn problem.

Limit Your Egg Intake

Organic eggs in cartons are for sale at a market.
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Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cholesterol-rich foods can be a problem for people with GERD. According to Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, GERD patients experience more bouts of heartburn and bloating when they eat foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol. That’s why it’s important to know that a single egg has 187 mg of cholesterol, including the yolk.

While heartburn patients can still eat eggs, they may want to limit how many they have in a day. An egg a day keeps the doctor away, but more than one might have the oppostie effect.

Black Pepper Isn’t Your Friend

A plastic shaker is filled with black peppercorns.
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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

SPices are a huge part of what makes food taste so good, but if you suffer from acid reflux, you have to be careful about the kinds of spices you ingest. Black pepper has been shown to trigger heartburn. According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, black pepper can cause a burning sensation in the mouth and throat.

Black pepper has also been shown to increase the volume of acid in your stomach. If you can’t eliminate it from your diet altogether, at least use it sparingly.

Stay Away From Mint Tea

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Photo by: Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Peppermint doesn’t really help the whole acid reflux situation. If you suffer from heartburn, you should stay away from foods like peppermint tea or peppermint extract. According to Harvard Health Publishing, peppermint relaxes the sphincter that closes the stomach. That allows more acid to enter the esophagus and causes heartburn.

Peppermint tea is delicious and healthy for people who don’t suffer from GERD, but if you want to avoid heartburn, you’re better off opting for a ginger tea instead.

Why Chocolate Isn’t The Best Choice

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Sorry chocolate lovers, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises GERD patients to avoid chocolate if they can. Chocolate contains caffeine which can worsen GERD symptoms. Also, chocolate can be pretty acidic. In 2001, scientists at the University of Michigan found that chocolate stops the sphincter from working well.

Different studies have published different findings on the link between heartburn and chocolate, so if your stomach can handle it, a little bit of chocolate might not be the worst thing in the world.

Apple Cider Vinegar Isn’t For You

A woman pours apple cider vinegar into elderberry syrup.
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Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

In the past couple of years, health advocates have promoted apple cider vinegar as a cure-all for GERD. While some say that heartburn stems from having too little acid in the stomach, the opposite is true. Research in Europe PMC found that people with GERD have too much acid in their stomach, so a vinegar that’s more acidic than orange juice will only make symptoms worse.

Claims that apple cider vinegar soothes acid reflux are not supported by science, says gastroenterologist Maged Rizk. On the other hand, gastroenterologist Ashkan Farhadi says that apple cider vinegar may relieve heartburn in some people.

Fried Foods Are The Worst

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Twitter/@acidrefluxtips1

Fried foods are perhaps the worst meal choices for acid reflux. According to registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, greasy foods weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. When the esophagus doesn’t close properly, acid freely rises to cause heartburn.

Plus, fried foods take a long time to digest, which can prolong the “burning” feeling you receive from acid reflux. Almost every health organization from UW Health to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy advises against fatty food. If the fried food is greasy or high in fat, that will make heartburn worse.

Differing Opinions About Coffee

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Although coffee is slightly acidic, that’s not how it affects acid reflux. Instead, caffeine may increase the symptom. According to the Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, decaffeinated coffee isn’t as bad for GERD, while tea (which has less caffeine) is better than coffee.

However, not all experts agree that coffee shapes acid reflux. In June 2013, research in Diseases of the Esophagus found little association between coffee and GERD. In the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, scientists found no increased acid reflux from coffee, unless it’s consumed with an empty stomach.

Onions Aren’t Your Friend

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Cathal McNaughton – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Unfortunately, onions can prompt acid reflux that lasts for a long while after eating them, says The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Onions relax the sphincter and allow more acid to enter the esophagus. According to a 1990 study, patients experienced more acid reflux symptoms eating a hamburger with onion than a burger without onion.

Onion’s effect does not change depending on the type (even mild green onions). However, you reduce the flames by cooking the onions, according to registered dietitian Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo. “Try them in small quantities and see how it goes,” she advises.

