Living with GERD is no fun, right? Not only do you have to be careful to avoid cooking with trigger foods at home, it can become especially frustrating to comb through a restaurant menu to find heartburn-friendly options that work for you. Yes, restaurants can be minefields for acid reflux triggers, but you don’t have to completely give up on dining out! With some research and a little bit of planning, it is possible to enjoy a nice, relaxing meal at your favorite restaurant with friends and family and not having to worry about dealing with any heartburn symptoms at all!
Steer Clear Of Your Triggers
This first step is pretty much common sense, right? Sadly, many of us love our heartburn trigger foods so much, we’d rather risk an acid-reflux attack than feel ‘deprived’. Our advice – DON’T. Dining out is about relaxing and enjoying a meal; it’s not just about the food you eat, it’s also about the experience. Risking heartburn trigger foods will ruin the experience for you, and quite frankly, it’s not worth it. Some heartburn trigger foods best avoided at restaurants are:
- Spicy Foods
- Fried Foods
- Sodas (including diet sodas)
- Tomato based Sauces and Curries
- Fat laden foods
- Foods containing Citrus Juices
If you absolutely must indulge, share the dish with your dinner companions and limit yourself to just a few bites.
This Is When Portion Control Makes Sense
And that brings us to our second tip – portion control. While its recommended to eat smaller, more frequent meals for anyone suffering from GERD, this is especially important when you’re dining out and don’t have complete control over the ingredients that make up your meal. Overeating is a sure fire way to exacerbate heartburn symptoms, as eating too much too soon puts extra stress on the digestive system. Additionally, it doesn’t help that most restaurants offer super-sized servings to please their customers by giving them more value for their money. Try these simple portion-control tips to indulge in a scrumptious meal without worrying about dealing with GERD symptoms later.
- Straightaway request your server for a half-portion, especially if you already know that the restaurant serves bigger portions.
- Share your meal with your dinner companions. This is a great way to sample more dishes on the menu without overeating.
- If you love the appetizers served at the restaurant, completely forgo the main course and savor each mouthful of your delicious entrée dish.
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. If you start to feel full just halfway through your meal, don’t think twice about asking for the remainder of your meal to be packed up in a to-go doggy bag.
- Must have dessert? Order a single dessert for the table and request for extra spoons so you can share a sweet treat with your dinner companions.
Order Your Way
The best strategy to avoid heartburn is to steer clear of your GERD triggers. When dining out, it’s important to take your time when placing your order. Talk to the server and ask how a dish is prepared. Ask how the meat is cooked, if the meal is served with veggies on the side, what kind of fats are used for cooking etc. Once you have all the information you need, order your way by making GERD-friendly choices. You’d be surprised to find out that many good restaurants will happily go out of their way to customize your meal and enhance your dining experience! Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Request for lean cuts of meat.
- Ask for your meat to be served grilled, poached, steamed or roasted, instead of fried.
- Swap fries for a fresh salad or steamed veggies for sides
- If a dish comes with a sauce, request for the sauce on the side so you can control how much of it you actually eat. Oftentimes even heartburn trigger foods may have no after-effects when eaten in limited quantities.
- Request for a non-spicy version of your favorite dish. The chef can easily hold back on all the peppers and chilies that otherwise go into the dish to make it hot.
Know What Is Safe To Order
Some foods are worse for acid reflux, when compared to others. However, the good news here is that you can choose GERD-friendly options with most cuisines, as long as you know what to order and what to avoid. Here are some tips:
- If eating a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant, choose a pesto sauce instead of a creamy sauce (Alfredo) or a tomato based sauce (Arrabiata) since both high-fat and high-acidic foods can be heartburn triggers. Opt for light salads with a vinaigrette dressing as well as grilled, poached, or steamed fish dishes without a cream sauce. Cheesy options like lasagna, ravioli, and tortellini are best avoided.
