Aug 9, 2023 • 9 min read

Is a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Good for GERD (Heartburn & Acid Reflux)

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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a common gastrointestinal disorder where stomach contents flow back up the esophagus. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle between the esophagus and stomach) does not close properly. 

GERD is mostly characterized by acid reflux and heartburn, the burning sensation that someone gets in their chest after eating. Some people may experience other symptoms like regurgitation, bitter taste, belching, nausea, dry cough, and even difficulty swallowing in more severe cases. 

The foods that you eat can either worsen or improve symptoms of GERD. You may be wondering if a plant-based diet (vegan or vegetarian) can help with GERD.

For some people, a vegan or vegetarian diet may help alleviate symptoms of GERD, including acid reflux and heartburn. 

A vegetarian diet excludes meat and fish while a vegan diet excludes all animal products, including dairy and eggs. Because a plant-based diet often contains high-fiber, low-acid foods, it may help people with GERD by improving digestion and relieving heartburn. 

This guide goes into more detail about how plant-based diets impact GERD and if they can help with acid reflux and heartburn. It provides helpful tips about the best foods to eat and to avoid, how a GERD nutritionist can help, and provides low acid recipe ideas for both vegan and vegetarian meals.

Can a vegan or vegetarian diet help with GERD?

It is no secret that making the right dietary changes can improve symptoms of GERD

Research suggests that people who follow a plant-based diet experience fewer reflux symptoms. 

Typically, when you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, your fiber intake increases. This can help improve digestion, making food move through the stomach more quickly. A fiber-rich diet has been shown to significantly decrease the number of gastroesophageal refluxes. 

Most plant-based foods like vegetables, nuts, legumes, and some fruits are considered alkaline foods. This means that they are low in acidity. Because highly acidic foods are known to trigger heartburn, consuming less acid-forming foods may help prevent heartburn. 

One study found that eating more vegetable-based proteins and fewer animal proteins is associated with fewer acid refluxes. This may be explained by the fact that many animal foods have a low pH, meaning they are acidic, while vegetable-based proteins are more alkaline. 

A plant-based diet is not suitable for everyone. However, it may be worth trying if you struggle with symptoms of GERD. As with any significant diet change, you should seek expert guidance if you are considering a plant-based diet to ensure it is the best option for you.

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Tips for eating a plant-based diet for GERD, acid reflux, & heartburn

Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet does not always mean you are eating healthy. Many highly processed foods are vegan but contain little nutrients. It is best to get a variety of foods, like those listed below, to ensure you are consuming adequate nutrients. 

  • Incorporate low-acid vegetables. Highly acidic foods are known to trigger acid reflux and heartburn. To consume a variety of vitamins and minerals without triggering symptoms, choose low-acid vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, and celery. 
  • Load up on fiber. Fiber acts as a digestive aid, which helps food pass through the digestive system more quickly. Research shows that fiber-rich diets can significantly decrease the number of acid refluxes and frequency of heartburn. Try to choose foods rich in fiber such as whole grains, beans, and lentils.
  • Choose fruits with fibrous skin. The skins of fruits and vegetables contain a great amount of fiber and other nutrients. To maximize your nutrient intake from fruit, choose fruits with skins like apples, apricots, and kiwis.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough protein. Getting enough protein can be challenging while following a plant-based diet. To make sure you are consuming adequate protein, incorporate high-protein, plant-based foods daily like tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and beans. 
  • Incorporate healthy fats. Healthy fats contain anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent or improve esophageal inflammation. While too much fat may trigger acid reflux, it is still important to incorporate moderate amounts of healthy fat in your diet. Choose anti-inflammatory fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon.
  • Choose alkaline foods. Alkaline foods have a high number on the pH scale, which measures how acidic a food is. In contrast, acidic foods have a low number. Because acidic foods often trigger acid reflux, it is believed that eating more alkaline foods helps prevent acid reflux. Nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and some fruits are considered alkaline foods.
  • Eat tofu. Tofu is a lean protein source and is also considered an alkaline food. It also contains a high amount of calcium, which helps neutralize stomach acid. Eating tofu regularly will not only help you consume adequate protein but can also help prevent symptoms of GERD. 
  • Opt for dairy alternatives. Dairy products are not well-tolerated by some people. However, it is still important to consume the nutrients from dairy products like calcium and vitamin D. Because calcium acts as a buffer to stomach acid, it may help soothe heartburn. If you do not tolerate dairy well, choose dairy alternatives such as almond milk, oat milk, and coconut milk. Make sure these alternatives are fortified with vitamin D and calcium to make sure you get adequate nutrients.
  • See if herbal teas help. Some herbs help improve digestion and provide soothing effects, which may help the burning sensation from heartburn. You may find that sipping teas like chamomile, licorice, ginger, and slippery elm helps relieve symptoms of GERD.

