Adding their excellent taste to their health benefits, nuts appear to be a quite smart and enjoyable way to snack.
However, there is a claim that says nuts are a potential heartburn trigger for acid reflux sufferers!
Is it really possible that nuts, which are associated with various health benefits, can trigger heartburn?
The short answer
Although nuts offer a variety of health benefits, they may also give you heartburn, especially if you eat too many of them at one go.
A couple of reasons can explain why eating nuts increase the risk of having heartburn in people with acid reflux.
Nuts and Heartburn
Although we will discuss all these reasons one by one in detail below, you should know the first and main reason that nuts are associated with acid reflux is indeed nuts’ high-fat content.
C. Prakash Gyawali, a gastroenterology professor at Washington University says: “Fat is one of the triggers to make the bottom sphincter in the oesophagus relax and promote a tendency towards reflux.” according to LiveStrong (7).
So if you are prone to experiencing heartburn and often feel a burning sensation in the centre of your chest after eating your favourite nuts, then you should know that it is, most likely, not a coincidence!
Nuts, which are often high in fat, might be giving you heartburn.
However, to better understand the relationship between nuts and heartburn, we need to go into detail and find out the factors, making nuts a potential heartburn trigger for acid reflux sufferers. Please keep on reading.
Before going deeper, it is quite important to understand what exactly heartburn is and why it happens frequently in some people. By comprehending how and why heartburn occurs we can better understand the correlation between nuts and heartburn.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn (the burning sensation in the middle of the chest) is the most common symptom of acid reflux. For this reason, acid reflux and heartburn are often used interchangeably.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows back into the food pipe, which carries foods and beverages to your stomach.
Under normal circumstances, stomach acid cannot flow back into the food pipe because the lower oesophagal sphincter, known as LES (a ring-like muscle located at the low end of the food pipe) closes tightly after allowing foods and beverages to enter the stomach (8),(9).
However, in people with acid reflux, this valve-like muscle (LES) often doesn’t close as tightly as it should. As a result of this, stomach acid can flow back up into the food pipe and cause heartburn (9),(10),(11).
Now we know that people with acid reflux often experience acid reflux symptoms (the most common of them is heartburn) because their lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), doesn’t stay closed properly when it should, allowing stomach acid to travel up to the food pipe.
There are known to be many factors that relax LES muscle, leading to acid reflux.
For instance; certain foods are known to either relax the barrier between the stomach and food pipe or increase the stomach acid, thus increasing the risk of acid reflux. That indicates certain foods can trigger acid reflux.
In this article, we are discussing one of them, namely nuts.
Why Nuts Trigger Heartburn?
As mentioned at the beginning of the article; nuts are a potential heartburn trigger due to their high-fat content. However, their fatty feature is not the only factor that increases the risk of acid reflux. There are other factors too.
In this section, we will touch on three factors that make nuts potential heartburn triggers.
If you are asking” ” why do I get heartburn when I eat nuts? “, these three factors can give you a satisfactory answer.
1- Nuts Are Rich in Fat
As mentioned before, being rich in fat is the first reason why some people with acid reflux experience heartburn after consuming nuts.
It bears repeating that although fats (monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat) that exist in nuts are healthy – especially for your heart – they can nevertheless increase the risk of having heartburn (5),(6).
Not only nuts, other fatty foods regardless of whether they contain healthy or unhealthy fats can worsen acid reflux symptoms. Red meat, fast foods, avocados, fatty fish and pizza can be given as examples (5),(17)
So one thing is clear now; fatty foods can trigger heartburn! But, it bears the question, why?
Fatty foods regardless of being considered unhealthy (such as pizza or burgers) or healthy (such as nuts or avocados) stay in the stomach relatively longer.
Needless to say, the more acid there is in the stomach, the more chance it has to flow back up to the food pipe, causing heartburn.
However, we shouldn’t forget that all nuts do not contain the same amount of fat! For instance, 100 gr of walnuts contain more fat than the same amount of pistachios, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (7),(19).
