10 Foods You Shouldn’t Eat if You Have Heartburn and Acid Reflux

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A hot burning in the chest, an unpleasant bitter taste in the throat, severe bloating in the stomach – all these signs are related to acid reflux.

Many people suffer from acid reflux, which happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that closes off the stomach from the esophagus does not function properly and stomach acids flow back into the esophagus.

Acid reflux can be triggered by smoking, obesity, laying down or bending at the waist, blood pressure medications, exercise and stomach abnormalities. Diet also plays a key role in heartburn and acid reflux.

There are several foods and beverages that can aggravate the tissues that line the esophagus or affect the ability of the lower esophageal sphincter to close properly and keep acids in the stomach.

In fact, health experts recommend keeping a close eye on your diet to identify the foods that may trigger your acid reflux. Remember, different people may have different triggers.

Here are the top 10 foods you shouldn’t eat if you have heartburn and acid reflux.

  1. Chocolate

If you love to eat chocolates and often suffer from heartburn, it’s time to say no to one of your favorite sweet treats.

Chocolate is bad for people suffering from acid reflux for three reasons.

First, it contains caffeine and other stimulants like theobromine that cause reflux. Theobromine is a kind of methylxanthine that can keep the lower esophageal sphincter muscle from tightening, thereby directly increasing the chances of severe acid reflux.

Secondly, it is high in fat, which means it takes longer to digest and can trigger reflux.

Thirdly, the cocoa in it can induce the problem. Cocoa can cause the intestinal cells to relax the esophageal sphincter and allow stomach acid to creep up.

Dark chocolate isn’t as bad as high-fat milk chocolate, but it’s better to avoid this common trigger.

  1. Alcohol

Any kind of alcoholic beverage may contribute to reflux. Alcohol can relax the valve at the bottom of the esophagus, which in turn leads to reflux.

It also stimulates the production of acid in the stomach and irritates the stomach and esophagus to make the condition worse.

A 2004 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found heavy alcohol use –drinking 210 g or more of alcohol per week – as one of the risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Later, a 2006 study published in the Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics reports that commonly consumed alcoholic beverages like wine and beer induce gastroesophageal reflux in patients with GERD.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B reports that exposure of the esophagus and stomach to alcohol may cause direct damage to esophageal and gastric mucosae. In addition, toxic acetaldehyde metabolized from alcohol could affect the function of the esophagus and stomach.

Try to abstain from alcoholic beverages if you can, or limit your consumption to 1 to 2 drinks per week.

  1. Coffee

If you love to drink coffee all day long, it’s time to switch to some herbal tea.

The caffeine in coffee is bad for people who already suffer from heartburn or acid reflex. It increases the acidity in your stomach, causing acid reflux.

Coffee also reduces pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter, which can either cause or exacerbate heartburn in susceptible individuals.

Plus, coffee speeds up the process of gastric emptying, which may contribute to highly acidic contents passing into the small intestine more rapidly than normal. This may cause injury to the intestinal tissue.

Along with coffee, you need to avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea, sodas and energy drinks.

  1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes and tomato-based products are best to avoid if you suffer from heartburn or GERD.

Tomatoes are rich in citric acid, malic acid and ascorbic acid that can irritate the stomach and esophagus.

Once these acids are consumed, the stomach begins to produce too much gastric acid. This can creep up into the esophagus and cause an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest.

Avoid tomatoes as well as tomato-based products, such as ketchup, pizza with tomato sauce, pasta sauce and chili sauce.

  1. Carbonated Beverages

Soda and other carbonated beverages also trigger heartburn and acid reflux.

First, the bubbles of carbonation expand inside the stomach, and the increased distension can cause reflux of stomach acids.

Secondly, carbonated sodas are highly acidic in nature. When you drink such beverages, the volume of stomach acid can rise much higher, thus worsening the condition.

Try to limit your intake of any kind of carbonated beverages to avoid acid reflux. If you just can’t resist, try to drink it in the morning or early in the day, since reflux tends to be worse at night or when you’re lying down.

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruits can worsen the symptoms of reflux as well as heartburn. Hence, avoid these fruits in both whole and juice form.

Citrus fruits are high in acid and irritating to the digestive tract. The high acidity of citrus fruits relaxes the esophageal sphincter and worsens symptoms, especially when eaten on an empty stomach.

Unlike your stomach, your esophagus is not used to withstanding the extra acid produced by citrus fruits.

Choose fruits that are less acidic to satisfy your daily fruit requirements. High alkaline foods like apples, pears, bananas and melon are better options.

  1. High-Fat Meats

Another common trigger of acid reflux is high-fat cuts of meat, such as beef, pork and lamb. It is best to avoid high-fat meats.

Being high in fat, meat needs a lot of time for digestion. As the meat sits in your stomach for longer periods of time, it means the stomach will be expanded for a longer time. This puts prolonged pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, which ultimately causes some of the stomach contents to slip up into the esophagus.

Fried and fatty foods also delay stomach emptying and can weaken the bowel lining, which can affect the digestion process.

  1. Peppermint

While peppermint can settle upset stomachs, this herb can aggravate the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux.

Peppermint relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter and makes the problem worse, especially for people who suffer from GERD.

If you already suffer from severe, chronic acid reflux, stay away from peppermint completely.

  1. Garlic

While garlic helps cure infections and colds, it is also another common trigger for people suffering with heartburn.

Garlic not only increases the acid content of your stomach; it also causes acid reflux by slowing down the emptying of your stomach.

It is also known to reduce the pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, making it easy for the digestive acids to flow back up.

If you just can’t avoid garlic, try using small amounts and only in a cooked form to reduce serious acidic issues.

Like garlic, onion can also worsen reflux symptoms in some people.

  1. Cheese

Cheese is another recognized trigger of reflux. It is also the food most often associated with heartburn.

The high fat in cheese slows down the emptying of your stomach, causing the contents to flow back into the esophagus. Plus, digesting cheese can cause your stomach to produce more acid than usual.

Also, the protein in cheese may encourage the production of excess stomach acid that can make heartburn even worse.

High-fat cheeses like cheddar, cream cheese, Parmesan and Stilton should be avoided. If you need to eat cheese, opt for low-fat cheeses like cottage cheese, ricotta and any other types with reduced fat.

Additional Tips

  • Any kind of fried foods can aggravate your reflux, hence avoid them.
  • Avoid eating anything two hours before you go to bed.
  • Eat four or five smaller meals throughout the day, instead of two or three large meals.
  • Avoid food with heavy seasoning.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices when cooking, as they are less likely to trigger reflux than their dried counterparts.



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