Keep in mind that your individual food tolerances may be different from others, so it is important to understand what works best for you. It is also necessary to eat a variety of whole foods each day to make sure you eat enough nutrients for your overall health. 

Eating a plant-based diet is not the only solution to managing heartburn and acid reflux. For more guidance on eating to manage GERD symptoms, check out GERD Diet: Best Foods to Eat & Avoid With Acid Reflux & Heartburn Guide.

Plant-based foods to avoid with GERD, acid reflux, & heartburn

It is important to note that even if a food is plant-based, it still may trigger symptoms. Not all foods affect people the same, but some foods, like acidic and spicy foods, often cause issues. Below are foods you may need to avoid if you struggle with acid reflux and heartburn. 

  • Citrus fruits & other acidic foods. Acidic foods are common triggers of heartburn. These include lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges, pineapples, certain fruit juices, and salad dressings made with vinegar. 
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products. Tomatoes and tomato-based products (such as marinara sauce, ketchup, and tomato soup) are common triggers of heartburn because they are highly acidic. Although tomatoes are a healthy source of nutrients, they may need to be avoided to prevent symptoms of GERD. 
  • Garlic and onions. Garlic and onions, especially raw, are common irritants for those with GERD. There have even been a few reported incidences of garlic causing esophagitis, an inflamed esophagus, in people with GERD. It is important to pay attention to ingredients in your food as many dishes are cooked with garlic and onions. 
  • A lot of spices. Certain spices can be bothersome for people with GERD. To avoid issues, try to avoid spices and condiments like crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and hot sauce. 
  • Fried foods. Even some plant-based foods are fried, including falafel, fried tofu, French fries, and onion rings. Fried foods are common triggers of acid reflux because they sit in the stomach longer, which can increase stomach acid production. Fried foods are also known to relax the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, allowing acid to travel back up. To avoid symptoms, choose foods that are baked, steamed, or grilled.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate can trigger heartburn for many people. The cocoa in chocolate has been found to relax the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, allowing acid to flow back up the esophagus. Cocoa is also acidic, which can worsen heartburn. 
  • Alcohol. Regular alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk for GERD symptoms, and heavy drinking may cause damage to the esophagus. For the best outcomes, try to avoid alcohol as much as possible. 
  • Peppermint. This is one herb that is known to trigger symptoms of GERD. According to some studies, peppermint can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which triggers acid reflux. 

>> Find a GERD Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

Low-acid vegan recipe ideas to help with GERD

Here are some low-acid vegan recipe ideas that you can make that shouldn’t trigger heartburn or acid reflux:

