Why Do Some Foods You Eat Cause Heartburn?

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lockstockb (stock.xchng)

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

There has been some debate going on for several years as to whether certain foods can cause heartburn. It is true that if you don't experience heartburn on a regular basis, food usually won't cause heartburn in a person. Why do some foods cause heartburn and others don't?

There are a couple reasons why some foods cause heartburn.

Heartburn may occur when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve between your esophagus and your stomach, relaxes when it shouldn't, and food and stomach acid comes back up into your esophagus.

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)

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

Of course, 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. For more information, you can read about preventing 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.

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.

When you eat out, you need to inquire as to how different dishes are prepared. You can also ask that if the meat fried, if you can have it grilled instead. Many dishes include high-fat gravies and sauces.

Asking for a low-fat substitute served on the side may be a good idea. And before ordering, it is important to ask yourself if the meal you want to order contains any foods that are your trigger foods.

For additional tips on eating at specific types of restaurants, please read the following articles:


Magee, Elaine: Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Acid Reflux. Book-mart Press: New Page Books, 2001, ISBN: 1564145743.

Peikin, M.D., Steven R.. Gastrointestinal Health. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2004.

Sklar, Jill and Cohen, Annabel: Eating for Acid Reflux: Marlowe & Company; Imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. 2003, ISBN: 1569244928.

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