No one likes heartburn: the uninvited, post-meal burning in the chest and throat.
While factors like being overweight, lying down too quickly after a meal, and overeating can contribute to heartburn and acid reflux, food is the most common cause.
Foods with high fat or acid content and foods that have an ability to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve that prohibits acid from entering the esophagus, are more likely to trigger heartburn, but the foods that can cause heartburn are different for everyone.
Controlling heartburn starts with taking charge of your diet, keeping track of which foods cause heartburn via a food journal, and keeping fast-acting heartburn relief medication like PEPCID COMPLETE® within reach. While eliminating foods that trigger heartburn can help, it can be hard to say no to heartburn triggers in social situations like parties and barbecues.
Be prepared for grilling season by reviewing these 15 heartburn triggers (you can find more with WebMD’s guide and this handy Heartburn Alliance Chart. Although the National Heartburn Alliance is shuttered, its chart is an enduring education in how to eat to avoid heartburn) and packing PEPCID COMPLETE®, which combines an antacid and an acid reducer in one tablet, to help relieve heartburn symptoms when they strike.
Ground beef burgers are heartburn on a bun for many. Acid reflux can be caused by high-fat cuts of meat—beef, pork, lamb—which stay longer in the stomach and increase the chance of acid reflux. Splurge for extra-lean ground beef over chuck to greatly reduce the risk of heartburn or swap out beef for London broil steak or chicken breast without skin.
Fried chicken and buffalo wings are party-pleasing favorites, but the high fat in the frying may setoff your heartburn. Skip the wings and try some grilled, skinless chicken breasts for a heartburn-free finger lickin’ feast.
It’s hard to resist fistfuls of regular potato chips. Thanks to the high fat content, they can be a trigger for heartburn. Reach for PEPCID COMPLETE® when heartburn strikes. Choose baked chips or snack on crudité instead.
Chocolate contains caffeine, which are is a stimulant thought to cause heartburn, according to Dr. Jamie Koufman, Dr. Jordan Stern, and French master chef Marc Bauer, authors of Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. Plus, chocolate is high in fat and cocoa, both, which cause acid reflux. Consuming chocolate causes your serotonin level to surge, and this wave of serotonin relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing gastric stomach acid to flow into the esophagus. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fat-free cookies or jelly beans instead.
"Caffeine overall increases stomach acid production in addition to relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, so this is a double whammy: the forecast is a gloomy heartburn," said Dr. Deepa Verma of Synergistiq Integrative Health.
Coffee is especially bad for heartburn sufferers due to its high acid content. Hydrate with water instead.
An ice cold glass of lemonade and sliced oranges may sound refreshing, but the high acidity in citrus can be a scorcher. Eating citrus fruits can trigger acid damage, according to Dr. Jonathan Aviv. Citrus fruits can be especially problematic when eaten on an empty stomach. Drink water infused with berries to get your fruit fix.
Caffeine isn’t the only culprit in cola. The bubbles of carbonation expand inside the stomach, and the increased pressure contributes to acid reflux. Sodas with caffeine are even worse, according to a study by Health magazine.
Peppermint relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter located between the stomach and the esophagus. If the sphincter muscle isn’t fully engaged, stomach acid can flow up into the esophagus.
“Peppermint is often used to settle an upset or queasy stomach. However, this can be a double-edged sword. The menthol in the mint causes a numbing and relaxing effect on the esophagus, which is responsible for heartburn," said Verma.
Spicy food irritates the lining of the esophagus and increases the production of stomach acid. Hold the hot sauce and sriracha at your next barbecue.
Before you pile on burger toppings, be picky. Tomatoes contain two types of acids, citrus and malic, both of which lead to heartburn, according to Dr. Basher Atiq gastroenterologist at Florida Hospital. When the body digests tomatoes, an excess of gastric acid is produced, this backs up through the esophagus and leads to heartburn. Top your burger with leafy lettuce and goat cheese or feta cheese.
Creamy and oil and vinegar-based salad dressings may be tasty, but they can bring on heartburn too. Opt for low-fat salad dressing (and hold the tomatoes and onions).
Mojito and margaritas
The mint in mojitos and the citric acid from the limes in margaritas coupled with alcohol equal concoctions that may send you running for the medicine cabinet for relief.
“Alcohol is noted to cause relaxation of the esophageal sphincter, where it opens up into the stomach,” said Verma. “This sphincter relaxation allows for backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus, thus triggering heartburn and reflux symptoms."
Sip on water instead.
This is a triple-decker culprit: it’s alcoholic, acidic, and spicy — not the best beverage. According to an article published in the medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, capsaicin — the stuff that gives a Bloody Mary its spicy kick — is a serious cause of acid reflux.
"Dairy fats, or any fatty foods for that matter, tend to sit around in the stomach for a longer time, thus causing more acid to be produced to help with digestion," said Verma. "This excess stomach acid not only irritates the gastric lining, but causes the lower esophageal sphincter to be lax. This is how acid reflux occurs, causing heartburn, which can mimic chest pain. Scary."
The high oil and fat content in side dishes like potato salad, mashed potatoes, and french fries can send picnickers packing. Swap these staple sides for baked potatoes (hold the sour cream, which can cause heartburn), green beans, and corn bread instead.