Today, we look at the worst foods that trigger acid reflux and should be avoided. We also look at the best foods that reduce heartburn and GERD.
Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus relaxes when it should not. This allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn and related symptoms like pain in the chest, difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation of bitter-tasting food.
When the foods you eat trigger or worsen acid reflux, it is due to increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which causes it to malfunction and become leaky. There are two ways in which this happens:
One. Bacterial overgrowth causes bloating and puts pressure on the LES.
This starts with low stomach acid – usually measured in people with heartburn and GERD – creating the perfect conditions for bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and small intestine. These bacteria feed on undigested carbohydrates and produce gas that increases pressure in the stomach, causing the LES to malfunction and allow acid to enter the esophagus.
Two. Other factors cause bloating and result in LES malfunction and GERD.
These factors include overeating, obesity, hiatal hernia, pregnancy, reclining after eating, and eating certain trigger foods.
Now that we understand what causes the LES to malfunction, let us look at the foods and drinks that trigger and worsen acid reflux and GERD in people with existing conditions.
Removing these foods usually makes heartburn and other symptoms go away.
It is important to note that these trigger foods do not cause reflux in those who do not suffer from it. However, the wrong combination of food and other factors can cause reflux in anyone.
For example, overeating too late and consuming too much alcohol, or having a fatty meal followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream, can all trigger reflux.
Let’s begin with Number 8. “Fried, Fatty & Processed Foods”.
High-fat foods can contribute to acid reflux. These foods include:
deep-fried food (French fries, onion rings),
full-fat dairy (cheese, cow’s milk),
fatty meats (fatty cuts of beef, lamb, hamburgers, bacon, hotdogs, sausages),
processed snacks (beef jerky, potato chips),
and other fast food (pizza, chicken nuggets),
Fried and fatty foods usually contain high amounts of harmful vegetable oils, artificial trans fats, fructose, and artificial sweeteners, as well as other chemicals. These processed ingredients increase bacterial overgrowth, delay stomach emptying, and worsen reflux symptoms.
Also, fatty foods stimulate the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK), which causes the LES to relax.
Moreover, processed foods, such as white bread and cookies, are high in refined or simple carbs, which contribute to bacterial overgrowth and increased gas output.
A study in 2022 by researchers at Vanderbilt University showed that reducing the consumption of simple carbs can reduce the frequency and severity of heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
Next up, we have Number 7. “Gluten-containing Grains”.
Studies show that consuming gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, and rye) in starchy foods such as bread and pasta, as well as cereals, can lead to symptoms associated with acid reflux and GERD, especially in people with undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Some acid reflux sufferers find that once they remove gluten from their diets, their heartburn fades away.
Moving on, we have Number 6. “Mint”.
Avoid spearmint and peppermint, as both are LES-relaxing reflux triggers. This includes anything mint-flavored, such as tea, alcohol, candy, and desserts.
Coming up next, we have Number 5. “Nuts”.
When it comes to nuts, the recommendation for those with reflux is to choose nuts that are lower in fat and not to eat too many. According to one doctor, pistachios and walnuts are far less likely to cause reflux than peanuts, macadamia nuts, or cashew nuts.
And as for almonds, they possess a property that can help reduce reflux symptoms; they are alkaline, not acidic. This may explain why some people report that eating a few raw almonds before or after a meal helps their acid reflux go away.
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And at Number 4, we have “Acidic Foods and Drinks”.
Reports from heartburn patients show that certain acidic foods and drinks irritate the stomach lining and trigger or exacerbate acid reflux symptoms.
One. Avoid soft drinks or sodas, as they are more acidic than anything found in nature. This acid damages the LES. Furthermore, they are carbonated, thus increasing stomach pressure and causing the valves to open.
Two. Avoid or reduce citrus fruits and juices, such as oranges, limes, and lemons, which are high in citric acid, as they can trigger heartburn symptoms. Instead, go for low-acid, non-citrus fruits such as apples, melons, and pears.
Three. Tomatoes have a lot of citric and malic acid, which can cause heartburn. Fresh tomatoes are less likely to trigger reflux compared to prepared, canned, or bottled tomato products such as ketchup, marinara sauce, and pizza.
Four. Onion and garlic, especially in their raw forms, are common triggers for heartburn. These two vegetables are hard to digest because they contain fructans. So they stay in your stomach longer and make your heartburn and burping worse. You can use parsley, dill, or basil instead to give your food flavor.
Five. Also, avoid vinegar such as apple cider vinegar, as these contain acetic acid and are likely to cause heartburn.
Coming into our top 3, Number 3 is “Spicy Foods”.
People with acid reflux, esophageal issues, and ulcers often experience heartburn more quickly and intensely when they eat spicy foods.
