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11 Foods That May Cause Heartburn and Acid Reflux: What to Avoid

8 minute read


Heartburn affects millions of Americans, and poor diet is often the cause. The painful, burning sensation felt is actually in your esophagus and not your heart as the name suggests.

This makes it a digestive issue, which is where the food you eat comes into play. The acid in your stomach leaks back into your esophagus, burning the delicate tissues, but what you eat can help prevent this.

Sometimes acid reflux, or heartburn is caused by a weakened muscle between the stomach and esophagus. When this is the case, surgery is an option, or you can just change your diet so as to control acid production. In other cases diet itself is to blame.

The Western diet consists of a large amount of unhealthy fats, processed meals, and sugar-laden foods. None of which are helpful for heartburn.

What Not to Eat

Once you know what to avoid, acid reflux and heartburn can be a thing of the past. In most cases dietary changes are sufficient enough to reduce acid reflux and allow the esophagus time to heal.

| Related: How Daily Digestive Enzymes Help Reverse GERD Damage |

There are a number of heartburn medications available over the counter, but often these come with risks and side effects. To get a long term and more effective solution, take a closer look at what you eat as well as natural digestive enzyme supplements to improve digestion, and make sure you avoid these top culprits:

1. High Fat Foods

Foods high in fat content contribute to a number of health issues, heartburn being one of them. Unfortunately, this group includes foods with healthy fats, such as avocados and cheese. The problem is not the type of fat, just the large quantities present in the food.

| Related: The Importance of Plant-Based Digestive Enzyme Supplements |

The fats trigger the release of CCK which relaxes the sphincter muscles and causes acid reflux. This hormone also works to keep food in the stomach longer, contributing to the release of more acid.

2. Citrus Juices

Citrus juices, like orange juice, are acidic in nature and consuming them too often leads to excess acid in your digestive tract. You should also be careful of drinks with citrus juice added. This may be lemon in your iced tea or lime in water.

3. Spicy Foods

Most spicy foods contain capsaicin, which is a compound that slows digestion. This means food stays in your stomach for longer, allowing more time for acid to collect.

In addition to this, spicy foods can irritate an already-inflamed esophagus, so it is best to avoid them. Not only can they cause heartburn, but they can also make existing conditions worse.

4. Onions

Raw onions in particular are not good for heartburn. Like fatty foods, these can relax the sphincter muscle allowing for easier passage of acid into your esophagus.

Onions are also full of fermentable fibers, which are known to exasperate digestive issues, so too many in your diet will trigger heartburn as well as cause belching, which can aggravate acid reflux.

5. Sodas

Carbonated drinks not only relax the esophageal sphincter, but they increase production of stomach acid too. You end up with more acid and a weakened barrier that allows acid to flow right back into your esophagus.

| Related: How Bad Is Diet Soda for Your Body? |

Drinking sodas throughout the day is linked to heartburn during the evening. If you want a good night’s sleep and a healthy esophagus, it is best to cut out soda from your diet.

6. Alcohol

Moderate to excessive drinking contributes to heartburn in several ways. It relaxes the sphincter muscles and promotes acid production, especially beer and wine.

Alcoholic beverages also damage the lining of the esophagus over time, which leaves it weakened against acid reflux and at risk for cancer.

7. Coffee

While no definitive link has been identified between coffee and acid reflux, many people report experiencing heartburn after drinking coffee. Caffeine may relax the sphincter muscles but there is no evidence as yet that coffee directly causes acid reflux symptoms.

8. Chocolate

Chocolate affects the esophageal sphincter in the same was as fats do, allowing stomach acid to escape. Like coffee, caffeine is thought to relax the muscles and chocolate also contains serotonin, which leaves you feeling happy, and your esophageal sphincter relaxed.

9. Salt

People who add salt to their meals have a much higher chance of experiencing heartburn than those who do not. It has not been confirmed how exactly salt intake impacts acid production or acid reflux, but people who eat salted foods more than three times a week have a greater risk of having heartburn.

The link could be between salt and fat intake, because many salted snacks are also full of fat, which is already known to trigger acid reflux.

10. Milk

There is something soothing about a glass of milk that makes people think it can help with heartburn. In reality, however, milk can make heartburn symptoms worse.

| Related: 5 Signs You Could Be Lactose Intolerant |

Whole milk increases stomach acid production, which makes acid reflux more likely. It seems that the fat content in whole milk is to blame, so you can either switch to a lower fat milk or stay away completely.

11. Mint

Mint is often used to soothe digestive issues, especially in tea form. However, there are several studies that show mint aggravates heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. It is believed that mint doesn’t affect the sphincter, but it does irritate your esophageal lining, weakening it and increasing your risk for heartburn.

Since peppermint tea can help in some cases, it is best to see how it affects you first. If you notice heartburn, then avoid mint and try chamomile or ginger teas to help soothe digestive troubles instead.

The Bottom Line

Heartburn is painful and can disrupt your daily life as well as your sleep. Without treatment your esophagus can become seriously damaged, and you even risk developing esophageal cancer.

The tissues lining your esophagus are very delicate and are no match for stomach acid, which is why you need to make sure the acid stays where it can be tolerated. Heartburn medications and antacids are easy to get from any store, but relying on these is a short fix. Relief may come within minutes and last for a few hours, but your next meal will have the burning right back to your chest.

Avoid medications that can have harmful side effects and switch up your diet instead. Removing these foods will promote healthier eating and keeps heartburn at bay.

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