Stomach troubles. We’ve all had ’em, and we all hate ’em. Whether it’s from period cramps, indulging a little too much in our favorite foods or something else entirely (AKA who knows what), dealing with digestive pain is pretty much the worst. #UGH. Acid reflux is one of the most common GI complaints, mainly because it can be caused by a lot of different factors and affects people of all ages. For some people, it’s just an annoyance, but for others, acid reflux can be bad enough that they have to skip workouts, stay home sick from work and miss fun social outings with their friends. Bummer. We get to the bottom of what causes it and what you can do to not only soothe acid reflux but also prevent it.

woman with stomachache

THE MAIN Causes of Acid Reflux

Turns out, there are a lot of things that can cause acid reflux, varying from what you eat to what’s going on in your life. “While acid reflux is more common as you age, it can affect people of all ages,” explains Shilpa Ravella, MD, a gastroenterologist with expertise in nutrition and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “Often, what we eat and drink or lifestyle habits (like smoking) can trigger symptoms of acid reflux. A hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach lies within the chest, can also affect the way the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) works and is a risk factor for reflux.”

Three other things that up your risk for the dreaded reflux? Pregnancy, obesity and smoking. Basically anything that makes the acid from your stomach creep up into your esophagus (ouch!) can cause it. “Stress and lack of sleep can also contribute to symptoms,” adds Dr. Ravella. “When you’re stressed, you may become more sensitive to smaller amounts of acid in the esophagus.”

Working in a café coffee

Foods you should avoid

So if diet is a major factor here, what should you be avoiding? “Human studies demonstrate that many patients, but not all, will be sensitive to a number of specific food groups,” explains Neil Nandi, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine. “These include foods that are acidic by default, high-fat foods, caffeine, soda and alcohol. Acidic foods include any citrus fruits or tomato-based sauces,” he says.

Plus, the higher the fat content of a food is, the longer it takes to empty from the stomach, which can be problematic. “More stomach acid is generated to break down high-fat foods, which in turn leads to reflux. High-fat foods (AKA the good stuff) that one should eat in moderation to prevent reflux include chocolate, red meat, fried foods and dairy,” Dr. Nandi says. Blerg, these are definitely some of our faves. “The LES limits stomach contents from going back up into the esophagus, but some individuals are sensitive to caffeine and alcohol, which causes relaxation of the LES and leads to reflux.” So yeah, if you’re trying to avoid this annoying issue, soda, coffee and alcohol may be among the first things you should say goodbye to. We know… tear.

happy woman eating

Foods that can soothe

Here’s the good news: There are many healthy foods that naturally help combat reflux. Especially if you don’t want to take OTC antacids, soothing foods can be an amazing solution. “Fennel in its natural form or even its seeds can soothe reflux,” says Dr. Nandi. “Bananas are near neutral pH and act to improve the pH of stomach fluid. If you are trying to prevent reflux, then starting your day off with a low glycemic food such as oatmeal is perfect. Also, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, any type of green leafy vegetable and celery can prevent reflux.” So load up on those veggies and experiment with some new overnight oats recipes, and you’ll be all set.

If you’re looking for more natural food solutions, Rebecca Lewis, in-house dietician at HelloFresh, suggests ginger, which “helps reduce inflammation and nausea. It also has a warming effect when eaten, which heats up the inside of our bodies to aid in fat breakdown,” she explains. “Aloe vera also helps to soothe the mucus membranes in our digestive tract and revitalizes the LES by aiding the proper functioning of our digestive enzymes.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Lastly, “parsley helps to settle the stomach and aid in digestion. Bonus: It also helps fight bad breath!”


There are also some non-food ways to deal with reflux, and you may do some of them already. “Clinically, we do see patients who experience reflux in times of stress,” says Dr. Nandi. “Deep breathing techniques, regular exercise, yoga and adequate sleep are powerfully effective in reducing symptoms.” And one other thing you should definitely avoid? Waist trainers. “An unfortunately common trend in our society is wearing body shaping tights and corsets for aesthetic purposes. These lead to an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, causing reflux. Likewise, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing or belts,” Dr. Nandi says. Ouch, consider us convinced on that front.

Do you have acid reflux? How have you dealt with it? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)