For many people, it’s hard enough as it is to maintain a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without adding a stomach disorder into the mix. What happens when certain foods give you acid reflux? Or when you’ve had a life-changing stomach surgery, and you've been told to overhaul your lifestyle completely? What foods should you eat and avoid?
If you have concerns about your digestive health, always speak to a doctor.
What is GERD?
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, more commonly known as GERD, is a common disorder that affects the muscle linking your food pipe and stomach. Sometimes, it can be caused by a hiatal hernia – where part of the stomach bulges up into the food pipe, causing stomach acid to rise – but not always.
Symptoms of GERD include heartburn and indigestion.
Which foods should I eat if I have GERD?
If you want to reduce your symptoms of GERD, diet is a key factor. And don’t worry, it’s not all about cutting food out – in fact, eating the right type of foods that are low in fat can also help to manage the condition! Here are some types of food you can try.
We all know we should eat our greens, but this is especially important if you have GERD. Most vegetables are low in fat and don’t contain much sugar, which can help to reduce acid levels and prevent that burning feeling in your chest. Broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, cauliflower, leafy greens and even potatoes are all good options. Prepare them with less oil.
High-fat meats, like beef, pork and lamb, sit longer in your stomach and can contribute to the burn of rising acid. Try swapping them for leaner, low-fat meats like chicken, turkey or fish, and grilling, baking or poaching them instead of frying.
If you noticed, these food options encourage weight loss, which has some evidence on reducing the effects of acid reflux. By adding more fruits and vegetables (2 servings per day) to your diet and reducing fat intake, you can lower your total calorie intake and reduce weight altogether.
Which foods should I avoid if I have GERD?
Knowing your ‘triggers’ can take a bit of experimentation and time. You may find you’re fine to eat some common GERD-triggering foods, while other seemingly harmless foods may unexpectedly flare your symptoms. The best thing you can do is pay attention to your body and adjust your diet accordingly. With this in mind, here are some foods and eating habits that are known to commonly trigger acid reflux.
- High-fat foods, like French fries
- Full-fat dairy products, like cheese, whole milk and butter
- Tomato sauce
- Garlic and onion
- Spicy foods
- Caffeinated beverages, eg. coffee
- Carbonated drinks
- Late night meals
What is a gastrectomy?
This surgery involves removing a part of or the entire stomach, which diverts the passage of food from the remaining areas to your intestines.
Your doctor will usually only recommend a gastrectomy if you have a stomach problem like stomach cancer, stomach polyps, severe ulcers or bleeding, which won’t get better with other treatments.
More rarely, a partial gastrectomy or a gastric bypass surgery may be recommended as part of a weight loss plan for morbidly obese patients.
Which foods should I eat after a gastrectomy?
After a gastrectomy, your lifestyle may need to change. You should still be able to eat a lot of the same foods, but you may need to test your tolerance for them very slowly. Foods high in fat, for example, may be more difficult to digest, while some patients find they develop a new intolerance to dairy. Often, it is recommended to eat 6 small meals (or more) a day instead of the usual 3 main meals, as well as to chew thoroughly to aid digestion. Texture and consistency of food may be modified during the first few weeks after surgery.
Generally, a person who’s had a gastrectomy can still eat the following, depending on their tolerance:
- Wholegrain breads
- Dry cereals
- Rice, pasta and noodles
- Fresh fruits
- Meats and fish
- Beans and lentils
If you’re unsure of what you should eat, consult a dietitian.
Which foods should I avoid after a gastrectomy?
After a gastrectomy, your digestive system will have less space to store the food you eat before it enters the small intestine, which makes it harder for your body to regulate the digestion process. This can lead to food being ‘dumped’ into your intestines too quickly. Known as ‘dumping syndrome’, this can cause cramps, pain, dizziness and sharp drops in blood sugar levels, and this is very common in post-gastrectomy patients (especially right after surgery).
Dumping syndrome can happen ‘early’ (15 – 30 minutes after eating) or ‘late’ (90 minutes – 3 hours after eating), and certain foods make it more likely to occur. Sugary foods, for example, quickly absorb water in the body, which can contribute to symptoms. For this reason, you may need to avoid:
- Sugary drinks
- Dairy products
You should also wait to have any drinks at least 30 minutes before or after a meal, as drinking while eating can also contribute to early satiety and dumping syndrome. Both may cause you to miss out on nutrition and potentially, malnourishment.
What else can I do to plan a healthy diet with a stomach disorder?
The most important thing to do with any stomach disorder is listen to your body. What negatively affects someone else may not affect you in the same way, and vice versa. Keeping a food diary can help you to keep track of ‘safe’ foods and foods to avoid to reduce unwanted discomforts.
If you have specific health concerns or need more nutritional advice, consult a doctor or a dietitian.
Article reviewed by
Natalie Goh, chief dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital
Louis Yap, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
Dr Chia Chung King, gastroenterologist at Parkway East Hospital
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