Someone with a hiatal hernia, a condition that affects the stomach muscles and the diaphragm, may need to adopt a special diet to reduce the severity of symptoms caused by the condition. This diet involves modifying not only what the person eats, but also how and when he or she eats. In general, someone on a hiatal hernia diet must try to avoid very spicy foods and other triggers, and he or she must eat smaller meals.
The diaphragm is a large, very thin, dome-shaped muscle that spans the abdominal cavity. The abdominal organs, including the stomach, are located below the diaphragm. In the center of the muscle, a hole called the hiatus allows the esophagus access to the stomach. The stomach muscles are located around the hiatal hole. In someone with a hiatal hernia, these muscle bulge through the hiatus, causing the top portion of the stomach also to protrude through the hole.
People with this condition are susceptible to symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, belching, hiccuping, nausea, bloating, stomach pain, acid reflux, regurgitation of stomach contents and chest pain. Often, these symptoms are worse after eating and can become more noticeable when lying down. Not everyone with a hiatal hernia will have symptoms; for those who do, following a special diet can help ease their pain and discomfort.
Many people on a hiatal hernia diet find it useful to put food into different categories based on how they affect the condition. The three categories are foods that are safe to eat and don’t cause symptoms, foods that can be eaten in moderation, and foods that cause symptoms even if only a small amount is eaten. Drinks also can be categorized in this way.
Foods that most people can tolerate include lean meats and low-fat dairy products; egg whites; whole-grain breads and crackers; vegetables such as potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beans and peas; and fruits such as apples and bananas. Those that cause symptoms in most people include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, fatty meats and dairy products, most types of alcohol, coffee, tea, creamy salad dressings, and high-fat desserts and sweets. These foods tend to cause symptoms even when consumed in small amounts.
Many foods can be tolerated when eaten in small amounts. These include berries, peaches, onions, garlic, medium-fat meats, whole eggs, fried foods, deli meats, medium-fat cheeses and dairy products, non-alcoholic beer and wine, soda, and low-fat desserts and sweets. Determining what foods can be eaten in small amounts is often a matter of trial-and-error, because not everyone with a hiatal hernia responds exactly the same way to all foods. Keeping a food diary to determine what foods can be tolerated is useful for creating a personalized hiatal hernia diet.
People with hiatal hernias often must modify the way they eat in order to reduce symptoms. For example, it can be useful to eat several smaller meals instead of three large ones. In addition, someone who is following a hiatal hernia diet should avoid eating in the two or three hours before bed and should sit upright for at least an hour after every meal. These measures help reduce the burden on the stomach and make it less likely that food will be regurgitated.