  1. Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad. A delightful mix of quinoa and roasted veggies like zucchini, carrots, and bell peppers. Seasoned with herbs instead of citrus or vinegar, it’s gentle on the stomach and packed with nutrients.
  2. Creamy Avocado Pasta. This pasta dish uses ripe avocados blended with garlic and olive oil for a creamy sauce. It’s a rich and satisfying meal without the acidity of traditional tomato-based sauces.
  3. Baked Sweet Potato Fries. A healthy twist on a classic favorite, these sweet potato fries are baked and lightly seasoned. Sweet potatoes are low in acid and can be enjoyed with a gentle dip like hummus.
  4. Oatmeal with Banana and Almond Butter. Start your day right with this hearty breakfast. Oats cooked with sliced bananas and a dollop of almond butter provide a tasty and gentle start to the morning.
  5. Lentil Soup with Spinach. Lentils are low in acid and high in protein. This soup combines them with spinach and aromatic herbs for a soothing and nourishing meal.
  6. Cucumber and Dill Sandwiches. A refreshing and light option, these sandwiches are made with thinly sliced cucumbers, vegan cream cheese, and fresh dill on whole-grain bread.
  7. Grilled Portobello Mushrooms. Marinated in olive oil and herbs instead of vinegar, these grilled Portobello mushrooms are a meaty and satisfying entrée without acidity.
  8. Coconut Rice Pudding. For dessert, try this comforting coconut rice pudding. Made with coconut milk and a touch of maple syrup, it’s a sweet treat that’s easy on the stomach.
  9. Steamed Asparagus with Almond Slivers. A simple side dish that’s elegant enough for special occasions. Steamed asparagus topped with toasted almond slivers is flavorful without being acidic.
  10. Stuffed Bell Peppers with Wild Rice. These colorful bell peppers are stuffed with wild rice, black beans, and corn. A bake in the oven melds the flavors together for a delicious and GERD-friendly meal.

>> Read More: 7-Day Vegan Weight Loss Meal Plan

Low-acid vegetarian recipe ideas to help with GERD

  1. Mashed Cauliflower with Garlic and Herbs. Move over, mashed potatoes! This creamy mashed cauliflower, infused with garlic and herbs, offers a low-acid alternative that’s just as comforting.
  2. Baked Zucchini Noodles with Pesto. Swap traditional tomato sauce for a basil pesto in this zucchini noodle dish. It’s light, fresh, and won’t cause heartburn.
  3. Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese. Beets are naturally low in acid, and when paired with creamy goat cheese and walnuts, they make a colorful and flavorful salad.
  4. Butternut Squash Risotto. Rich and creamy without the acidity, this butternut squash risotto is cooked slowly with vegetable broth and Arborio rice for a delightful texture.
  5. Cottage Cheese and Pineapple Parfait. Here’s a breakfast treat or dessert that combines low-acid pineapple with cottage cheese for a sweet and satisfying dish.
  6. Stir-Fried Tofu and Green Beans. Using soy sauce instead of citrus-based marinades, this tofu and green bean stir-fry is a protein-packed meal that’s gentle on your stomach.
  7. Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Avocado. Give the classic grilled cheese a low-acid twist by adding avocado slices. Serve it with a mild vegetable soup for a complete meal.
  8. Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells. These pasta shells, stuffed with spinach and ricotta, provide a satisfying main course without relying on acidic ingredients.
  9. Carrot Ginger Soup. This soothing soup combines the sweetness of carrots with the warmth of ginger. It’s a comforting and low-acid option for lunch or dinner.
  10. Blueberry Banana Smoothie. Start your day with this blend of bananas, blueberries, and yogurt. It’s a refreshing smoothie that’s easy to digest and won’t cause GERD symptoms.
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Why you should consider working with a GERD nutritionist

Knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid can be challenging, especially if you have certain dietary needs and restrictions. You may find it helpful to get expert guidance and support from a nutrition professional.

A GERD nutritionist is trained to help you find the best plan for you. Not only do they understand the symptoms of GERD and what causes them, but they also take the time to understand your individual preferences, tolerances, and unique nutrition needs. For example, they can help you figure out the best and worst foods to eat for acid reflux and heartburn at night.

Following a vegan or vegetarian diet means you will have certain food restrictions. A GERD nutritionist can evaluate your current diet habits and identify any gaps in your nutrition. A GERD nutritionist can help you fill in those gaps with the right alternatives—such as supplements that can help with GERD—to avoid nutritional deficiencies. 

By working with a GERD nutritionist, you will be able to confidently make decisions around food.  Your nutritionist will partner with you to develop an individualized plan of action that will meet all your nutrition needs, help manage your symptoms, and align with your preferences. 

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with GERD Nutritionists and Vegan/Vegetarian 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.