Tomatoes & Acid Reflux: Why Tomatoes Cause Acid Reflux, What to Do About It ?

the image shows a bunch of tomatoes / tomatoes and acid reflux

It can be surprising for many people to hear that even healthy foods – such as walnuts, avocados, and cheese – can trigger severe heartburn.

Tomatoes are another example. Although tomatoes are extremely nutritious, they can cause heartburn in people who are susceptible to it.

The question is how? How do tomatoes – which offer many health benefits – cause acid reflux?

In this article, we will explain why tomatoes are a potential heartburn trigger.

Plus, we will provide some evidence-based tips that can help acid reflux sufferers to consume tomatoes without experiencing heartburn.

Please keep on reading…

Chronic Acid Reflux/GERD

Before going further to find out the reasons that make tomatoes associated with acid reflux, let’s briefly explain one very relevant term; Chronic Acid Reflux.

What is chronic acid reflux? How do you understand whether your reflux problem (if you have so) is chronic? Here is the answer…

When acid reflux happens more than twice a week over a period of several weeks, it is called Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In other words, chronic acid reflux (1),(2).

Almost everyone gets heartburn from time to time. However, some people suffer from it frequently and this is where the problem begins.

Bear in mind that long-term acid reflux can damage the food pipe (the esophagus or gullet) and may lead to esophageal cancer (3),(4),(5).

 

Tomatoes and Acid Reflux

Statistics reveal that acid reflux, aka heartburn, has been becoming increasingly common around the world (6),(7).

Alone in the U.S.A, it is estimated that 20% of the entire population suffer from chronic acid reflux (8),(9),(10).

There are ways to prevent acid reflux or at least ease the symptoms. Yet, eliminating foods that trigger acid reflux or limiting their consumption is one of the most effective ways to deal with GERD.

One of the foods that are heavily associated with heartburn is tomatoes, as mentioned above.

The fact that tomatoes are a potential heartburn trigger may sound unbelievable to many people. After all, tomatoes are the most popular vegetables around the world and offer many health benefits to the human body, such as reduced risk of cancer (11),(12),(13),(14).

But, it is what it is! Tomatoes can induce acid reflux !!

At this point, it is important to clarify one thing:

  • If you are a healthy person who normally doesn’t experience heartburn, then eating tomatoes doesn’t pose a heartburn risk in you. That is to say, tomatoes do not cause you to develop acid reflux disease.

So now one thing is crystal clear; tomatoes can trigger heartburn in people who are susceptible to it!

Yet, we haven’t explained in what way tomatoes increase the risk of heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms.

Without further ado, let’s find out why tomatoes are highly associated with acid reflux…

 

What Makes Tomatoes a Heartburn Trigger?

Although many people do not know tomatoes are highly acidic. They contain various types of acids. Among them, citric and malic acid are the two most abundant acids that present in tomatoes (15),(16).

Under normal circumstances, the acids that exist in tomatoes aren’t harmful to the human body. On the contrary, they offer many health benefits. For instance, acids that exist in tomatoes can help prevent kidney stones and aid the absorption of nutrients (17),(18),(19).

However, if you suffer from acid reflux, these acids in tomatoes can give you heartburn, especially when you eat them in high quantities.

Tomatoes are also highly acidic and likely to cause heartburn in those who are prone to it,” said Robynne Chutkan ( founder of the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase and a gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C ) who spoke to WebMD (20).

When you eat tomatoes or tomato products such as ketchup and tomato sauce, acids (mainly malic and citric) in tomatoes can cause your stomach to produce too much stomach acid (21).

The problem is that if acid levels increase in your stomach for any reason (in our case due to tomato consumption), the excess acid can force go upward (21).

Normally, the excess acid in the stomach can’t go upward thanks to the presence of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) muscle, located between the stomach and food pipe. LES muscle prevents stomach contents from moving upwards.

However, if you are prone to acid reflux that means your LES muscle often doesn’t close as tightly as it should, making you susceptible to heartburn.

Note that tomato products as well, contain the acids in question, therefore, they can trigger heartburn in people who are prone to acid reflux.

 

Are Tomatoes a Heartburn Trigger In You?

We concluded that tomatoes are a potential heartburn trigger in people who are prone to it because tomatoes contain various acids.

Sadly, this piece of information may spoil your mood a bit, if you like consuming tomato and tomato products and have acid reflux disease.

Well, there is an important point to keep in mind. Foods that are known to cause heartburn can vary from person to person (22).

For instance, some acid reflux patients are known to get heartburn after consuming coffee whereas other people with acid reflux enjoy coffee without experiencing any symptoms of acid reflux (23),(24). It applies to tomatoes too.

Patients self-reports reveal that eating tomatoes trigger heartburn in many people with acid reflux. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean tomatoes do cause heartburn in you. Tomato consumption may not trigger heartburn in you even though you have acid reflux disease.

Firstly, try to find out, if tomatoes cause acid reflux symptoms in you. The best way to do that is to keep a food diary.

If you almost always get heartburn upon consuming tomatoes, then you should know tomatoes (most likely) a heartburn trigger in you.

 

Ways to Eat Tomatoes Without Experiencing Acid Reflux?

If you constantly get heartburn following tomato consumption, then eliminating tomatoes from your diet would be a sensible idea.

However, you may not want to give up on eating tomatoes and tomato products despite the fact that they give you heartburn.

If this is the case, you should read the following sections carefully. Because the suggestions given below might help you eat tomatoes without experiencing heartburn.

 

1- Choose the Ripest Tomatoes

According to the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (25); the pH value of fresh tomatoes ranges from 4.3 to 4.9.


Note: pH is a scale from 0 to 14, which is used to measure the acidity level of a solution. The lower the number, the higher the acid rate. For instance, pH 1 is much more acidic than 11. 


Given that tomatoes acid rate is between 4.3 and 4.9, they are considered acidic.

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods; how acidic a tomato is depends heavily on its degree of ripeness. The riper a tomato, the lower its acidity (26).

So, if you want to eat fresh tomatoes with the lowest acidity level possible, then consider eating the ripest one. This may prevent you from getting heartburn.

 

2- Avoid Canned Tomatoes

As mentioned above, tomatoes are naturally acidic vegetables ( or fruits ) ranging from a pH value of 4.3 to 4.9. However, canned tomatoes, in general, are more acidic than fresh ones.

The acidity level of canned tomatoes can be as lower as 3.5.  That difference in acid value stems from the canning process, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods (26).

So, if fresh tomatoes trigger heartburn in you, then you can expect canned tomatoes to worsen your symptoms due to their relatively high acid level.

 

3- Remove the Seeds

The thing is that tomato seeds contain the majority of acid content (27). Therefore, removing the seeds with a spoon or teaspoon can be a great way to reduce tomatoes’ acidity levels.

That would, in turn, decrease your chance of having acid reflux caused by the acids present in tomatoes and tomato products.

 

Summary

Tomatoes are very nutritious and healthy vegetables that are consumed throughout the world either raw or cooked in various dishes.

However, due to their high acidic content, they may trigger acid reflux in people who are prone to it, as we discussed throughout the article.

Now, you may want to say that that if tomatoes can trigger heartburn due to their acidic feature, other acidic foods or drinks, too, can trigger acid reflux.

It is indeed correct. For instance, citrus fruits such as lemon, oranges or grapefruit are highly acidic and not recommended for those who suffer from chronic acid reflux (28),(29).

As mentioned, the first thing to do is to find out whether or not tomatoes are a heartburn trigger for you.

If so, eliminating them from your diet or limiting their consumption might be necessary to lower the frequency of acid reflux.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that eliminating tomatoes wouldn’t completely prevent you from having acid reflux. Because there are also other factors causing acid reflux such as eating too late or lying down right after eating.

In any case, if you insist on eating them, then consider eating tomatoes that have the lowest acidity rate. Or, remove the seeds where the majority of the acids are found.

If you think that acid reflux is negatively affecting your health and lowering your quality of life, definitely work with your doctor.

 



 

2 thoughts on “Tomatoes & Acid Reflux: Why Tomatoes Cause Acid Reflux, What to Do About It ?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *