Foods to Avoid If You Have Acid Reflux or Digestion Issues

Updated: May 27, 2021

Find out which foods may be causing your digestion problems and the foods that may improve it.

What common foods are good and bad for your belly?

Foods containing rapidly fermentable carbohydrates called FODMAPs can feed bacteria in the gut and may be responsible for gut inflammation, gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable tummy troubles in some people. Cutting back on foods that contain FODMAPs may help improve your digestion and eliminate GI problems. “An anti-inflammatory diet is high in fiber-rich foods, which promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut (one way the diet assists to control inflammation),” says Maxine Smith,  RD, of the Cleveland Clinic. A FODMAP diet, which is low in fermentable carbohydrates, is low in fiber and may be beneficial for some people with gastrointestinal problems. In general, a low FODMAP diet isn’t recommended for people unless they have a condition like irritable bowel syndrome that hasn’t responded to other treatments or dietary changes.

Board with juicy watermelon slices on wooden background, top view
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Watermelon: Avoid

This lovely summer treat isn’t as harmless as all the water it contains. Watermelon is high in fructose, fructans, and polyols, which are FODMAPs. Remember, the more the FODMAPs, the more potential for tummy trouble in people who are sensitive to them.

Bowl of homemade granola with yogurt and fresh berries on wooden background from top view

Fermented foods: Enjoy some, avoid some

Some fermented foods are good for your tummy; others can create problems for certain people, according to an article published by Harvard Medical School. Fermented foods include wine, cheese, vinegar, miso, yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles. In yogurt, milk is combined with bacteria that break down some of the lactose, so what remains may be easier for your stomach to process. So fermented foods such as yogurt are often considered “probiotic foods” that are good for your gut. Look for dairy products that are low in lactose and your digestion should be A-OK. (These are the best probiotic foods for your gut– besides yogurt.)

Assorted mixed nuts in bowl on wooden table. Top view

Pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, and almonds: Avoid

Most nuts are good for your tummy, but pistachios and cashews are high in fructans and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides), both FODMAPs. Hazelnuts and almonds are a little higher in FODMAPs than some other nuts so eat them in limited quantities (10 nuts or 1 tablespoon of nut butter per serving). Steer clear of almond milk, which is made with large amounts of almonds.

Sliced blood oranges texture. Citrus background. Cut ripe juicy Sicilian Blood oranges fruits on old wooden background. Top view.
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Acidic foods: Enjoy with caution

In almost every list of “the worst foods for digestion,” you’ll find acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes. These are commonly thought to cause heartburn, but studies have shown that acidic foods don’t have any effect on LES pressure (or pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve that acts as the doorway between the esophagus and the stomach) and don’t cause heartburn symptoms. However, if you have severe acid reflux that hasn’t been treated and has irritated the esophagus, acidic foods can be like “salt in the wound.” So if you find that oranges or tomatoes do make your heartburn feel worse, replace them with other fruits. Here are 12 more foods that can make heartburn worse.

American casserole macaroni and cheese in baking dish close up on the table. Horizontal top view from above
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Dairy foods: Enjoy some, avoid some

Not all dairy foods have equal amounts of lactose, which can cause digestion issues, and even those with lactose intolerance are usually okay with small amounts of lactose. That means that not all milk, cheeses, and dairy products are tummy twisters. Hard cheeses, like cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan, generally have less than a gram of lactose per serving. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you may want to avoid dairy such as “chocolate shakes or drinks, milkshakes, whole milk fat yogurt, whole milk fat (4%) cottage cheese, and full-fat cheese.”

Fresh steamed edamame sprinkled with sea salt on a rustic tabletop.

Soy foods: Enjoy some, avoid some

Whole soybeans (often sold as edamame), like other beans, are a source of GOS, which are hard-to-digest chains of sugars. Tofu and tempeh are made using processes that eliminate some of the GOS, making them easier on your digestion. What about soy milk? It depends. If soy milk is made with only soybean isolates or soy protein, then it should be low in FODMAPs. Soy milk made with whole soybeans is likely a source of GOS, making it a gassy beverage for some, so read the ingredients.

Blackberry on a wooden background
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Blackberries: Avoid

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries—which is the odd one out here? Blackberries are also rich in antioxidants, but they have sugar alcohols called polyols, which are difficult to digest and can cause some real problems if your stomach is sensitive. (Check out these foods that GI doctors always avoid.)

plum tomatoes

Tomato and tomato products: Enjoy some, avoid some

Fresh and canned tomatoes are fine for your tummy. But tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomato that has excess fructose, a FODMAP that makes it a no-no except in small quantities. And tomato sauces? If they’re homemade, they’re fine to eat (just don’t cook it to the point where all the juices are lost). Most commercial sauces have onions and garlic (FODMAPs), added sugar (which may make it carb-dense), and salt (which bloats you), so steer clear of the store-bought variety.

half a grapefruit

Grapefruit: Enjoy with caution

Grapefruit does have hard-to-digest fructans, so you should try to limit how much you eat. A few sections should be okay, but don’t eat a half a grapefruit. If you’re looking for citrus, lemon, lime, and oranges are your best bets.

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Milk: Enjoy some, avoid some

Most types of animal milk are high in tummy twisting lactose—that means goat’s or sheep’s milk can be just as problematic as cow’s milk. Plant-based milks, such as coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk, are technically not milk at all and generally do not have any lactose. Some, however, including almond milk and soy milk, may contain other FODMAPs that harm your digestion. (These are the 15 worst foods for your stomach.)

Sweet corns on grey wooden table
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Corn: Avoid

Corn comes in many varieties, such as popcorn, on the cob, and in polenta. Fresh sweet corn contains two types of FODMAPs, making corn challenging for some people to digest. Popcorn feels like a light and healthy snack, but it’s actually carb-dense (it has about 64 grams of carbs per 100 grams), which can upset digestion. Whole cornmeal and corn tortillas seem to be better tolerated by most people. Whole grain polenta is also low in FODMAPs. You may need to experiment a little to figure out which corn products work for you. And stick with only limited quantities (up to 1 cup cooked per serving).

Red cabbage salad on wooden background. Top view.
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Common cabbage: Enjoy

Cabbage usually makes it on all the lists of foods that make you gassy, but common green cabbage doesn’t deserve that reputation. It’s actually low in FODMAPs and most of us break it down very well. Red cabbage also seems to be well-tolerated, but savoy and napa cabbage is much higher in FODMAPs and should be limited if you tend to suffer from gas and bloating. (Consider trying one of these diets that help relieve digestive problems.)

hot sauce
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Hot sauce: Enjoy with caution

Tolerance to hot sauce is very individual. It’s more problematic for those with heartburn. If you would like to try some, pick a brand without onion and garlic, as suggested by the team at Fisher-Titus Medical in Norwalk, Ohio. Make sure you also check out the 15 best foods for your stomach.