- Opt for steamed and broth based dishes at an Asian restaurant, like steamed veggies, meats or dumplings. Noodles in a broth and clear miso soup are also good options. Steer clear of fried wontons, fried dumplings, eggrolls and crispy fried veggies. Batter-fried, Tempura and Thai spices are also best avoided.
- When eating at a Mexican restaurant, opt for grilled fajitas, brown rice served with beans and meats, tamales, burritos and quesadillas served sans extra cheese. Avoid the super-spicy Chilaquiles, salsa, nachos, tacos filled with chiles or jalapeño peppers, mole sauce, Chiles Rellenos and sour cream.
- Fast food restaurants can be rather tricky, but it’s possible to eat there by being extra-careful (and by exerting awesome self-control!). You can order a grilled chicken sandwich or plain hamburger with a light salad on side. A ham or turkey submarine served with a side of veggies is another good option. Remember, mayonnaise and mature cheeses can be heartburn triggers, so we advise restraint. Also, do not give into the craving to have some French fries on the side or drink a large soda with your meal!
- Choose a fruit based dessert option, like sorbet, a fruit tart, fresh-fruit custard or parfait, and avoid chocolate-based desserts.
5 Things To Avoid with GERD No Matter What
Now there are certain foods that are BEST avoided if you suffer from acid reflux. And while heartburn triggers vary from person to person, these 5 offenders are best avoided by anyone and everyone with GERD.
- Extra Condiment: Like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and white vinegar. They aren’t offering you any nutritional value either!
- Citrus Fruits: Avoid grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges in any form, be it a fruity dish, a salad, or meat/fish cooked and basted with a citrusy sauce.
- Fatty Foods: Avoid all fatty cuts of meats like steaks, sausages or prime ribs. Dishes with added cream or cheese or those cooked in lard or butter are also best avoided.
- Fried Foods: If it’s ‘fried’, its best avoided. This holds true for fries, onion rings, fried dumplings and even fried crispy chicken or vegetables.
- Spicy Foods: Anything with hot sauce, hot peppers, wasabi, salsa, red or green chilies is best avoided.
Is your dinner company enjoying a few cocktails before the main course? This is the time you sit down to drink a tall glass of water! Drinking water half an hour before your meal does wonders to combat heartburn, as it revs up your digestive fire. Water flushes away any remnant acids from your stomach, giving your gut the confidence to produce highly concentrated stomach acids that will easily digest your indulgent meal. Also, water creates a buffer to protect the stomach lining from being irritated by stomach acids.
Remember to take no more than a few sips of water along with a meal, that’s if you must. And don’t drink any water post meal for at least 30 minutes.
Some Additional Tips
Eating out is all about relaxing, unwinding after a tiring day/week at work and having a great experience while enjoying the company of friends and family. These additional tips will help enhance your experience:
- Indulge in a glass of wine with your delicious meal, but stop at just one.
- Order mindfully. While it’s easy to go overboard when choosing from a gourmet menu, try not to order too much food for the table. Share dessert with your dining partner.
- Have decaf coffee, or better yet, choose an herbal tea at the end of your meal.
- Avoid peppermint infused foods, desserts, candy, or mouth fresheners as these can relax the LES or the lower esophageal sphincter that works as a lid between the esophagus and the stomach to keep stomach contents from coming back up the esophagus.
- We highly recommend chewing Raft Forming Alginates tablets after an indulgent meal. These tablets contain a combination of marine alginate and bicarbonate that create a temporary physical barrier that prevents the backwash of stomach contents, including burning acid. Think of them as natural antacids, which can work for up to 4 hours. There are other tips to help your heartburn naturally that are worth trying.
Certain indulgences go hand in hand with dining out – for example, dessert, ingesting extra-calories and alcohol. Try not to worry about them! As long as you walk away from your meal feeling good, with happy memories and no heartburn symptoms in sight, and you don’t make a habit of eating out every other day, you’re good!