Stay Away From Instant Noodles

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Antony Dickson/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

According to the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, ramen noodles cause the worst acid reflux out of most other foods in Korea. In 2014, scientists observed how the noodles create more stomach acid. Pre-packaged noodles digest more slowly than fresh noodles, and the preservatives promote acid during that time.

Spicy instant noodles are the worst culprit of all. Stanford gastroenterologist Lauren Gerson says that spicy foods may not cause heartburn, but they could irritate the stomach and aggravate symptoms. Either way, you may want to avoid pre-packaged and spicy ramen noodles.

Eat Small Portions Of Avocado

A person holds an avocado half.
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Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Researchers debate over avocado’s effect on heartburn. It’s well-known that a high-fat diet can trigger acid reflux symptoms. Unfortunately, the same goes for healthy fats that are in avocados, says 2007 research in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. One cup of sliced avocado has 21 grams of fat.

On the other hand, avocados are a healthy source of fiber, potassium, and magnesium, all of which may alleviate heartburn symptoms. If you suffer from frequent acid reflux, test avocado in small portions. It may help or harm you on a case-by-case basis.

The Problem With Coconut Oil

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Despite the other health benefits of coconut oil, it is made of up 90% saturated fat–which can aggravate acid reflux over time. According to 2013 research in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the more fat people eat, the more acid enters their esophagus. Why use such a high amount of fat in cooking oil?

A year later, research in BMC Gastroenterology noted that people with severe heartburn had a higher amount of fat in their diets. As with all foods, you can eat coconut oil in moderation with no harm to acid reflux.

Fatty Fish Vs. Fish Oil Supplements

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Getty Images

As a lean meat, fish makes an excellent addition to a GERD diet. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and anchovies contain polyunsaturated fats in the form of omega-3s. In animal studies, these fats have effectively reduced acid reflux, according to Lipids in Health and Disease.

However, fish oil supplements may do the opposite. Many people have experienced heartburn after taking fish oil supplements. This could be due to the high intake of fat, which has worsened acid reflux in studies. If you want the benefits, eat real fish; don’t take the supplements.

Put A Limit On Fizzy Drinks

A man pours a sparkling drink with grapefruit and carbonated coconut water into a glass.
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Getty Images

Have you ever wondered why bubbly drinks make people burp? Carbonation creates gas in the stomach, which makes people bloat, says the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. The gas also pushes against the lower esophageal sphincter and irritates acid reflux.

According to a systematic review of studies in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, at least two studies link fizzy drinks to acid reflux. However, scientists don’t have enough evidence to conclude that carbonation encourages GERD or heartburn. Certain drinks may affect people differently.

Go Easy On The Cheese

A woman holds an enormous Dutch cheese platter.
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Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sure, cheese is delicious, but too much of it can trigger heartburn. Cheese is high in fat, and too much of it can aggravate heartburn symptoms and increase the risk of esophageal cancer, says the International Journal of Cancer.

You don’t have to abandon cheese entirely, though. Gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan recommends eating a small amount of cheese at the beginning of the meal. That will lower the heartburn you feel at the end of the meal. Plus, use low-fat options like Parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and feta.

Watch Out For Pineapple

Whole pineapples are on sale at a Mexican market.
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ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

Like oranges and lemons, pineapple is highly acidic. Since it has a pH score between three and four, many people find that pineapples encourage acid reflux. However, there isn’t enough research linking pineapple to heartburn, so it is not yet noted by the American College of Gastroenterology food guidelines.

Dr. Jonathon E. Aviv from Livestrong recommends doing “detective work” to see if pineapple makes you feel worse. Sometimes, linking pineapple with an alkaline food can nullify the symptoms, he says. Keep these risks in mind the next time you eat pineapple.

Be Careful With Oranges

A woman drinks orange juice outside.
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Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Oranges are the epitome of citrus fruits. Although they’re tasty, their high-acid content worsen acid reflux symptoms. “They are likely to cause heartburn, especially when consumed on an otherwise empty stomach,” gastroenterologist Dr. Robynne Chutkan told WebMD.

The Journal of Thoracic Disease discovered that the correlation between acidic foods and reflux varies by person. In some cases, acidic beverages (such as orange juice) did not induce symptoms, while in other cases, they did. In any case, it may be wise to limit oranges if you have GERD.

Don’t Drink Pickle Juice

A woman holds up a jar of dill pickles.
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Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Believe it or not, some people have advertised that drinking pickle juice can improve acid reflux. They believe that the probiotics in pickles can improve stomach health. But according to Cleveland Clinic, these probiotics largely disappear during the fermentation process, so it will hardly impact GERD.

Another claim is that vinegar can delay heartburn. Harvard Health Publishing argues that no research has supported vinegar as a GERD cure. Because vinegar and pickles are incredibly acidic, they may trigger acid reflux instead of help it.

The Milk Debate

An illustration shows the stomach lit up as if burning from stomach acid.
Pinterest/Elizabeth Gallagher Kennedy
Pinterest/Elizabeth Gallagher Kennedy

In 2011, a study in Gut and Liver found a connection between a milk allergy and acid reflux. One-third of patients did not receive relief from medication, but their symptoms lowered after stopping milk. But what does this mean for people without a milk allergy? The short answer: maybe.

Some experts believe that fatty milk can exacerbate symptoms since high fat worsens GERD, says Health Promotion Perspectives. According to a 2004 study, calcium can relieve heartburn, and low-fat dairy could assuage acid reflux in some people.

Tomatoes Are Too Acidic

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Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Although citrus fruits have a reputation for acid, tomatoes are also highly acidic foods. Tomatoes add malic and citrus acids to your stomach to break down food, says Manhattan Gastroenterology. According to Family Practice, people who suffer from acid reflux may be sensitive to tomatoes, although the sensitivity varies by person.

In the same vein, tomato sauces–including marinara, ketchup, and tomato paste–can also trigger heartburn in some people. Still, that hasn’t deterred GERD patients. In 2014, BMC Gastroenterology reported that most people with GERD ate tomato sauce, despite experiencing symptoms.

Yogurt Is Better Than Milk

Clipart shows a man dipping a spoon into yogurt.
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Pixabay/mohamed_hassan

Yogurt provides gut-healthy bacteria called probiotics, which can help with acid reflux. In 2011, research in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that probiotics can assuage nausea and regurgitation, which are both symptoms of acid reflux. Plus, yogurt includes plenty of stomach-healthy fiber.

“Foods with healthy bacteria may help improve digestion and reduce the frequency of acid reflux,” says nutritionist Lisa Hugh. Some people may have a better response to low-fat yogurt since dairy high in fat can irritate the stomach.

Oatmeal Is Great For Your Stomach

Boxes of Quaker oatmeal
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Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Oatmeal has so many health benefits (that is, if you stick to plain oatmeal and stay away from artificially sweetened oatmeal). The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends whole, high-fiber grains for people with GERD. Oatmeal is full of fiber that helps you feel fuller for longer.

Adding more fiber into your diet is one of the best ways to keep heartburn at bay. Just be careful not to put anything acidic like oranges into your breakfast.

Bananas Are The Best Fruit

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Photo by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

People who don’t suffer from acid reflux have a whole spectrum of fruits to choose from, however, if heartburn is causing you problems on a daily basis, you want to stay away from acidic fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. The best fruit you could eat if you have acid reflux is a banana. Bananas are full of calcium which helps ease acid reflux symptoms, plus they aren’t acidic at all.

In the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, a study concluded that eating fruit lowers a person’s risk of GERD. However, some people find that bananas worsen their symptoms, according to Northwest Community Healthcare.

Ginger Works Wonders

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In many Eastern cultures, ginger is heralded as a miracle food. It can help you with so many stomach issues including acid reflux. According to a systematic review in Food Science & Nutrition, ginger has been proven to soothe an upset stomach and prevent nausea. If your heartburn includes nausea, ginger tea may help you through it.

