Navigating the Grocery Store if You Suffer from Acid Reflux
I have been undergoing treatment for acid reflux for about two months, with the guidance of Dr. Jamie Koufman, one of the authors of Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. Like many people who suffer from heartburn, I had a pretty clear idea of my worst trigger foods before seeking medical attention. Coffee, citrus, alcohol and tomato sauce all had me reaching for the Tums.
What I learned from Dr. Koufman is that acid as a food additive is also a contributor to reflux. Acid is added to foods because it prevents the growth of bacteria, but few consumers are aware of the potentially negative consequences of this practice. Things containing ascorbic acid, citric acid, and acetic acid should all be avoided by people suffering from reflux. You should also look out for foods and beverages that are “vitamin C enriched” or “vitamin C enhanced,” which is usually done through the addition of citric acid.
Added acid will always appear on the ingredients list. “In the beginning, think like you are learning a new language,” says Dr. Koufman. “You need to start looking at labels and you should know which foods are unacceptable based upon the acidity and fat content.” It’s best to buy organic poultry, because it will have a lower fat content.
Once you start examining labels you will find that many, many processed foods have added acid, from candy and soups to frozen dinners and salad dressing. This may seem daunting at first, but the best thing for people with reflux is to follow the familiar advice of shopping at the edges of the grocery store. This means buying mostly whole foods, particularly veggies, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Of course, you will still need to avoid citrus and tomatoes, plus whatever foods are triggers for you.
Another great option is to skip the grocery store all together and check out your local farmer’s market. This can be a great way to discover local produce, and you will often find fresher, more flavorful ingredients. Plus, the prepared foods you will find at a farmer’s market are less likely to contain added acid.
Buying more whole foods does generally mean cooking more at home, but there are still a number of healthy and convenient options for days that are too busy for cooking. “I am always buying bananas, and nowadays every Bodega has bananas,” says Dr. Koufman. Sandwiches are a convenient option that can also be purchased ready-made. “My go-to sandwich has always been turkey breast, preferably organic turkey. If there is something in the sandwich, like excessive amounts of mayonnaise, I get a plastic knife and take it off.” She adds that small amounts of fats are okay. Eating a low-fat, low-acid diet has the added benefit of being heart-healthy.