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Foods That Cause Heartburn

Foods That Cause Heartburn

What you eat, when you eat and even how you eat can all contribute to heartburn. You may have your particular food or drink triggers for heartburn, but research has identified the most common culprits. Knowing how these could set off or aggravate heartburn means you can adapt your diet accordingly. Check the list below to see what food and drink could be affecting you, and find out about other causes of heartburn.

Does Spicy Food Cause Heartburn?

Is spice the most common heartburn trigger? It certainly has a reputation for sparking classic heartburn and indigestion symptoms; but are hot wings, curry or salsa dip causing that uncomfortable fire in your chest? The jury is still out. We know many spicy dishes contain capsaicin, a compound found in chilies. Capsaicin is thought to slow the rate of digestion, leaving food sitting for longer in your stomach which is more likely to lead to heartburn symptoms.1

Cayenne, curry powder, cloves, and black pepper can cause acid reflux2. It may not be the spices themselves that are the problem, however, but more the dishes that they are part of – or possibly a combination of both. Spicy salsa, for example, also contains acidic tomatoes and onions. A fiery curry could include high-fat ghee, cream, and red meat such as lamb. If spicy dishes trigger your heartburn, neutralize stomach acid immediately after eating by taking an antacid such as TUMS.

Can Dairy Cause Heartburn?

If spice is said to fire up heartburn, milk has a reputation for being a stomach-soothing, acid neutralizer. Research, however, suggests whole milk increases acid production in the stomach – increasing the risk of heartburn. One study involving almost 400 heartburn sufferers showed nearly 40 percent reported worsening symptoms after drinking whole milk. Using low-fat milk or plant-based milk such as soy, oat or rice is less likely to cause problems.3

Do High Fat Foods Cause Heartburn?

Are pizza, fried chicken, burgers, and fries the foods most likely to trigger heartburn? Certainly, fatty and deep-fried food is likely to be harder to digest and will trigger more stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn4. The confusing thing though, is that many highly nutritious foods including nuts, cheese and avocados are also high in fat and can similarly trigger symptoms5. Heartburn is triggered because high-fat foods relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, which acts as a barrier between your food pipe and your stomach. If this muscle relaxes, stomach acid can escape from the stomach to the esophagus causing acid reflux. Making small changes to your diet, such as reducing portion size, can significantly help reduce your risk of heartburn.

Do Onions Cause Heartburn?

It is pretty hard to avoid these flavor-enhancers, but they are well-known heartburn triggers. Eating onions raw is more likely to cause symptoms. One study gave heartburn sufferers a hamburger without onions to eat one day, followed by an identical burger the next with raw onions. The study found that the burger with onions significantly worsened heartburn symptoms.6 Experts suggest anyone prone to acid reflux and heartburn should also avoid garlic, especially in raw form7. If these ingredients do pose problems, antacids can quickly neutralize stomach acid and soothe your symptoms

Can Fruit Cause Heartburn?

Healthy and as vitamin C-rich as they are, the amount of acid in citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines make them prime contenders for increasing gastric acid. Evidence shows even a glass of seemingly innocent-looking orange juice can lead to heartburn in those who are prone to it. Swap your OJ for something more stomach-soothing such as carrot and ginger or melon juice.8 Another healthy but surprisingly acidic fruit is the tomato. And not just in its raw form either – in ketchup and cooked tomato sauces, including pizza topping, it can aggravate heartburn9. All fruits are highly nutritious, so don't stop eating them. Opt instead for less acidic fruit including berries, apples, and bananas.

Do Coffee and Teas Cause Heartburn?

You may want to rethink your regular cup of joe if you're a heartburn sufferer as caffeine relaxes the LES, triggering acid reflux10. Switching to decaffeinated coffee has been shown to lower your risk of heartburn significantly. Drinking tea, with its lower levels of caffeine, can help too but avoid peppermint tea. Despite its popularity for soothing an upset stomach, peppermint relaxes the LES making heartburn worse11.

Can Sodas and Alcohol Cause Heartburn?

Ditch fizzy sodas and carbonated energy drinks as the gas in them puts extra pressure on the LES, leading to stomach acidity and an increased likelihood of reflux. One study has shown drinking carbonated drinks led to a higher risk of developing reflux-related symptoms.12

Does Chocolate Cause Heartburn?

Nobody wants to hear it, but cocoa powder is acidic. Like alcohol, it relaxes the esophageal sphincter causing gastric contents to reflux, resulting in the common burning sensation in the chest and throat. Chocolate also contains LES-relaxing caffeine.

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  1. The effect of chilli on gastrointestinal transit. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Accessed 09/03/19.
  2. How spices can trigger acid reflux. Dummies. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  3. The relationship between popular beverages in Korea and reported postprandial heartburn. Korean Journal of Gastroenterology. Accessed 09/03/19.
  4. What foods can affect your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) leading to heartburn?. WebMD. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  5. 11 foods that can cause heartburn. Healthline. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  6. The effect of raw onions on acid reflux and reflux symptoms. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Accessed 09/03/19.
  7. Can you eat garlic if you have acid reflux? Healthline. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  8. The relationship between popular beverages in Korea and reported postprandial heartburn. Korean Journal of Gastroenterology. Accessed 09/03/19.
  9. Top 10 Heartburn Foods. WebMD. Accessed 10/28/2019.
  10. Coffee vs. Tea for GERD. Healthline. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  11. What to Drink for Acid Reflux. Healthline. Accessed 10/23/2019.
  12. Relationship between gastroesophageal reflux symptoms and dietary factors in Korea. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. Accessed 09/03/19.
  13. Can You Eat Chocolate If You Have Acid Reflux? Healthline. Accessed 10/28/2019.
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