Your favorite foods can trigger acid reflux. Here’s why and what you can do.
When it comes to acid reflux, sometimes the foods and drinks we most enjoy can trigger symptoms. Chocolate, fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol are commonly associated with acid reflux. They can cause the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) muscles to relax, making it easier for stomach acid to flow out of the stomach and into the esophagus, causing the sensation of heartburn.
The good news is that you might not need to avoid every trigger since these differ from person to person. And if you do need to adjust your diet, there are alternatives that are just as delicious! Here’s the rundown.
Fatty foods are a double whammy.
High-fat foods take longer to digest, so they stay in the stomach for longer. And the longer food stays in the stomach, the more acid the stomach produces.
On top of that, fatty foods relax the LES, making them a double whammy for acid reflux. More stomach acid combined with a relaxed LES make it easier for acid to flow out of the stomach and cause symptoms.
It might be time to skip the french fries, milkshakes, ice cream, and other fried or junk food. Besides, these foods can contribute to weight gain, another risk factor for acid reflux.
Instead, try replacing junk food, fatty meats and high-fat dairy with healthier options such as oatmeal, low-fat yogurt, whole-grain toast, egg whites (yolks are higher in fat), and lean meats like chicken, turkey or seafood.
Next, let’s bust the sugar myth.
When it comes to acid reflux, sugar sometimes gets a bad rep, but sugar itself does not cause acid reflux. However, in combination with trigger foods, sugar can cause or worsen symptoms. Plus, sugar is often found in foods with lots of fat and calories, which you’d want to avoid anyway in order to manage weight gain.
Luckily, you don’t have to avoid all instances of sugar. You can enjoy jams, pure honey, and sweet, non-citrus fruits. Since the acidity of citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, even tomatoes, can contribute to acid reflux, try non-acidic fruits like bananas, melons, apples or pears.
Also watch out for chocolate, coffee, alcohol and soda.
Turns out some feel-good foods aren’t so good for acid reflux. The cocoa in chocolate causes the intestines to release serotonin, our feel-good hormone. Sadly, serotonin also relaxes the LES, again making it easier for stomach acid to flow into our esophagus.
Some people report symptoms when they drink coffee, as caffeine can relax the LES. So the next time you’re enjoying a cup of coffee, take note of how you feel. Maybe you’re good to go and can keep drinking that espresso.
Carbonated drinks and alcohol may also cause symptoms. Here’s how: soda’s acidity can precipitate acid reflux, and the same gas that fizzes a soda can bloat our stomachs, putting pressure on the LES. Alcohol can relax the LES, and excessive alcohol can even damage the esophageal lining, making it more sensitive to stomach acids, which can aggravate symptoms.
Instead, you can opt for non-carbonated, soothing drinks like ginger or chamomile tea, or cut back on alcohol consumption.
Ingredients like onion, garlic and spices can be tasty but troublesome.
Spices like cayenne and chili powder contain capsaicin, the chemical that gives a kick but can irritate your inner tissues or increase chances of heartburn. Onions and garlic are also associated with the feeling of heartburn. Cooking them may help more than eating them raw, but it might not eliminate symptoms all together.
Other flavors and additives like mint and salt are also linked to acid reflux. High doses of mint flavors like peppermint or spearmint could irritate the esophageal lining, causing discomfort.
And the jury’s out on salt. Some research found that salty foods or added table salt might be risk factors, but the mechanism is not completely understood. Other studies found the opposite. You may find lots of salt in fast food and other trigger foods, which you’re better off avoiding anyway.
Here’s what you can do: find alternatives and figure out what works for you.
For example, eating high-fiber foods like oatmeal and sweet potatoes can help. They are more filling so you’re less likely to overeat, which is a risk factor for acid reflux.
Vegetables like green beans, broccoli and celery are always a good go-to, because they’re low in fat, acids and sugars. How you prepare your food can also make a difference: grilling fruits or roasting vegetables is a healthy way to bring out their flavors, so you can enjoy delicious food without adding to your reflux symptoms.
It’s important to remember that not every food on this list will trigger your acid reflux. Everyone’s body reacts differently and studies in this area are often inconclusive or vary by culture. We highlighted these foods because people often report acid reflux symptoms when they consume them, but that does not mean it’ll be the same for you.
Identify triggers by keeping a food diary.
Instead of a complete dietary overhaul, you can try to identify your specific trigger foods by keeping a food diary for a week. Track what you’re eating, when you’re eating it, and what symptoms might occur. If you find trigger foods, you can try avoiding or replacing them to ease your symptoms. Mindful eating can also help you pay closer attention to your eating experience, including how you feel and when you’re full.
If all else fails, try medication.
Some researchers even recommend eating whatever you want and seeking medication, since there is not enough evidence to show that changing your diet can fully eliminate symptoms.
If you’d like to consult a doctor about your acid reflux, we’re here for you. You can do an online consultation with one of our doctors and receive prescription medication without leaving the house. If you feel like you cannot manage acid reflux on your own, we can help.