What Should I Eat If I Have a Hiatal Hernia?

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It is estimated that nearly half of the people with hiatal hernias will not have any symptoms. For the other half of those with hiatal hernias who experience symptoms, heartburn is the most common symptom. Thus, knowing how to control the heartburn through diet is important.

Studies have shown that the opening in the diaphragm, where the esophagus connects with the stomach, acts as an additional sphincter around the lower part of the esophagus.

Normally the hiatus and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)--the muscle connecting the esophagus with the stomach--line up with each other to keep stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. It is believed that a hiatal hernia can weaken the (LES) and cause reflux. The hiatal hernia results in the retention of acid and other stomach contents above the opening (hiatus) and can result in this being easily refluxed into the esophagus.

A few quick tips about eating and living with a hiatal hernia:

  • Eat 5 or 6 smaller meals during the day instead of 3 larger ones. Large meals increases pressure in the stomach and pressure against the LES muscle. Eating five or six small meals instead of three larger ones helps reduce the pressure.
  • If one of your meals is typically larger than the others, try eating that meal for lunch instead of supper.
  • Avoid late-night snacking. Eating shortly before going to bed can increase the likelihood that you will experience heartburn because of increased stomach acid levels created right before you lay down.
  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the LES, increasing the chances of refluxed food.
  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated, possibly with the help of a wedge pillow. Lying flat allows stomach contents to press against the LES. Also, having the head higher than the stomach allows gravity to keep stomach contents where they belong.
  • Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown that this position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid. Sleeping on the right side has been shown to worsen heartburn.

If you experience heartburn with your hiatal hernia, what you eat can be what is aggravating your heartburn symptoms. There may be foods you may need to think about limiting or avoiding completely. Knowing what these foods are is important. Also important is knowing what foods are safe for you to eat. How can you figure out what foods you should limit and what foods are safe for you to eat? You can keep a Food Diary. For approximately two weeks, write down what you eat, when you eat and any symptoms you may experience. This will help you and your doctor plan your diet and decide on any change in eating habits you may need.

Foods That Can Cause Heartburn:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Butter and margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Creamy sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g., soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato-based products

For more information on foods to limit, you can check out this article on Foods to Limit

Foods That Are Usually Safe for Heartburn Sufferers:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Baked potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Lean ground beef
  • Lean pork tenderloin
  • Lean pork chops
  • Lean turkey
  • Lean ham
  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheeses (in moderation)
  • Bread
  • Corn bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Decaffeinated, non-carbonated beverages
  • Non-citrus fruit juices
  • Water

For more information on safe foods, you can read this article on Safe Foods.

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