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10 Foods to Avoid During Acid Reflux

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Are you fond of mouth-watering dishes and cuisines? You might often find yourself in a place choosing between food and health.

Even a minimal amount of certain foods cause heartburn daily. These symptoms are not just limited to heartburn. It may cause bloating and difficulty swallowing.

It turns out to be the worst when it’s chronic. This disorder is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The normal functioning of the sphincter muscle is to stop any backflow of food. It protects the esophagus from the action of acid secreted in the stomach.

The loosened-up sphincter may cause a backflow of food, bringing along the acid produced.

It is generally known as acid reflux. It can be experienced, generally by all. But, sometimes, it turns worse and becomes a chronic disorder. A doctor then diagnoses it.

You will be surprised to find out that 20% of the population around the globe suffers from this problem.

It is widespread and yet ignored till it takes a critical turn. The uncomfortable burning sensation, accompanied by pain, is not easy to deal with.

Antacid medications and proton pump inhibitors are prescribed for treatment. Some cases also require surgeries.

We have already discussed about foods for acid reflux that may be helpful if you suffer from this issue.

In this article, we will focus more on the precautionary side. We will discuss the foods to avoid during acid reflux.

List Of Foods To Avoid During Acid Reflux

Is it possible for us to control or prevent acid reflux? The answer is yes.

GERD is a condition[1] in which stomach matters travel back from the stomach to the esophagus and could be managed by easy lifestyle changes.

GERD diets are found useful[2] for the same. The lack of evidence and limited studies make it difficult to say much about it. 

Foods have been a debatable topic. However, some foods might be causing acid reflux and it would be better to avoid them at all costs.

Following are a few such foods to avoid-

  1. Tomatoes And Tomato-Based Sauces

    Tomatoes are known to be a quality nutrient provider. The bright red color of tomatoes is due to lycopene.

    But the role of lycopene is not limited to color. It is an excellent antioxidant. Thus tomatoes aid in fighting free radicals.

    Despite these advantages, they can harm during acid reflux. Tomatoes are a rich source of acids.

    Oxalic, citric and malic acid contribute to high acidity. This may lead to acid reflux.

    If too many tomatoes are eaten, they may induce[3] acid reflux. If consumed during reflux, they may worsen it.

    Fresh tomatoes along with canned tomatoes and other tomato products are unsafe too.

    Tomato sauce is the backbone of the food industry. Your favorite pasta, pizzas, and burgers include a tomato base too.

    Dips and appealing dishes are not free from tomatoes either. So if you cannot entirely avoid it, try to consume tomatoes in moderate amounts.

  2. Citrus Fruits

    Just like any other fruit, citrus fruits are also essential for a healthy life. They have numerous advantages.

    They supply you with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But as their name suggests, they have big proportions of citric acid.

    These fruits are good to be eaten generally[4] but must be avoided during acid reflux. If you have a chronic issue, try sweet and watery fruits instead.

    The fruits one must avoid during reflux are

    • Limes
    • Lemons
    • Grapefruit
    • Oranges
    • Tangerine
    • Pineapple
  3. High-Fat Foods

    Though some types of fats are healthy, excessive fat intake always invites problems.

    High-fat foods sit in the stomach for longer. Since the exit time of food delays, it takes a long time to digest.

    These foods also relax the esophageal sphincter. High-fat food consumption results[5] in more stomach acid reaching out to the esophagus.

    You may suffer frequent heartburns due to a fat-rich diet. Processed foods and fast food are top-rated causes of acid reflux.

    Consider avoiding-

    • Fries
    • Pizzas
    • Potato chips
    • Bread
    • Biscuits
    • Cheese
    • Fast food
    • Fried foods
    • Some meats

    Cheese and red meat are sources of saturated fats. These have much more severe problems than just acid reflux.

    Excessive meat intake may lead[6] to acid reflux. They are related to cardiovascular diseases, bad cholesterol, and more.

    Trans fats are also dangerous to consume for several reasons. These include some fast foods and packaged or processed foods.

    Sadly, frozen pizzas, fries, and commercially baked goods are sources of trans fat.

  4. Dairy Products

    Dairy products are also high in fats. Besides this, they contain lactose.

    It can worsen the symptoms of lactose-intolerant people who have problems with lactose and develop[7] gas, bloating, etc.

    It may lead to heartburn and is better to avoid milk in case of such allergies.

    However, some dairy products like yogurt have probiotics. They are promising for digestion.

    So if you are not allergic to dairy, go for low-fat variants of products to maintain a healthy balance.

  5. Chocolate

    There are numerous Dark chocolate benefits, it has made its mark in health care. It has antioxidants which are vital for humans.

    But unfortunately, even this blissful treat has a disadvantage. Chocolates may cause an increase[8] in acid exposure.

    Cocoa, caffeine, and some plant chemicals present in it may cause heartburn.

    Methylxanthine present in it relaxes the sphincter. It may cause stomach acid to enter the esophagus.

  6. Caffeine And Carbonated Beverages

    Drinks with alcohol and caffeine relax the LES. It results in the backflow of acid to the esophagus.

    Alcohol may trigger[9] acid reflux rather quickly and suddenly. Carbonated drinks form bubbles. These bubbles exert pressure. Hence the stomach is expanded.

    It leads to worsened symptoms and pain. Tea, coffee, sodas, and others under this category are unsafe during GERD.

    Thus, the consumption of decaffeinated coffee could be a better[10] alternative in case of acid reflux.

  7. Spicy Food

    Spicy food triggers acid reflux easily. It doesn’t even have to reach down in the stomach for digestion. It makes most of the damage on its way down.