Ginger can also improve digestion and combat bloating which can in turn help alleviate symptoms of acid reflux.

Eat More Artichoke

A man holds an artichoke at a market.
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David Silverman/Getty Images

Vegetables are a huge part of a healthy diet for any individual, whether they have GERD or not. It’s super important to incorporate vegetables into your daily routine. Because GERD patients benefit from high fiber foods, it’s beneficial to choose vegetables that contain a lot of fiber. Artichokes have 10.3 grams of fiber, about 8.6% per serving, higher than most other vegetables.

A medium-sized artichoke also offers 15 grams of vitamin C, which may assuage heartburn. The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology says that ascorbic acid, a specific form of vitamin C, can reduce acid reflux in people. Supplements don’t have that same effect.

Asparagus Is Delicious And Nutritious

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Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Zinc has been proven to help with acid reflux symptoms, and asparagus is full of zinc. It has a higher zinc content than most other green vegetables.

Asparagus is also a low-fat, alkaline vegetable that aids stomach digestion, reports AARP. Dr. Bani Roland, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at John Hopkins University, recommends green vegetables for GERD patients. Besides being super great for acid reflux, asparagus is absolutely delicious. Roast it in the oven with some salt and olive oil for a healthy snack or side.

Lentils Make The World Go Round

Bags of lentils and chickpeas sit in the pantry.
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Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

Dealing with lentils as a person with GERD is a balancing act. Lentils are starchy, and they can cause bloating and gas, however, they don’t negatively affect acid reflux as much as other starchy foods. In 2017, a study in JAMA found that a Mediterranean diet–which is heavy in lentils and legumes–soothes GERD as effectively as medication. Also, lentils are full of fiber which we already know is great for soothing GERD symptoms.

In Gastroenterology, researchers concluded the lentils delay gastric emptying.

Aloe Vera Juice Decreases Stomach Acid

A sliced aloe vera plant shows the juice inside.
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Reddit/u/jelaras

Aloe vera soothes not only skin burns but also heartburn. As an anti-inflammatory, aloe vera syrup provides “a safe and effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of GERD,” according to the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. You can buy jugs of aloe vera juice at the store.

In 2014, a study in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine concluded that aloe vera lowers the amount of gastric acid in the stomach. Since most cases of acid reflux come from too much acid, aloe vera juice could supply some relief.

Potatoes Can Help You Feel Better

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Although some health advocates give potatoes smack, they can make a healthy dish for GERD patients. In countries such as Germany and Switzerland, potatoes are juiced for their health benefits. A 2006 study discovered that potato juice assuaged symptoms in participants complaining of acid reflux and indigestion.

In 2013, a case-control study in Gastroenterology listed potatoes as one of the heartburn-healthy foods to eat. However, patients’ reactions to potatoes may depend on how it’s cooked. For instance, french fries or mashed potatoes made with heavy cream could irritate GERD, while baked potatoes could help it.

Tumeric Does It All

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Turmeric, the bright orange spice and the main ingredient in curry powder, has a stomach-protecting chemical called curcumin. According to research in BMC Systematic Reviews, turmeric has the potential to protect the stomach against many diseases, including GERD and acid reflux.

In 2019, a study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found further support for turmeric. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects can protect the esophagus and potentially guard it against acid, researchers suggest. Based on these findings, a sprinkling of turmeric could flavor your food and improve heartburn.

Fennel May Help

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Fennel is a spice that tastes like licorice and is often used in tea. Just one tablespoon of these seeds offers two grams of fiber, which can improve GERD symptoms, says the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Excessive gas can trigger acid reflux, and fennel helps to reduce the gas that causes discomfort.

According to the Arabian Journal of Chemistry, fennel is also an anti-inflammatory and diuretic that can relieve gastrointestinal disorders, including GERD. You can add ground or whole fennel seeds to a recipe or brew it as a tea.

