Jul 23, 2023 • 8 min read

Foods to Help Acid Reflux & Heartburn at Night

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Acid reflux is a common digestive issue where stomach acid travels back up your esophagus. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach) does not close properly. This causes a burning sensation in your chest, also known as heartburn. 

While occasional acid reflux is normal, it may progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it is more frequent and severe. Some lifestyle factors may increase the risk for acid reflux, such as being overweight, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption. Often these symptoms are worse at night when you are lying down.

Other than heartburn, symptoms of acid reflux include belching, regurgitation, nausea, and dry cough. Your eating habits play a major role in controlling these symptoms. Foods that are acidic, spicy, and fried often make symptoms worse. 

On the other hand, focusing on foods that are low in fat and high in fiber may help prevent acid reflux symptoms. This guide will go over the best foods to eat, which to avoid, and other tips for managing acid reflux and heartburn at night. 

Foods that may help acid reflux & heartburn at night

The foods that you eat can directly impact symptoms of acid reflux. For most people who struggle with acid reflux and heartburn, it is beneficial to follow a generally healthy diet that is high in fiber, low in fat, and avoids acidic and spicy foods. 

However, since everyone has different food tolerances and preferences, it is important to learn which foods are best for you to help prevent symptoms. Some foods you may want to incorporate into your diet include:  

  • Ginger. While there is no scientific evidence to prove that ginger can relieve heartburn, ginger is commonly used to alleviate other symptoms of acid reflux like nausea. If your acid reflux is causing nausea, sipping on ginger tea or adding small amounts to smoothies may help. 
  • High-fiber foods. Studies have proven that a high-fiber diet can decrease acid reflux and heartburn. Fiber can improve esophageal function and keeps food moving through the digestive system. To consume adequate fiber, consume a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. 
  • Whole grains. High-fiber whole grains such as brown rice, barley, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, whole grain cereal, and quinoa help improve digestion and may prevent symptoms of acid reflux. 
  • Oatmeal. Oatmeal is high in fiber, which is important for a healthy digestive system. Oats are also known to absorb stomach acid, which can prevent acid reflux and heartburn. 
  • Non-citrus fruits. Some fruits, like lemons, grapefruit, and oranges contain a high amount of acid and can worsen heartburn. Since fruits contain important nutrients for your health, you don’t want to avoid all fruits completely. Instead, choose non-citrus fruits like bananas, melons, apples, and pears. 
  • Alkaline foods. Acidic foods have a lower number on the pH scale, while alkaline foods have a higher number. Although research is limited, eating more alkaline foods and less acidic foods is believed to help offset stomach acid. Certain fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables are considered alkaline foods. You can see the best alkaline foods and diet for GERD here.
  • Vegetables. Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and low in acid. Enjoy a variety of vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, and carrots. 
  • Lean proteins. Protein foods that are high in fat take longer to digest. Foods that sit in your stomach longer can cause an increase in acid production, contributing to symptoms of acid reflux. Focus on lean proteins in your daily diet, such as skinless poultry, fish, tofu, and beans. Make sure these foods are baked, grilled, or broiled instead of fried.
  • Healthy fats. Healthy fats are important nutrients and contain anti-inflammatory properties. While eating too much fat can trigger acid reflux symptoms, it is still important to eat fat in moderation. Choose healthy fat sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. 
  • Almonds (in moderation). Almonds contain protein, healthy fats, and are low in acid. Eating a small handful is not only good for heart health, but also may reduce acid reflux symptoms. Since they are higher in fat, make sure you don’t eat too much at once. 
  • Non-fat milk. The calcium in milk can neutralize stomach acid and therefore can help soothe acid reflux. Since too much fat can aggravate symptoms, choosing non-fat milk may be beneficial to reduce acid reflux symptoms. 
  • Dairy alternatives. Not everyone tolerates dairy, and it can be a potential trigger to symptoms for some people. In that case, choose dairy alternatives such as almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk.
  • Herbal teas. Certain herbs are used as a natural relief for heartburn. Chamomile, licorice, slippery elm, ginger, and marshmallow root are herbal tea options that may help relieve symptoms. Because some herbs may interact with medications, it is important to ask your doctor before using herbs. 
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Foods to avoid if you’re experiencing heartburn or acid reflux at night

What you eat, especially at night, can make acid reflux symptoms worse and disrupt your sleep. Not everyone responds the same way to specific foods, so it is important to be aware of which foods you can’t tolerate so you can avoid them. These are common foods that can cause worsening of symptoms for many:

  • Fried and fatty foods. Fried, fatty, and greasy foods are harder for your body to digest. These foods sit in your stomach longer which can increase stomach acid. If you are experiencing heartburn, you should avoid foods like cheeseburgers, onion rings, French fries, doughnuts, and fried chicken. Opt for foods that are baked or grilled. 
  • Spicy foods. Spicy foods can further irritate an already inflamed esophagus, which worsens the burning sensation that comes from heartburn. Avoid foods and spices such as hot sauce, cayenne pepper, black pepper, chili powder, and jalapeño peppers. 
  • Citrus fruits & other acidic foods. Acidic foods can further aggravate acid reflux and they should be avoided if you are experiencing heartburn. Highly acidic foods include citrus fruits and juices, pineapple, and salad dressings made with vinegar. 
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products. Other highly acidic foods that should be avoided are tomatoes and tomato-based products. These include marinara sauce, ketchup, salsa, and tomato soup.  
  • Garlic and onions. Garlic and onions, especially raw, contain acidic properties that may worsen heartburn. 
  • Cheese. Because of the fat content and acidity, most cheeses aggravate symptoms of acid reflux. 
  • Pizza. The combination of high-fat meat, cheese, and acidic tomato sauce makes this food a common trigger for acid reflux symptoms. If you can’t give up pizza, try options that are made with white sauce, light cheese, and lean meats. 
  • Chocolate. The fat and caffeine in chocolate can trigger symptoms of acid reflux. You may want to avoid chocolate after dinner to prevent heartburn at night. 
  • Peppermint. This is one herb that can make heartburn worse. Research has revealed that peppermint can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for stomach acid to travel back up the esophagus. 
  • Carbonated beverages. Carbonation can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like belching and abdominal discomfort from bloating. Carbonated beverages often contain other ingredients like acid and caffeine that may aggravate acid reflux symptoms. 
  • Coffee and caffeinated drinks. The acidity in coffee may cause stomach issues. Since caffeine is a trigger for heartburn for some people, but not everyone, it is best to know your personal tolerance.  
  • Alcohol. Alcohol weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, which increases the chances of stomach acid flowing back up the esophagus.

>> Download our printable 7-day GERD diet plan PDF here

Understanding your trigger foods

A trigger food is one that causes symptoms immediately after a person consumes it. Not everyone has the same trigger foods, so it is important to understand what foods you can tolerate. This requires paying close attention to the foods you eat and when your symptoms return. 

To identify trigger foods, you will need to keep a daily food journal. In it, you will track everything you eat and when you experience symptoms of acid reflux. This will help you see patterns in your food intake and your symptoms to help you identify which foods create problems for you. 

Once you identify a trigger food, you will need to eliminate that food from your diet to avoid symptoms. It is best to continue to keep a food journal until you have identified all your trigger foods. Knowing all your trigger foods will help you choose a diet plan that works best for you.

>>Find an Acid Reflux Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

Other tips for managing acid reflux & heartburn at night

Nighttime acid reflux and heartburn can be very uncomfortable and disrupt sleep. The good news is that when symptoms do occur, there are things you can do to improve them immediately. 

It is important to note that not everything works the same for everyone. Understanding what works best for you is key to managing acid reflux and heartburn.

Note that there are also supplements that can help with GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn that you may want to talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider about taking.

Try these tips and see what helps you most:

  • Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime. Waiting at least three hours to go to bed after you have eaten a meal allows more time for the food to digest. This can prevent indigestion and an upset stomach during the night. 
  • Take an antacid or an OTC medication. Antacids or other over-the-counter medications can provide immediate relief when heartburn occurs. 
  • Chew your meals a lot. Thoroughly chewing your food helps break food down more, making it easier to pass through your digestive system. It also increases saliva production, which can help clear your esophagus. 
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating. Lying down immediately after eating can slow digestion. Instead, try to sit upright or go for a brief walk after eating to keep food moving through your digestive system. 
  • Elevate the head of your bed. Many studies have shown that elevating the head of your bed while sleeping can prevent acid reflux because it stops food from traveling up your esophagus. 
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Tight-fitting clothing, belts, and waistbands can make you feel more constricted around your abdomen. Wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent discomfort or pressure on your stomach. 
  • Sleep on your left side. Participants in a 2015 randomized control trial experienced fewer episodes of acid reflux when sleeping on their left side. Because of how your stomach is shaped, gravity will keep contents where they belong while you sleep on your left side.
  • Try baking soda and water. Baking soda neutralizes stomach acid, which can temporarily soothe indigestion. Although there is little scientific evidence to support this, drinking baking soda and water is often used as a home remedy to immediately relieve heartburn.
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How an acid reflux & heartburn nutritionist can help

If you are struggling with acid reflux and heartburn, seeking expert guidance can be very beneficial. Working with an acid reflux and heartburn nutritionist can help bring understanding and clarity to your nutrition needs. 

A nutritionist will ask you questions to learn about your current diet habits, your preferences, and your symptoms. An acid reflux nutritionist can help you identify trigger foods and can guide you in choosing the best alternatives. 

By working with an acid reflux nutritionist, you will have a personalized approach to managing your acid reflux and heartburn through diet. A nutritionist can build you a personal plan that avoids all trigger foods, meets your nutrition needs, and that you can follow long-term. 

For example, if you want to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet with GERD, a nutritionist can help you make the optimal choices.

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with Acid Reflux Nutritionists that are covered by your insurance. You can browse our network of nutritionists and filter by things like visit type, languages spoken, insurance accepted, and more to find your fit.

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Kamryn is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in performance nutrition and weight management. She has experience in a variety of settings as a dietitian, including sports, clinical, and private practice. She currently provides individualized nutrition and fitness coaching to adult men and women. Kamryn is passionate about using evidence-based nutrition strategies to help people achieve long-term success with their fitness goals and to maintain a healthier lifestyle.