    A study was done on Korean patients that revealed[11] that their regional food items like hot stew, ramen, and other spicy dishes induced acid reflux.

    During GERD, your esophagus is already irritated. Spicy foods make it even worse.

    Another way in which spicy food causes acid reflux is through capsaicin present in them.

    Hence the longer food stays in your stomach, the more your risk of reflux increases.

  8. Onions And Garlic

    These two food buddies are a delicious combination. They are added to numerous dishes for the same reason.

    But you might not know they cause acid reflux. Raw garlic can trigger reflux in healthy people as well.

    So when it comes to GERD, it makes it terrible. Onions lead[12] to increased acidity in the stomach.

    However, they may or may not trigger reflux in everyone. Watch your food intake to avoid such consequences.

  9. Peppermint And Spearmint

    Mint has been a home remedy to treat improper bowel movements. It works by soothing and regulating it.

    However, this comforting action works negatively on acid reflux. The sphincter relaxes after the use of mint, as per the study[13].

    It allows acid to enter the esophagus. Hence, heartburn is easily triggered. The problem gets even worse for people with GERD and hiatal hernia.

    It is better to avoid mint during acid reflux. If you suffer from GERD, watch your mint intake more carefully.

  10. Sugars And Sweeteners

    Sugar alone, especially, in the case of moderation cannot cause acid reflux.

    However, when sugar is taken[14] in excess along with other triggering food items may cause heartburn.

    Food with high sucrose and carbs may cause acidity. This disrupts the digestive tract.

What Else To Keep In Mind During Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux has much more causes than a diet. It is a matter of lifestyle. Minimal changes daily can help-

  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating.
  • Eat small meals
  • Take your time and eat slowly
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, and carbonated drinks
  • Keep your head slightly elevated i.e sleep in an inclined position on your side
  • Exercise an hour after eating
  • Manage your weight
  • Wear loose clothes
  • Do not eat an hour before bed at night

Conclusion

Acid reflux is a common issue but for some people, it becomes a chronic problem with severe symptoms.

Some precautions can help avoid heartburn. The very initial one in your hands is to watch your food intake. 

It is better to avoid or at least eat them in moderation. These tiny bits together help tackle the problem of acid reflux.

Moreover, it is always better to consult with your dietician or health expert to plan out your diet to avoid acid reflux.

References/Sources

Working4Health prefers using primary and verified references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and our primary references include peer-reviewed research, academic, and medical institution studies.

  1. Gastroesophageal reflux – discharge. Available from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000197.htm
  2. Carolyn Newberry and Kristle Lynch.The role of diet in the development and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease: why we feel the burn. J Thorac Dis. 2019 Aug; 11(Suppl 12): S1594–S1601.doi: 10.21037/jtd.2019.06.42
  3. Lesley B Dibley , Christine Norton, Roger Jones. Don’t eat tomatoes: patient’s self-reported experiences of causes of symptoms in gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Fam Pract. 2010 Aug;27(4):410-7.doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmq020. Epub 2010 Apr 20. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20406788/
  4. KRISTINA L. PENNISTON, STEPHEN Y. NAKADA, ROSS P. HOLMES, et al. Quantitative Assessment of Citric Acid in Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, and Commercially-Available Fruit Juice Products. J Endourol. 2008 Mar; 22(3): 567–570. doi: 10.1089/end.2007.0304
  5. Wen Juan Fan , Yuan Tao Hou , Xiao Hong Sun , et al. Effect of high-fat, standard, and functional food meals on esophageal and gastric pH in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease and healthy subjects. J Dig Dis. 2018 Nov;19(11):664-673. doi: 10.1111/1751-2980.12676. Epub 2018 Nov 15. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30270576/
  6. Mark G. O’Doherty, Marie M. Cantwell, Liam J. Murray, et al. Dietary fat and meat intakes and risk of reflux esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Int J Cancer. 2011 Sep 15; 129(6): 1493–1502. doi: 10.1002/ijc.26108
  7. Lactose Intolerance. Available from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance
  8. D W Murphy , D O Castell. Chocolate and heartburn: evidence of increased esophageal acid exposure after chocolate ingestion. Am J Gastroenterol. 1988 Jun;83(6):633-6. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3376917/
  9. Shao-hua Chen, Jie-wei Wang, and You-ming Li. Is alcohol consumption associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease?. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2010 Jun; 11(6): 423–428. doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1000013
  10. C Pehl, A Pfeiffer, B Wendl, et al. The effect of decaffeination of coffee on gastro-oesophageal reflux in patients with reflux disease Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1997 Jun;11(3):483-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.1997.00161.x. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9218070/
  11. Jung Wan Choe, Moon Kyung Joo, Hyo Jung Kim, et al. Foods Inducing Typical Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms in Korea. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2017 Jul; 23(3): 363–369.Published online 2017 Jul 1. doi: 10.5056/jnm16122
  12. M L Allen , M H Mellow, M G Robinson, et al. The effect of raw onions on acid reflux and reflux symptoms. Comparative Study Am J Gastroenterol. 1990 Apr;85(4):377-80. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2327378/
  13. Michelle L. Dossett, Ezra M. Cohen, and Jonah Cohen. Integrative Medicine for Gastrointestinal Disease Prim Care. 2017 Jun; 44(2): 265–280. doi: 10.1016/j.pop.2017.02.002
  14. M. Riegler, I. Kristo, R. Asari, et al. Dietary sugar and Barrett’s esophagus. Eur Surg. 2017; 49(6): 279–281. Published online 2017 Oct 24. doi: 10.1007/s10353-017-0494-9

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