Eat More Broccoli

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Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Some health websites advise against broccoli for acid reflux, since too much of it can cause gas. However, there is little evidence to support this. According to the Journal of Functional Foods, broccoli can lower inflammation in the stomach and colon, so it can actually help patients with GERD overall.

In 2002, scientists at John Hopkins University announced that broccoli is especially skilled at protecting the stomach. After analyzing the vegetable for ten years, the researchers discovered that it can even guard against stomach cancer. Why wouldn’t it help acid reflux?

Some Herbal Teas Are Fantastic

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Pixabay/freephotocc

A common misconception about the GERD diet is that patients have to avoid tea. According to the scientific journal Medicine, tea consumption has no direct relationship with acid reflux. Only teas that are high in caffeine, such as black teas, have been reported to worsen GERD symptoms.

In 2011, a study in Digestive Diseases and Sciences noted that even green tea–which has less caffeine than black tea or yerba mate–can make heartburn worse. Peppermint tea can also trigger acid reflux, but decaffeinated herbal teas (such as chamomile) are okay to drink.

Quinoa Is The Ultimate Grain

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Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

When it comes to a heartburn diet, quinoa is the best grain choice. For one, it’s far higher in fiber than other grains, with 17 to 27 grams per cup. A 2005 study in the journal Gut associated a high-fiber diet with fewer acid reflux symptoms.

According to research in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, GERD patients on a high-fiber diet experienced less heartburn than those with less fiber. Although quinoa has a high amount of carbs, it is also gluten-free and filled with protein and vitamins. It’s far healthier than all other grains.

The Truth About Apples

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Unsplash/@priscilladupreez

For years, health authors have advocated eating apples to relieve and even cure GERD. The theory is that apples can neutralize stomach acid, but “that’s all theory with nothing to support it,” says gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz. Instead, GERD stems from a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter.

That said, there is a reason to eat more apples. In 2017, research in JAMA concluded that a diet heavy in plant-based foods soothed acid reflux symptoms better than medication. An apple can provide fiber and nutrients to stave off heartburn.

There Are Other Milk Options

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Twitter/@Channel4

Milks that are high in fat can trigger acid reflux, according to the University of Southern California. If you’re not a fan of low-fat milks, consider drinking alternatives such as almond, oat, or soy milk. But the fat isn’t the only reason why non-dairy alternatives may help.

Registered dietitian Cynthia Sass says that some people with a dairy sensitivity may suffer from acid reflux. The food sensitivity triggers inflammation, which can worsen heartburn. “For many, nixing dairy can eliminate reflux,” Sass claims.

Watermelon Is A Good Fruit Option

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Valery MatytsinTASS via Getty Images

As its name suggests, watermelon is 92% water, which makes it less acidic than other fruits. These alkaline foods can improve acid reflux over time. In 2011, research in The Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology reported that a low-acid diet improved GERD symptoms in patients.

Because watermelon is so hydrating, it can keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy, says Medical News Today. With a better digestive tract, patients will receive less gas to irritate acid reflux. Although many BBQ foods can worsen symptoms, watermelon is there to cool things down.

Always Soak Your Chia Seeds

Black and White Chia seeds are soaked in various juice flavors.
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Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images

With its high fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds seem like an ideal addition to a GERD diet. However, patients should never eat them raw. Because chia seeds absorb 27 times their weight in water, they can expand and obstruct the esophagus, says Carolinas Medical Center doctor Rebecca Rawl.

If the chia seeds cling to the esophagus, they could make symptoms feel worse. You can prevent this by soaking the chia seeds in water before eating them. Even two minutes can make a difference in two your body consumes the seeds.

Eat Your Celery Instead Of Juicing It

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Twitter/@BevansLucy

Although some authors have claimed that drinking celery juice can cure acid reflux, others argue against it. “There isn’t much scientific evidence to support the majority of health claims about drinking celery juice,” says Malina Malkani, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Celery has some benefits that could improve acid reflux, such as high fiber and vitamin C. However, juicing it removes all the fiber, Malkani explains. You’ll have better luck eating whole celery along with other vegetables that can improve GERD symptoms.

