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Heartburn: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid

Reviewed on 5/11/2016

Will eating this give me heartburn?

A menu board at a restaurant.

To answer this question, we first must understand what heartburn is. It is a burning discomfort usually in the center of the chest that continues up to the throat in some individuals. Stomach acid refluxes (flows upwards through a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter) into the esophagus and irritates its tissue. Certain foods trigger heartburn and you need to identify the foods that trigger your heartburn. This slideshow may help you identify foods that may trigger heartburn and offers suggestions about how the risk for heartburn can be reduced.

Heartburn Trigger: Too Much Food

A dagwood sandwich.

In general, if a person eats a large volume of food - and it does not matter what type of food it is or how often you’ve eaten it in the past - this large volume of almost any food can trigger heartburn. Consequently, eating smaller portions can avoid volume–related heartburn.

Heartburn Trigger: Eating on the Go

A businessman sitting in a car and eating fast food.

Volume of food intake is not the only problem that can increase the risk of developing heartburn. Nutritionists suggest that eating on the run (grabbing fast food, eating it quickly, then going on to work or other activities) increases the risk for heartburn. To decrease the risk, slow down casually eat foods.

Heartburn Trigger: Fatty Foods

Fried tempura shrimp.

High-fat foods take longer to digest in the stomach and the longer foods remain in stomach, the higher the risk for heartburn symptoms to develop. The risk is much greater if you combine foods that are high in fat with a high volume of these fatty foods.

Heartburn Tip: Cut Back on Fat

Shrimp on a skewer with bacon and mushrooms.

Some people may have to give up their favorite foods to avoid heartburn. However, if some of your favorite foods such as shrimp are prepared broiled and not fried, wrapped in fatty bacon, or consumed in large quantities, they may be enjoyed without causing heartburn. Trimming the fat off meat, baking, grilling, broiling, or roasting some foods instead of frying them can help reduce the risk of heartburn.

Heartburn Trigger: Acidic Foods

Pasta with tomato sauce.

Foods that contain a normally low pH (acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons, or vinegar found in salad dressings) have a risk of causing heartburn when eaten by themselves, or on an empty stomach.

Heartburn Tip: Limit Acidic Foods

A bowl of pasta with asparagus.

There other options for fresh fruits besides acidic tomatoes and citrus fruits, but you may still enjoy small portions of acidic foods if you eat them in combination with non-acidic foods such as with pasta or with vegetables. The acidity will be reduced when acidic foods are eaten in small amounts combined with other non-acidic foods. If you find some foods you like are acidic, try eating them in small amounts with other foods to see if heartburn symptoms do not develop.

Drinks That May Trigger Heartburn

A glass of fizzy cola.

Food is not the only trigger for heartburn; liquids can easily be a heartburn trigger. Heartburn risk can be increased by drinking coffee, caffeinated tea, carbonated drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Caffeine can boost acid in the stomach, alcoholic beverages can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and thereby allow gastric contents to enter the esophagus. Carbonated drinks may also contain caffeine; however even without caffeine carbonated drinks can bloat the stomach which increases the risk for heartburn.

Heartburn Tip: Try Other Drinks

A tea pot and a cup of green tea.

Drinks that don't contain caffeine or carbonation are far less likely to cause heartburn. Herbal teas without caffeine, milk, and water are good choices to reduce the risk of heartburn.

Heartburn Trigger: Chocolate

A slice of chocolate cake.

Because chocolate can contain caffeine and fat, chocolate can be a trigger for heartburn. If you just can’t get along without chocolate, try to decrease the amount of chocolate you eat. Also, avoid eating chocolate after a heavy meal and on an empty stomach. Using these techniques may allow you to eat some foods that would otherwise cause heartburn.

Heartburn Trigger: Spicy Foods

A bowl of pasta with peppers.

Spicy foods such as jalapeno peppers sometimes trigger heartburn in individuals. In addition, other foods such as garlic and onions may cause the same problems. Even peppermint may cause heartburn in some individuals because mint relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.

Heartburn Tip: Hold the Heat

A woman harvesting fresh coriander.

For individuals who get heartburn from certain foods, it's not always all or nothing for these food types. For example, you can add some spices to foods, but do it in moderation. For example, instead of four-alarm chili, you could back off to two-alarm chili and see if that prevents heartburn.

Heartburn Tip: Write It Down

A woman writing in a journal.

What may cause heartburn one individual may not cause it in another. Everyone is different so you may find a small cup of coffee with food doesn’t cause you heartburn anymore but could still cause heartburn in someone else. If you begin to make a list of food and drink items that cause you to experience heartburn, you will know which ones to avoid, which ones to reduce the serving size, and ones that will require eating with other non-heartburn causing foods.

Heartburn Tip: Try Chewing Gum

An unwrapped stick of chewing gum.

Chewing gum produces saliva and saliva neutralizes acid and signals the stomach to move its contents into the small intestine. Peppermint or mint gum should be avoided since they may relax the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the risk for heartburn.

More Heartburn Tips

A female patient with chest pain.

There are other ways to reduce heartburn. Allow about three hours between dinner and bedtime, elevate the head of your bed by about 8 inches, don't lie down flat after a meal, stop smoking, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Occasional heartburn is common but frequent heartburn is not; it could be a symptom of other problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Heartburn: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid

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