That’s because spices like chili powder, curry, and hot peppers contain capsaicin, which slows digestion and delays stomach emptying through adverse effects on vagal nerve function, which controls the gastrointestinal tract.
At the same time, these spices are often combined with other reflux-triggering foods like onions, garlic, and fatty meats. To cook with herbs that do not trigger reflux, use rosemary, basil, parsley, oregano, cumin, and turmeric.
Moving on, we have Number 2. “Caffeine and Chocolate”.
Chocolate is probably the single most common trigger for people with acid reflux (GERD and LPR). That’s because it contains theobromine, caffeine, and fat – three ingredients that relax the LES.
Also, eating milk and dark chocolate can cause a surge of serotonin, which makes your LES relax and gastric contents rise.
Next, we have coffee. For some people with reflux, drinking coffee can trigger heartburn, but this is not because of its acidity. Soda, orange juice, and wine are more acidic than coffee. Coffee triggers reflux in 2 ways:
One. Some people are sensitive to coffee beans; for these people, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee are equally bad.
Two. For anyone else, drinking a high volume of caffeinated coffee, such as a pot of coffee before lunch, is going to open up any LES.
For most people with reflux, drinking one or two cups of caffeinated coffee per day will not cause any symptoms.
If you want a strong kick in the morning, black tea is better than coffee if you have acid reflux. However, you should limit yourself to one or two cups.
Finally, soft drinks and energy drinks have levels of caffeine and acid high enough to increase the risk of reflux.
And at Number 1, we have “Alcohol”.
This may be the number one reflux trigger, and it is dose-related.
Alcohol or ethanol is a powerful trigger for all types of acid reflux: GERD, LPR, Respiratory Reflux, and Silent Reflux. The mechanism is that alcohol directly relaxes the LES, and the more you drink, the more likely you are to have acid reflux. If you must drink, just have one.
In general, wine is better than beer because there is no carbonation. Red wine is also better than whites such as Chardonnay and Champagne, as they are more acidic and carbonated. Additionally, avoid any mixed drinks or cocktails with citrus juice, seltzer, and soda, as this can cause a severe reaction.
And if you must drink liquor, gin, tequila, and non-grain vodkas have the least amount of acid.
Lastly, stay away from any alcoholic drink made with peppermint (peppermint white Russian), chocolate (mudslide), or coffee (Irish coffee).
To recap, the reflux-trigger foods that affect a lot of people are fatty meats, fried food, fast food, high-fat cheese, processed snacks, chili powder and hot peppers, chocolate, mint, some nuts, onions, tomatoes, garlic, coffee, citrus fruits (including juice), apple cider vinegar, energy drinks, soda, and alcohol.
To this list, add any other trigger foods that are unique to you; pay close attention to what you eat!
Now, let’s look at the foods that are “reflux-friendly”. These foods help reduce heartburn and GERD and promote healing in the lining of the stomach and esophagus.
A low-carb diet can work wonders for people with GERD or other digestive disorders. In one study of 144 obese women with GERD, a low-carb diet helped all patients completely resolve their GERD symptoms within weeks, and they discontinued their medications.
In a low-carb diet, the focus is on protein-rich whole foods and vegetables. This includes foods such as:
Fatty fish such as trout and salmon (preferably wild-caught).
Animal protein such as lean chicken, beef, and pork (preferably grass-fed and grass-finished).
Fruits, such as bananas, berries, apples, pears, melons, and peaches, in moderation.
Non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus; and starchy vegetables, such as beans, peas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. These are usually cooked for easier digestion.
For snacking, these choices are reflux-friendly: raw almonds, melons such as cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, banana, apple, carrots, plain popcorn, avocado toast, and baked potatoes.
For people with reflux, the best beverage choices are water, tea (no mint), and low-fat milk such as almond, rice, and soy milk.
To improve your gut microbiome, add sauerkraut, or fermented pickles. These fermented foods have probiotic effects and help reduce acid reflux.
Also consider bone broth, as it is rich in collagen, gelatin, glutamine, and proline–all of which help to heal the gut.
In addition, herbal teas can soothe the lining of the stomach and esophagus and promote better digestion. Herbal teas that provide acid reflux relief include camomile, slippery elm, marshmallow root, licorice, and ginger tea.
Also, you can eat bitter foods to improve digestion and stomach acid. Some reflux-friendly bitter foods are arugula, dill, dandelion greens, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, turmeric, and ginger.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can prevent and reduce acid reflux. Get your free anti-inflammatory diet plan by clicking the link below.
If you are living with acid reflux, what are the foods that trigger heartburn and other symptoms? And what are the foods that make your acid reflux go away? Share in the comments below.