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Does Sugar Cause Acid Reflux? Facts and Other Trigger Foods to Avoid

7 minute read


Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a common condition marked by a burning sensation in the chest. The condition is directly related to your gut health and the foods you eat. Certain foods are known to trigger acid reflux, so it is important to understand which foods to avoid.

Because sugar is found in many of these trigger foods, it is also important to understand the sugar-reflux connection. How is sugar related to the onset of acid reflux, and should you be eating any sugar at all? Here is what you need to know.

The Sugar-Reflux Connection

The good news is that sugar in small amounts without the presence of trigger foods will not cause or worsen acid reflux. Pure honey, maple syrup, and jams have no impact on the condition whatsoever.

However, when sugar is present with trigger foods, acid reflux symptoms and pain can worsen, which prompts people to avoid sugary foods.

What you eat largely affects your health and directly impacts acid reflux. The pain in your chest is caused by acid flowing back from the stomach into your esophagus. The delicate tissue of your esophagus is easily inflamed by this acid and is painful.

What you eat affects digestion and the potential for acid to escape from your stomach, so avoiding certain foods prevents esophageal pain.

The most common foods to cause acid reflux that also contain sugar are:

Chocolate: The cocoa in chocolate contains serotonin, which relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter allowing the acid in.

Fruit Juice: Fruit acid is the culprit, and not sugar

Alcohol: It is the alcohol itself that is the problem

Sodas: Carbonation not only relaxes the esophageal sphincter but it also increases acid production.

Limiting sugar helps avoid these trigger foods, and it also helps you to better manage your weight. Numerous studies have linked obesity to acid reflux, so once the extra pounds are gone, reflux symptoms should be mitigated at the very least.

Too much sugar consumption, however, contributes to the development of diabetes and can damage the vagus nerve, which controls digestive muscles. In doing so, your stomach gets delayed in emptying its contents, leading to greater stomach acid production and raising the risk of reflux.

With diabetes, you typically monitor your sugar intake already. While the sugar does not directly cause heartburn, limiting it will reduce the possibility of it happening.

Regular exercise helps to control blood sugar levels, thereby working to prevent heartburn and dangerous blood sugar spikes. If you have diabetes, it is important to understand the connection between the condition and reflux.

The Real Reflux Triggers

Now that you know sugar is not directly causing or triggering your acid reflux, it is important to identify the foods that do cause trouble. Avoiding these known trigger foods will prevent reflux, without you having to cut out on the sugary treats you love.

High-Fat Foods: Studies have shown that unhealthy fats cause delayed stomach emptying, which results in increased acid production. Avoiding high-fat foods like butter, ice cream, fried foods, high-fat sauces and dressings, and high-fat cuts of meat will prevent the buildup of excess acid which can flow back into your esophagus.

It is actually the fat content of chocolate and cocoa that triggers reflux, rather than the sugar.

Coffee: Your morning cup of joe may be causing reflux by way of relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter between your stomach and esophagus. When this muscle is relaxed, stomach contents and acid can easily flow back into the esophagus.

Coffee does not cause reflux in everybody, so you can drink in moderation depending on the specific way it impacts you.

Citrus: Citrus juices trigger acid reflux because of the acidity of the fruit, although many people mistakenly think it is the sugar content.

Mint: While peppermint and spearmint are used to soothe digestive issues, they can also contribute to acid reflux. In certain individuals, mint can irritate the esophageal lining, leading to heartburn.

If you notice that mint causes pain rather than eases it, then you know to avoid it completely and reduce the chances of reflux.

Spicy Foods: Spicy foods cause abdominal pain, which can exacerbate gastrointestinal problems. If you commonly experience acid reflux then it is advised to avoid spicy foods so as not to aggravate existing problems.

Salt: Increased salt intake not only increases your blood pressure, but it also increases your risk for heartburn. Study results have been mixed in terms of if salt actually causes acid reflux.

| Related: The Pleasure Principle: Why We Love Sugar, Salt, and Fat |

It is believed that salt is commonly used on fried and high-fat foods, which are known to trigger reflux. It is not clear if salt or fat causes the problem, but avoiding both will work towards ensuring you stay reflux-free.

Onions: These add flavor to your favorite foods, but they are also a fermentable fiber, which produces belching. Belching is a common trigger for acid reflux, so avoiding onions may be required to prevent heartburn.

Milk: Many people mistakenly drink milk to soothe heartburn pains, but milk is actually one of the biggest reflux triggers out there. Whole milk in particular triggers excess acid production, which increases your risk for reflux.

It is better to avoid milk altogether, but if you can’t, then choose a skimmed or low-fat version instead.

The Bottom Line

It is important to monitor what you eat if you are regularly experiencing heartburn and reflux. If you believe it is related to sugar, you need to contact your doctor.

More often than not, though, sugar is not the culprit. Sugar in combination with the trigger foods discussed above, as well as mismanagement of diabetes, can worsen symptoms. By avoiding trigger foods and monitoring sugar intake, you can live reflux-free.

READ NEXT >>> 11 Heartburn Foods to Avoid

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