Lemon Water Isn’t All That Bad

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Pixabay/Makype

Because lemons are so acidic, many GERD patients are advised to avoid the fruit. But some claim that they feel fine after drinking lemon water, so what’s the truth? According to 2014 research from Arquivos de Gastroenterologia, drinking citrus juice in water caused no worse symptoms in GERD patients.

Of course, this largely depends on how much lemon juice people use, and how frequently they drink citrus-flavored water. Once in a while may not harm anyone, but constantly juicing lemons could prompt heartburn. As with all other foods on this list, learn how it affects your body.

Stick To Whole Grains

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Pixabay/MelanieFHardy
Pixabay/MelanieFHardy

If you have GERD, you don’t need to give up grains. Whole grains improve the digestive tract and help your stomach break down food, explains registered dietitian and nutritionist Suzanne Dixon. “[Whole grains] are associated with reducing risk of GERD in multiple studies,” she told Vitacost.

In 2017, a study in JAMA discovered that eating a Mediterranean diet assuaged acid reflux in GERD patients. Whole grains, including brown rice and wheat pasta, are central to this diet. A quick switch from white bread to wheat can positively change your symptoms.

Eat More Oats

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Tim Graham/Getty Images

If you’re an oats lover, you may have healthy cholesterol levels. In 2016, a study from St. Michael’s Hospital determined that eating oats lowers cholesterol levels. Participants who ate oats for over 50 years had a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers said that oats interrupt LDL cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called the “bad” cholesterol because it builds up in your blood vessels. Another study in Food & Function found that oats reduce LDL cholesterol by 16%. A bowl of oatmeal can provide fiber, lower blood pressure, and stabilize cholesterol.

Limit (But Don’t Exclude) Saturated Fats

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Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Saturated fat has received a negative reputation in previous decades. In 2018, a study in OpenHeart determined that saturated fats raise both HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL cholesterol. In high amounts, it could harm your heart. The American Heart Association tells people to limit daily saturated fat to 6%.

The good news is that eating saturated fats in moderation will not raise the risk of heart disease. In fact, 2017 research in The Lancet found no correlation between saturated fats and cardiovascular illness. Limit these fats, and your cholesterol levels will thank you.

You Might Be Eating Too Much Sugar

You Might Be Eating Too Much Sugar
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Getty Images

A healthy person should eat six to nine teaspoons of sugar per day. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. This is bad news for cholesterol, which has a negative response to sugar.

In 2010, research from the American Medical Association announced that the more sugar you eat, the less HDL you have. Participants also had higher LDL cholesterol when they ate more sweets. Avoiding sugary drinks, such as sodas and juices, can effectively aid your cholesterol levels.

Dietary Cholesterol Barely Impacts Blood Cholesterol

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ClassicStock/Getty Images

It’s easy to mix up cholesterol in food with cholesterol in the blood. Believe it or not, dietary cholesterol hardly affects the body’s cholesterol. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the greatest impact on cholesterol comes from the fats found in foods.

In fact, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are planning not to put as much emphasis on dietary cholesterol. Nutrition researchers agree that fats, sugars, salt, and genetics play a larger role in heart disease than food cholesterol. Don’t worry about that kind; take action for the cholesterol in your blood.

Full Fat Milk Can Actually Be A Healthier Choice

Full Fat Milk Can Actually Be A Healthier Choice
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Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

For decades, experts have advised people to drink skim milk for heart health. But recent studies have challenged this. In 2018, scientists from the University of Copenhagen discovered that full-fat milk is better for cholesterol. While skim milk can lower LDL cholesterol, whole milk reduces LDL and raises HDL.

Another study from Tufts University came to the same conclusion. The researchers found that heptadecanoic fatty acid actually shrinks the risk of mortality from heart disease. Study author Marcia Otto claimed that “a growing body of evidence” reaffirms that full-fat dairy is good for you.

