Digestive issues are becoming more and more rampant in the modern world.
One of the most difficult things about dealing with digestive problems is that both symptoms and triggers vary wildly from person to person.
Therefore, it takes a good deal of experimentation to find out what diet might be optimal for you — diets are not one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to dealing with digestive problems.
Can legumes cause acid reflux?
According to Dr. Norm Robillard, microbiologist and author of Heartburn Cured, acid reflux can result when carbohydrates are poorly absorbed by the body.
When carbohydrates are not digested properly, they can pass into the small intestine, where our gut bacteria reside.
These bacteria love to feed on carbohydrate (particularly GOS, which is a type of carbohydrate prevalent in legumes), and the more we feed these bacteria, the more they proliferate.
Some people may read this and automatically assume that having bacteria living in our gut is inherently a bad thing, based on overly-simplistic logic that says that germs are bad.
This is far from the truth.
Bacteria are neither good nor bad, and as long as we are alive we will always have multiple types of bacteria residing in various places in our body, including the small intestine.
The problem seems to occur when specific types of bacteria are allowed to proliferate and dominate other strains. H. Pylori is a great example of this.
When H. Pylori infects a human gut and is allowed to proliferate, there is good evidence suggesting that it can suppress the production of stomach acid.
In fact, it is low stomach acid — not high stomach acid — that is associated with acid reflux, indigestion, and gas.
To summarize, the combination of carbohydrate malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, and low stomach acid seems to be a plausible cause of acid reflux.
There have been some studies that indicate that going on a low-carb diet may help to resolve symptoms of GERD and acid reflux — possibly because eating low-carb stops feeding pathogenic bacteria in the gut.
What this means is that if you suffer from chronic acid reflux, you may want to experiment with lowering your carbohydrate intake for a time (at least 2-3 weeks) to see if this resolves your symptoms.
In practice, this would mean eliminating grains, sugar, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes.
If your symptoms improve, you could try to reintroduce the foods you eliminated, little by little, to see if it causes a return of your acid reflux.
Some people may need to limit carbs long-term in order to manage their symptoms, while other people may be able to enjoy higher carb foods once their guts heal.
What beans can I eat with acid reflux?
Dr. Michael Ruscio, author of the book Healthy Gut, Healthy You recommends starting your experimentation with gut-healing diets with a standard Paleo diet.
This type of diet can be used either long-term or as a temporary elimination diet, in which you eliminate particular types of foods for a period of time in order to see if it leads to a resolution of symptoms.
If your symptoms resolve on this elimination diet, you can safely assume that one or more of the foods you eliminated were causing (or exacerbating) your gut symptoms (such as acid reflux).
If you decide to use a Paleo diet as an elimination diet, Dr. Ruscio recommends eliminating the following foods:
- Beans, legumes, and lentils
- Processed foods
- Dairy products
- Most vegetable oils (I.e., corn oil, safflower oil)
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
If a Paleo diet fails to resolve your symptoms within 2-3 weeks, you may need to make your diet a bit more strict in order to uncover the problematic foods.
This is where you could utilize a low FODMAP diet.
This type of diet restricts foods that are high in certain types of carbohydrates that feed intestinal bacteria — even “Paleo-approved” foods like certain types of vegetables.
The common denominator in both of these gut-healing diets is that they both recommend eliminating legumes, at least for a period of time.
Removing legumes commonly results in improvement in digestive symptoms.
However, if you enjoy eating legumes and want to find a way to include them in your diet, you can experiment with different ways of doing so after your elimination diet is over.
Here are some ideas as to how to include legumes in your diet even with acid reflux:
- Eat smaller amounts of beans. If you normally eat a cup of beans or lentils, try eating ¼ cup. If you tolerate that amount well, you can try slowly increasing the amount you consume per meal and noting when or if symptoms return.
- Limit beans to 1-3 times per week. Eating them everyday may exacerbate your symptoms, but it’s possible that you could tolerate them better with a lower frequency.
- If beans worsen your acid reflux, try lentils instead. In particular, canned lentils seem to be lower in GOS and may be better tolerated.
- Pay attention to your overall caloric intake, especially in meals where you eat beans. Overeating in general (not just overeating beans) can trigger acid reflux.
- If you are overweight, make it your goal to reduce your body fat to a healthy percentage. This may be a good long-term strategy to improve your tolerance to old trigger foods.
Can you eat pinto beans with acid reflux?
Do lentils cause acid reflux?
What foods are bad for acid reflux?
As we saw earlier in the article, acid reflux is likely linked to bacterial overgrowth in the gut.
High carbohydrate diets, in turn, contribute to bacterial overgrowth by preferentially feeding pathogenic bacteria present in the gut.
Once bacterial overgrowth occurs, production of healthy stomach acid starts to become suppressed.
Over time, this can lead to acid reflux or GERD.
For this reason, low carb diets have been shown to improve acid reflux.
In a typical low carb diet, the primary goal is to simply reduce the overall amount of carbs in the diet.
Another approach to improving acid reflux through dietary measures is to adopt a specific carbohydrate diet, or GAPS diet.
While the general low carb approach simply seeks to reduce overall consumption of carbs, a specific carbohydrate diet restricts particular kinds of carbs.
In this approach, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes are eliminated, but fruits and non-starchy vegetables can be eaten liberally.
This may not end up being a low carb diet, but it could still be effective in reducing acid reflux symptoms.
The reason why a specific carbohydrate or GAPS diet might be effective in treating acid reflux is due to a theory that states that longer-chain carbohydrates (disaccharides and polysaccharides) preferentially feed pathogenic gut bacteria.
These types of carbohydrates are prevalent in the types of foods that are eliminated (grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables).
However, shorter-chain carbohydrates (monosaccharides) don’t cause bacterial overgrowth.
Monosaccharides are more prevalent in non-starchy vegetables and can therefore be safely eaten, even by people with acid reflux.
Another key point to bear in mind is that in order to maintain long-term digestive health, you will need to be able to regulate the amount of calories you consume on a regular basis.
If you’re consistently overeating — even if you’re overeating “healthy” foods — it may be too taxing on your digestive system and cause a return of your symptoms.
The simplest piece of advice to follow with regards to regulating calorie consumption is to avoid calorically-dense foods — foods that have high amounts of calories with a correspondingly low amount of nutrients.
Foods that have high amounts of both carbs and fats together — think donuts, ice cream, cakes, and cookies — are particularly easy to overeat.
Of course, when dealing with digestive problems it is always crucial to bear in mind that one person’s gut-friendly diet may look entirely different from another’s.
If you are really looking to improve your gut health, the best idea may be to eliminate as many problematic foods as possible until you see a reduction or complete resolution of your symptoms.
Once you experience what good digestion feels like, you can experiment with adding in other types of foods, if desired.
It should be immediately obvious if what you’ve eaten causes a return of your symptoms.
If symptoms return, you can retreat back to the stricter baseline diet that you know you feel best on.