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Identifying your reflux-triggering foods starts with conducting an inventory of possible suspects. Cindi Lockhart, RDN, LD, an integrative and functional-nutrition practitioner, recommends starting with the most common culprits: caffeine, alcohol, citrus, and spicy, fried, or fatty foods.

Removing most or even one of those foods or beverages might be enough for some people, she says. Alcohol, for example, can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (as can fried foods, and even peppermint tea), while other foods may simply not agree with your stomach.

If removing these common offenders does nothing to help your reflux, it may be time to dig deeper and undergo an elimination diet. (For one such protocol, see “The Institute for Functional Medicine’s Elimination Diet Comprehensive Guide and Food Plan“.)

“Sometimes, clients don’t want to know what is triggering their reflux, because it may mean having to make a difficult change,” says licensed functional nutritionist Jesse Haas, CNS, LN. But chronic reflux can damage the delicate mucosal membranes in the esophagus, which is painful. Most sufferers will eventually have to choose between the discomfort of giving up a favored food and increasingly painful reflux.

Lockhart often suggests trying one of two healing diets — an elimination diet or a low-histamine protocol (histamines are chemicals used by the immune system to help protect the body from allergens) — for one month, while keeping a journal.

These restrictive diets are meant to be followed short-term, allowing the gut to heal and repair. Then, when foods are re-introduced, triggers tend to be easier to spot. (To learn more about certain elimination diets, see; for more on histamines, see “What You Need to Know About Histamine Intolerance“.)

“When you add in foods one by one, you should see patterns with your reflux,” Lockhart says.

This was excerpted from “5 Ways to Manage Acid Reflux Without Medication” which was published in the March 2023 issue of Experience Life.

Stephanie Soucheray

Stephanie Soucheray is a health journalist based in St. Paul, Minn.

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