Adding Spices Helps More Than Just Taste

Adding Spices Helps More Than Just Taste
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Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What’s the easiest and tastiest way to reduce cholesterol? Add spices to your meals. A study in Current Cardiology Reviews concluded that Indian spices–including garlic, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, and turmeric–improve cholesterol levels. They suppress harmful LDL cholesterol in the body.

Nutritionist Sharon Zarabi told Everyday Health that spices stabilize fat in cells. This results and fewer triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. Every spice is different, but many are nutrient-packed, especially when you eat them fresh. Search for ones with high antioxidants, such as turmeric, to detox your body.

The Dangers Of A Low-Sodium Diet

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A common myth tells people to reduce salt intake for the sake of their hearts. This works for people with hypertension and diabetes. However, if you lower sodium too much, you risk having more cholesterol.

According to a study in The American Journal of Hypertension, reducing sodium led to a 1% drop in blood pressure (3% in people with hypertension). But it heightened cholesterol by 2.5% and triglycerides by 7%. “We know that a decrease in blood pressure would probably improve or decrease the risk of cardiovascular death,” said lead author Neil Gradual. “But, on the other hand, an increase in [cholesterol] would increase the risk.”

Watch Out For Trans Fats

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Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Trans fats are the least healthy type of fat for cholesterol. According to Harvard researchers, trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol. Doing so raises your blood pressure and puts you at a greater risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends searching for products with zero trans fats and no “partially hydrogenated oils.” Try to lower trans fats to 1% of your daily diet, less than two grams per day. Always check the nutrition labels for trans fats before buying prepackaged foods.

Get More Fiber Through Beans

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Alessandro Arnaboldi/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Alessandro Arnaboldi/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Even a few beans can impact your cholesterol. Scientists in Canada discovered that every serving of beans reduces LDL cholesterol by 5%. One serving is only three-quarters of a cup, and eating beans frequently could keep your cholesterol low.

Beans provide soluble and insoluble fibers, which absorb cholesterol in the gut. While beans lower LDL cholesterol, they do not affect HDL cholesterol, which can benefit your heart. Beans will also keep your digestive system running smoothly. There is no downside to eating them.

Good News For Avocado Toast Fans

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Amy Brothers/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Amy Brothers/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If you love avocado toast, you’re in luck. Researchers from Penn State claimed that an avocado a day might lower your LDL cholesterol. Specifically, avocado swept away oxidized LDL particles. These are “activated” to start harming your arteries.

“Oxidation is not good,” said nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton. It can cause inflammation and damage your blood vessels. By eating avocados, you can remove some LDL cholesterol and oxidation. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, you can thank avocado’s healthy unsaturated fats for its effects on cholesterol.

Any Type Of Nut Will Help

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Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

In 2010, the Archives of Internal Medicine recorded 25 trials on nuts. Researchers concluded that nuts could reduce LDL cholesterol by 7.4% and total cholesterol by 5.1%. It does not matter which type of nuts you eat; almost all have been proven to regulate cholesterol.

Walnuts can lower LDL cholesterol by 10% and raise HDL cholesterol, according to a 2004 study. In 2005, another study found that almonds and soy are among the best cholesterol-lowering foods. And these are just a handful of studies done on cholesterol. Go nuts!

Olive Oil Is Better Than Other Oils

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Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils for cholesterol. In 2018, research in BMJ Open compared olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. Of the three, olive oil improved LDL cholesterol levels better than both alternatives. Coconut oil was the second best and also increased HDL cholesterol.

Scientists believe that olive oil’s effect on cholesterol can help the heart. Researcher Marta Guasch-Ferre said that Mediterranean countries, which have a higher consumption of olive oil, also have lower rates of heart disease. Thank stabilized cholesterol for those health benefits.

Believe It Or Not, Dark Chocolate Helps

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It sounds too good to be true: chocolate can enhance cholesterol levels. Specifically, raw cocoa has antioxidants that counter LDL cholesterol. During a 2015 study, participants enjoyed a cocoa drink twice a day for one month. Their LDL levels decreased, and their HDL cholesterol increased.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cocoa prevents LDL from oxidizing. This might delay heart disease down the line. For the best results, eat dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 75%. These results have not appeared with milk chocolate or white chocolate.

Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids From Fish

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YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty Images
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty Images

To get enough omega-3 fatty acids, eat fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. Doing so will lower harmful cholesterol. In the European Journal of Nutrition, a 25-year-long study concluded that fish might prevent people from developing high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Cardiologist Leslie Cho recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week. If you decide to use fish oil pills, take them in moderation, she says. Otherwise, you’ll heighten LDL cholesterol as well as HDL cholesterol. You’re better off receiving omega-3s naturally.

Try Whole Grains Like Barley

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Switching to whole-grain products could benefit your cholesterol levels. In 2015, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that whole grains lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. They provide nutrients and fiber that clean the bloodstream.

One of the best whole grains for cholesterol is barley. According to a systematic review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, barley has beta-glucans that reduce LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol levels remain the same, which is ideal for a healthy heart and blood. Barley comes in some snack foods, cereals, and protein bars.

The Best Cholesterol-Fighting Seeds: Flaxseed

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The best seed for cholesterol is flax. Flaxseeds contain fiber and some omega-3 fatty acids, both of which improve cholesterol. According to The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, flaxseeds prevent cholesterol from being deposited into the blood.

During a 2012 London study, researchers compared week-long diets with a flaxseed drink and flax bread. The flax drink was the best, lowering LDL cholesterol by up to 15%. Flax bread also improved cholesterol levels in participants. You can add ground flax into cereals and drinks or bake it into pastries.

Anything Soy Can Help Cholesterol

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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Soy products can improve cholesterol in the blood. After reviewing 43 scientific trials in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that soy can reduce LDL levels by 4%. Participants ate 25 mg of soy every day for six weeks. That is equal to 3.5 cups of soy milk or one large scoop of soy protein powder.

Another scientific review, this time of 35 studies, discovered that soy raises HDL cholesterol. In other words, it lowers the “bad” cholesterol and heightens the “good” cholesterol. Any soy product, such as tofu, tempeh, or soybeans, can help you.

How To Make Your Diet “Berry Great”

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CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

Out of all the fruits, berries are most likely to improve cholesterol. According to a study by the American Chemical Society, “berries can significantly reduce the buildup of LDL cholesterol.” The researchers said that this is because of their potent antioxidants.

Blueberries have the highest antioxidants of any berry. In 2004, the USDA Research Center discovered that blueberries have a unique compound called pterostilbene. This compound breaks down cholesterol. Scientists believe that pterostilbene also has anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties. That said, you should eat any berries to cut down cholesterol.

The Perks Of Green And Black Teas

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Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images

Good news for tea lovers: green and black teas have a positive effect on cholesterol. In 2003, scientists gave tea extracts to people with high cholesterol. After two months, participants had 16% lower LDL cholesterol. This worked for both black and green teas.

Green tea, in particular, has potent antioxidants. In 2011, researchers analyzed 14 randomized controlled trials on green tea. They discovered that the tea’s catechins significantly lower LDL cholesterol. Mohsen Meydani, a nutrition professor at Tuft University, recommends drinking tea instead of taking extracts. Who wouldn’t enjoy a cup of tea, anyway?

Why Fried Foods Are Bad For Cholesterol

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Romulo Yanes/Condé Nast via Getty Images
Romulo Yanes/Condé Nast via Getty Images

When foods are fried in trans fat, they only harm your cholesterol. In 2014, a study concluded that fried foods could lead to heart disease and diabetes. The lead author, Dr. Leah Cahill, said that the frying process results in higher cholesterol, along with high blood pressure and obesity.

On a positive note, you can make healthier fried foods at home. According to a 2012 study in The BMJ, frying food in saturated fats and butter is most likely to worsen cholesterol. Frying in olive and sunflower oil produces better results. Even so, it’s best to avoid fried foods overall.