According to a Norwegian study; the number of people who experience acid reflux at least once a week has doubled in the last 10 years. Medical experts attribute this dramatic increase to the modern lifestyle.
You, too, might have experienced acid reflux – also known as heartburn – a couple of times in your life. Or, acid reflux is a part of your life.
If you are one of those who experience acid reflux regularly, then, you should know avoiding or limiting the foods that have the potential to trigger heartburn can make a huge difference in the severity and frequency of the condition.
In this article, we will find out the foods that commonly trigger acid reflux symptoms.
Yet, before diving into these heartburn-triggering foods, let’s explain the difference between acid reflux and GERD, which cause confusion in many people.
Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid or contents goes up toward the food pipe. When this happens, it causes a burning feeling in the lower chest area. That is why this condition is also called heartburn by many people.
GERD represents the same thing with acid reflux apart from a single difference. The difference is the frequency of the problem. If acid reflux occurs more than twice a week, it is called GERD in medicine.
Please note that GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux and needs to be addressed before causing serious conditions.
10 Foods to Avoid With Acid Reflux
It bears repeating that acid reflux, especially GERD, has to be treated before causing more serious problems such as Esophageal cancer.
There are different treatment methods for acid reflux. But, the best treatment method is indeed eating the right foods.
Because poor diet choices can easily trigger acid reflux and, more importantly, can turn the problem into GERD.
Below, we have compiled 10 foods that are known to trigger acid reflux. Removing these foods from your diet or limiting their intake can help you control acid reflux.
1- Citrus Fruits
Even though citrus fruits, such as lemon, limes, oranges, grapefruit are beneficial for your body, the situation can be the total opposite if you have acid reflux. Because citrus fruits with their high acid content can increase the amount of acid in the stomach, thus, increasing the chance of getting heartburn.
However, we need to underline that how badly citrus fruits affect your acid reflux depends on whether your stomach is full or empty.
Robynne Chutkan, MD, at Georgetown Hospital in Washington says “citrus fruits are likely to cause heartburn, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.”.
So, the message is clear. Citrus fruits can trigger acid reflux, especially if consumed on an empty stomach.
Summary: If you frequently experience acid reflux, stop or limit the intake of citrus fruits to control the condition. But, you should completely avoid eating them on an empty stomach.
2- Coffee and Tea
If you are a coffee/tea lover, there is both good and bad news for you.
In general, doctors recommend that people with acid reflux should limit coffee and tea intake given the fact that caffeinated drinks are likely to trigger acid reflux. This is obviously the bad news if you have acid reflux and are a coffee/tea lover.
So, why do doctors recommend patients with acid reflux stop or limit their caffeine intake?
The main reason why doctors suggest limiting caffeine consumption is related to the high number of patients who complain about increased acid reflux symptoms after caffeine consumption.
But, does this mean caffeine is going to trigger heartburn in you as well?
This question brings us to our good news. Caffeine may not trigger acid reflux in you! And, also there is no solid evidence on whether coffee and tea trigger acid reflux.
Associate professor Lauren. B Gerson from Stanford University states ” there is a lack of studies that look at the effects of caffeine on acid reflux/GERD (1) “.
Due to lack of evidence; experts aren’t able to say that coffee and tea precisely trigger acid reflux.
It is also important to note that a specific food or drink that affects someone in terms of heartburn may not affect another in the same way. In our case “caffeine”.
Summary: Whether caffeinated drinks trigger heartburn is not certain yet due to lack of evidence. So, monitor your symptoms after drinking caffeinated beverages to see how these drinks affect your acid reflux.
3- Carbonated Beverages
Here is another potential culprit when it comes to acid reflux. Scientific studies and medical experts indicate that carbonated drinks may exacerbate acid reflux and GERD symptoms.
The high acid and carbon content of these beverages are the main reason why these beverages are not ideal for people with acid reflux and GERD.
Summary: Try to limit or avoid carbonated beverages if you suffer from acid reflux frequently.
Even though there is a positive correlation between chocolate consumption and increased acid reflux symptoms; There is no solid evidence that proves that chocolate causes acid reflux.
The question to ask is ” In what way does chocolate consumption may cause acid reflux?”.
In an article published by Healthline; it is stated that cocoa powder used in chocolate has an acidic feature so may worsen acid reflux symptoms. Not only cocoa powder though, but also caffeine presents in chocolate may trigger heartburn, as discussed above (2).
Summary: The general opinion is that chocolate has the potential to trigger acid reflux. However, more research is necessary on this issue. Therefore, once again it is sensible to monitor your symptoms after consuming chocolate. If you are prone to getting heartburn upon consuming chocolate, it may indicate that chocolate is a heartburn trigger for you.
Although peppermint is beneficial against many ailments, it may not be ideal for people with GERD. That indicates if you suffer from acid reflux, you may want to avoid peppermint.
According to a report published in Health Harvard Publishing; peppermint relaxes the valve-like muscle that prevents stomach content from flowing back into the food pipe. When this valve relaxes, it allows stomach acids or contents to travel back toward the throat, thus causing heartburn (3)
Summary: Peppermint may increase the frequency of acid reflux by relaxing the valve-like muscle between the stomach and food pipe. For this reason, endeavour not to consume peppermint too often.
It might be surprising for many people to hear that tomatoes are highly acidic foods. But, this is the fact. Therefore, if you suffer from acid reflux you may have to limit tomato consumption or avoid it completely to control acid reflux.
Tomatoes contain two major acids namely; citric and malic acid and both can contribute to acid reflux. The presence of these acids increases the acid level in the stomach and this may result in the excess acid travelling up towards the food pipe (4).
Please note that tomato-based products as well contain the acids in question.
Summary: Tomato and tomato-based products such as tomato juice, and ketchup can trigger acid reflux by increasing acid levels in the stomach. For this reason, limit the intake of tomatoes and their products.
Studies and experts suggest that alcoholic beverages have the potential to cause acid reflux. Therefore, many people with GERD are recommended not to drink alcohol, or at least, limit alcohol consumption to a minimum (5).
Having said that it is important to underline that the findings of many studies on this issue are slightly conflicting (5).
In addition to studies; patient reports as well show alteration. What do we mean by that?
Many people report aggravated acid reflux symptoms after alcohol consumption while others consume alcohol without any complaint related to heartburn.
It appears that alcohol affects people with acid reflux/GERD differently.
Summary: Alcohol may or may not trigger acid reflux in you. In any event, it is best to keep alcohol consumption in moderation.
8- High Fat Foods
The fact is that frequent consumption of high-fat foods can set the stage for acid reflux. The question is how do they do it.
Frequent consumption of high-fat foods brings about heartburn in two ways.
- Firstly, fatty and fried foods can cause the valve-like muscle – that blocks stomach contents to go up to the throat – to slack. And, when the valve slacks, it allows acid to climb back to the food pipe and a burning sensation occurs in the lower chest area as a result.
- Secondly, these types of foods are relatively difficult for the stomach to digest. To be able to digest high-fat foods, your stomach produces more acid. This increased acid in the stomach also increases the risk of having acid reflux.
According to Healthline;
– French fries and onion rings
– Full-fat dairy products
– Fatty or fried beef, pork or lamb
– potato chips, ice cream
– oily and greasy foods
are the foods that contain high-fat in them.
Even foods that contain healthy fats can trigger heartburn. Walnuts and avocados can be given as examples in this regard. Although both of them are overall healthy, they may trigger heartburn due to their high-fat content.
Please note that, when it comes to acid reflux, fat is fat whether healthy or not.
Summary: High-fat foods such as nuts can either cause or trigger acid reflux. Therefore, opt for healthier diet options to protect your entire body and control acid reflux.
Garlic is renowned for its scientifically-proven health benefits. However, if you have acid reflux, garlic may bring harm to your body rather than bringing benefits.
It is important to note that garlic consumption is not indicated as a cause of acid reflux. But, it is claimed that garlic intake increases the frequency of the problem.
The general recommendation of doctors is to avoid garlic as it can potentially trigger heartburn in people who are prone to acid reflux.
Nevertheless, what we need to underline is that garlic doesn’t necessarily impact all people with GERD equally.
Summary: It appears that whether garlic triggers acid reflux differs from person to person. If you often experience heartburn upon garlic consumption, that may indicate garlic triggers acid reflux in you. In both scenarios, avoid eating raw garlic.
10- Spicy Foods
Spicy foods are arguably the most famous heartburn-triggering foods. And, they deserve to be the best in terms of triggering acid reflux. Because they do not only cause acid reflux but also worsen the symptoms.
Therefore, if you have acid reflux, it is sensible to stay away from spicy foods as much as you can. If you insist on eating spicy foods, at least try to limit the intake to a minimum.
So, how do spicy foods contribute to the occurrence of acid reflux?
According to medical experts; capsaicin presence in almost all spicy foods delays stomach emptying thus setting the stage for acid reflux (6).
Summary: Unlike other foods mentioned earlier, spicy foods can both cause acid reflux and exacerbate the symptoms.
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.