If you’ve noticed frequent stomachaches that feel like burning in or above your stomach, if eating makes you feel nauseous, or if you find yourself constantly burping, you could be suffering from gastritis. The condition is commonly caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, and results in damage or inflammation of the stomach lining that allows natural stomach acid to cause painful burning of sensitive tissues underneath. Gastritis can be improved by adjusting your diet to allow the stomach lining to heal.
Lifestyle changes can improve or even cure gastritis, and while the usual suspects like junk food and sodas are obvious no-nos, there are a few foods, usually considered healthy choices, that might be aggravating your stomach. The best way to discover your ideal gastritis diet is to test the items on our list one by one and note your body’s reactions.
Citrus fruits and juices
The culprit in citrus is the acidity, which can easily irritate an already inflamed stomach lining. Some studies report that citrus actually triggers the brain to release pain-causing chemical neurotransmitters in people with a predisposition to stomach inflammation. To give your stomach a break, skip the oranges, grapefruit, and lemons, getting your vitamin C instead from sources like strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes, and leafy greens.
Tomatoes are delicious and healthy, full of the antioxidant lycopene and a lot of vitamin C. But they are also relatively high in acidity that can irritate the stomach. Tomatoes additionally contain fructose, which is a natural sugar. Some people have a fructose intolerance that leads to malabsorption in the gut. The undigested material is fermented by gut bacteria and can cause nausea, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea. We thought we’d leave you with that image to help you avoid tomatoes in the future.
Milk and other dairy products
Milk used to be recommended for gastritis patients as doctors thought the fat content would help coat the stomach and protect it from acid. Now they believe that the calcium and proteins in milk actually cause the stomach to release even more acid. Individual sufferers seem to have different reactions to dairy products, though. If you can drink milk and eat cheese or yogurt without pain, there’s no need to eliminate them entirely from your diet. In fact, probiotic yogurt may actually help to soothe stomach irritation.
Studies show that alcohol in moderation, meaning no more than one drink per day, can actually offer some protection against gastritis. Too much, however, has the opposite effect and can make inflammation worse. Again, this is something that varies from person to person, but drinking to excess can also compromise your ability to make good choices about the others things you eat. Limiting alcohol is a smart choice for the overall health of your body, not just your sore stomach.
This can be a tough one because people love their coffee, but the good news is that there are other ways to get a caffeine boost (without overdoing it) that aren’t so acidic. Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, and more than one study points to the fact that drinking it regularly can reduce your gastritis risk by up to 40% due to anti-inflammatory compounds. If tea just won’t do it for you, there are certain coffee beans that are lower in acidity. Arabica, for example, contain less acid than Robusta beans. The acidity in coffee is also less when the beans are slow roasted or steamed before roasting. Dark roast and slow steeped cold brew are also less acidic, but be careful not to overdo the caffeine.
Spicy hot foods don’t actually cause gastritis. Though it feels like they could, powerful spices can’t erode the stomach lining. But they can worsen symptoms. It is sort of like the difference between, for example, lemon juice dripped on a paper cut versus onto intact skin. Ingredients like hot peppers, curry sauce, hot sauce, and chili powder should all be avoided when your stomach lining is inflamed.
Foods that have a high concentration of bad fats – saturated and trans – cause inflammation in the stomach. Most baked goods and fried foods (you know, comfort foods) contain unhealthy fats. However, there are good fats that are a vital part of a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are very beneficial to heart health. Get your fats from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources such as wild salmon, avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Sodas are another drink that are highly acidic, and come loaded with sugar. When you drink soda, especially on an empty stomach, it can upset the acid-alkaline balance of the stomach and inflame the lining. If you really crave the bubbles, try some sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate or cherry juice added.
It’s best to avoid foods made with refined white flour, which includes most breads, pastas, and baked goods. The refining process eliminates almost all of the nutrition that was once in the whole grain, and then the flour gets blasted with bleach to create that white color. Not only do refined grains spike blood sugar considerably, they are also prone to triggering food allergies. All of this increases gut inflammation, slows down healing, and can raise your risk of infection.
You don’t need to stop taking antacids entirely. Indeed, many people with gastritis rely on them to manage the pain caused by stomach acid. However, antacids do not treat the underlying problem and can cause long term complications like constipation or diarrhea and an out-of-whack electrolyte balance. It’s ok to reach for the Tums when you’re really suffering, but you have a much better chance to heal your gastritis by making dietary changes rather than simply treating the painful symptoms.
Your stomach will thank you for taking the time to experiment with your tolerance for the foods on our list. To get accurate results, eliminate all potentially troubling foods at once and then test just one at a time. Many people find they can tolerate a certain amount of tomatoes or dairy, for example, but if you are eating a complex food that contains both, it will be difficult to tell what triggers resulting inflammation. With a little luck, you should still be able to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation without suffering the pain of gastritis.