Therefore, it is safe to say that since walnuts contain more fat than pistachios, walnuts are more likely to trigger heartburn.
If you are interested, you can also read our article about “walnuts and heartburn” on this website.
That indicates the type of nuts you eat can also be determining factor in whether you get heartburn.
If the nuts you eat are rather fatty or you eat too many of them at one go, then you have more chance to experience heartburn.
If you are wondering which nuts are fattier, below you will find the list that shows the fat content of different nuts.
2- Nuts May Relax the Lower Esophageal Sphincter
The second factor that nuts are associated with heartburn is the nuts’ impact on the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES), the barrier-like muscle that prevents stomach acid to escape toward the food pipe from the stomach.
When this muscle relaxes at the wrong time, for instance, when you lie down, stomach content can escape upward and bring about the burning sensation in the chest.
3- Nuts Triggers the Release of the Cholecystokinin
This hormone slows down stomach emptying when necessary to improve digestion. However, this may not be a good thing for acid reflux sufferers. Because, as explained above, the slower the digestion the more chance there is for stomach acid to travel up.
Needless to say, if the lower esophagal sphincter (LES) relaxes at the wrong time, it allows stomach acid to flow back up into your food pipe, leading to acid reflux symptoms.
Which Nuts Are More Likely to Cause Heartburn?
Until this point, we made one thing clear; since nuts are high in fat, they can increase the risk of heartburn.
However, we also said all nuts do not contain the same amount of fat! The amount of nuts they contain is different from each other. Therefore, their risk of causing heartburn will not be the same, when eaten in the same amount.
Here is the amount of fat that some popular nuts contain. In this list, you may find how fatty your favourite nuts are.
- Pistachios have 12.8 grams of fat content
- Cashews have 13.4 grams of fat content
- Peanuts have 14 grams of fat content
- Almonds have 14 grams of fat content
- Hazelnuts have 17 grams of fat content
- Walnuts have 18.5 grams of fat content
- Brazil nuts have 18.8 grams of fat content
- Pecans have 20.2 grams of fat content
According to this list, pecans are more likely to trigger heartburn than pistachios, if eaten the same amount, owing to the difference in the amount of fat they contain.
Note: According to Dr Prakash Gyawali who talked to Livestrong; since almonds are alkaline they are less likely to worsen acid reflux symptoms (7).
Should You Give Up Nuts As They Give You Heartburn?
In general, it is not easy to detect which food is the culprit for recurring heartburns. For instance, is the tomatoes that you have eaten in the lunch responsible for your heartburn or a handful of hazelnuts you have eaten after lunch. Or a cup of coffee that you had in the break or a disease such as hiatal hernia caused heartburn.
Shortly, it is generally hard to detect the culprit. It can even be the combination of different foods or beverages.
However, if you somehow figured out that your favourite nut/nuts are giving you heartburn, eliminating them from your diet may not be the most sensible thing.
Because, instead of eating these healthy foods you may choose another snack, which has no nutritional value. And, that can cause more serious health problems in the long run.
If you think your favourite nuts (for instance walnuts) give you heartburn, you can:
- convert to smaller portions and eat the same amount throughout the day instead of eating at one go
- avoid eating them close to bedtime
- eat less amount of nuts than you normally do
- choose nuts that are relatively low in fat
- take a walk after eating nuts to speed digestion
Applying these methods may help you consume nuts without getting heartburn. Furthermore, you have acid reflux doesn’t mean that nuts will certainly cause heartburn in you!
Please note that particular food or beverage that triggers heartburn in someone may not make the same impact in you.
The first thing to do is to find the trigger, which might be nuts as we discussed throughout the article.
Moreover, if you are suffering from recurring acid reflux disease, we strongly recommend you talk to your doctor to get the best treatment.
Apart from that, you can also read the article about the best ways to prevent acid reflux on this website.
Tarkan is an experienced medical writer ( currently more than 600 medical 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.