Why Do Some Foods You Eat Cause Heartburn?

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It seems a fact of life. If you have frequent heartburn, there probably are some foods that lead to heartburn for you. Why do some foods cause heartburn and others don't?

There is an ongoing debate going as to whether certain foods can cause heartburn. If you rarely have heartburn, food usually isn't associated with an attack. But if you have it on a recurring basis you may notice that some foods seem to trigger it for you.

There are a couple reasons why some foods are more likely to cause an episode of heartburn.

Foods That Relax the Lower Esophageal Sphincter

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the valve between your esophagus and your stomach. Normally, it closes tightly to keep food and stomach acid in your stomach. If it relaxes when it shouldn't, food and stomach acid come back up into your esophagus and you may feel heartburn.

The following are examples of foods that can relax the LES:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Butter and margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Creamy sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g., soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)

Foods That Stimulate Acid Production

Heartburn may also occur when the stomach produces too much acid, and this backs up into the esophagus. Foods that may stimulate acid production and increase heartburn are:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Black pepper
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato juice

Finding Which Foods Trigger Your Heartburn

Everyone is different, so keeping a food diary will be helpful in determining which specific foods are problematic for you. It is also important to remember that when you eat and how much you eat can also play a role in the occurrence of heartburn.

Eating too close to bedtime, or eating too large of a meal later at night, can contribute to nighttime heartburn.

Preventing heartburn when eating isn't just about what foods you eat—it also has much to do with how you prepare your food and how you eat it. You can follow some meal planning tips to prevent heartburn.

Preventing Heartburn When You Eat Out

Also, if you like to dine out, but are afraid to because of the possibility of heartburn, there are some things you can do ahead of time to help prevent the heartburn episodes. As at home, eating certain foods in restaurants can trigger heartburn. There are methods you can use to limit heartburn. These methods include food choices, knowing how the food is prepared, beverage selection, and portion sizes.

Before ordering, ask yourself if the meal you want to order contains any foods that are your trigger foods. Here are tips for specific types of cuisine:

When you eat out, you need to inquire as to how different dishes are prepared. You can also ask that your meat is grilled rather than fried.

Many dishes include high-fat gravies and sauces that you can ask to have switched for a low-fat substitute or served on the side.


Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn-gerd/basics/definition/CON-20019545?p=1.

GERD Lifestyle and Home Remedies. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20025201.

Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD. National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes.