Acid reflux occurs when the acid and contents in the stomach back up into the esophagus and the mouth. Sounds gross. It feels even worse. It is officially called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and those who suffer from it experience a burning sensation in the chest (often called heartburn) and irritation of the esophagus. There are no hard and fast rules as to which foods cause reflux, and people have different triggers. This presents the most common triggers of this undesirable condition.
Okay, before you throw your coffee at the screen or worse, close this window, let’s get something straight: Different foods affect different people differently. This article presents a baseline of the most common triggers of acid reflux in most sufferers. Comment below if any of these affect you…or not. Clear? Great. Now let’s talk chocolate. This sweet contains naturally occurring substances called methylxanthines that cause smooth muscles to relax. At the bottom of the esophagus and above the stomach is a valve called the lower esophagus sphincter. When this valve relaxes or stays open, it allows digestive acids to rise from the stomach into the esophagus. This is reflux. No research supports this, but the sphincter could be affected by the methylxanthines in chocolate, leading to symptoms of reflux. The high fat content could also be a trigger. (See #7) Do you get reflux after eating chocolate? Comment below.
2. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits have similar characteristics. They have juicy flesh and a thick, leathery skin or rind. Some fruits in this family include citron, lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit. If you’ve ever squeezed one of these and had juice squirt in your eye, you know the juice is highly acidic. When you eat a citrus fruit, the acid it contains relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, and this leaves an easy escape passage for the acid to travel up. If this happens, heartburn and reflux are sure to follow.
3. Carbonated Beverages
When what’s in your cup is fizzing with bubbles, you’re sending that carbonation—which is gas—to your stomach. The gas increases the gastric pressure, essentially pushing on the walls of your stomach, including our friend, the sphincter. If the sphincter opens, gas and acid can travel back up. Speaking of acid, if you drink soda (aka pop or cola), you’re adding extra acid to your belly, and that’s not helping matters either. Not only that, if the drink contains caffeine, this alone can trigger acid reflux. According to one study, Coke, Tab, and Diet Pepsi were the most acidic, but in general, diet sodas can be even more problematic because they are higher in acid than regular soda.
There is a definite link between onions and the awful experience of acid riding up the esophagus. Onions slow the speed at which the lower esophageal sphincter closes, separating the stomach from the esophagus. Onions also increase the amount of time the stomach is highly acidic. The combination of the stomach acting essentially like a cauldron of acid combined with the sphincter not closing off the esophagus from the stomach as fast as it should, leaves a recipe for reflux. Heartburn and belching are sure to follow if you have this condition. Cooking your onions will not improve your chances of avoiding reflux.
Okay, prepare to be frustrated. Ready? One study found that drinking wine could reduce your risk for reflux. Yaay! But wait. Another study found that drinking red or white wine increases the amount of acid in your stomach, increasing your risk for reflux. Hmmm. A separate study supported similar results, adding beer as a trigger for reflux. What you can try is limiting your consumption and avoiding beer and champagne because they’re carbonated. (Remember #3?) Also, don’t mix acidic juices with carbonation. What is your experience with wine (or beer or champagne)? Write your comments below.
6. Fried Food
Fried foods taste good! They’re also good at causing reflux (as well as heart disease and obesity, but that’s for another article). The main reason you might feel refluxy after chowing down on fried chicken is because of the high fat content. (See #7.) Fat does not break down quickly and tends to hang out in the stomach longer than other foods. This can be a ticket to acid indigestion or heartburn. Another issue is that fried foods weaken the sphincter. Researchers are unsure why. Try eating fried foods in moderation and infrequently. Keep a journal to see how much gives you reflux.
7. Fatty Foods
Fat does not get digested in the stomach. It needs to reach the small intestine, and then bile goes to work on it. But the stomach is a stubborn employee and wants to do the job itself, so the fatty foods stay in this organ a little too long. This gives gastric acid more time and opportunity to climb the esophagus. It could be that eating fatty foods once in awhile will not affect you. However, enjoying fatty foods too frequently can lead to obesity, and obesity is known to cause esophageal dysfunctions linked to acid reflux symptoms. Also, avoid eating fatty foods 3-4 hours before you go to bed because they’re slow to digest. You could wake up in the middle of the night with heartburn.
Coffee has continually been linked to causing acid reflux when consumed in large quantities. This is tough to swallow, especially for those who need their morning, mid-morning, and late-morning cups. There could be two culprits at work here: caffeine and acid. One study found that decaf coffee had much less of an effect causing reflux than regular coffee. However, in tea, caffeine did not appear to influence symptoms. When it hits your stomach, acidic coffee (especially lighter roasts) stimulates the secretion of gastric acid. More coffee, more gastric acid. If enough is produced, it could back up into your esophagus. One thing you can try, if you’re not going to switch to tea, is to limit yourself to one cup of coffee.
If you’re still reading (after I told you to limit yourself to just one cup of coffee), here’s another possible trigger. Tomatoes are a very good source of vitamins and minerals. But they are also a source of two major acids: citric and malic acid. Both are heartburn triggers. Once you swallow a tomato, your stomach might respond to its acids by producing too much gastric acid. This is what’s needed to break down food. When volumes get too high, the acid can climb back up the esophagus. Senior research scientist at USANA Health Sciences, Jeremy Tian, Ph.D and M.D., says that like onions, not even cooking tomatoes reduces the acidity enough to prevent reflux.
10. Spicy foods
Spicy foods is one of the top of causes for complaints of acid reflux. Your taste buds say, “Yes!” But after eating, your belly says, “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” It seems that in the case of spicy foods, the sphincter is not involved. Researchers think the reflux is because the spicy elements irritate the esophagus. However, there is no scientific evidence pointing the finger at spicy foods as a trigger of reflux. Your best bet is to keep a journal when you experience reflux. Write everything you ate and how much of it you ate. Hopefully you’ll see a pattern and be able to identify your triggers.
Here’s where things get “interesting.” Recently, I wrote an article about how peppermint can actually help digestion. Now I’m telling you that it can lead to acid reflux. So which is it? Turns out both are true, depending on your own condition. Peppermint can relax the sphincter. If this happens, the door is open—quite literally— to acid reflux and all its undesirable symptoms. However, if you do not suffer from reflux, then peppermint might be able to help reduce indigestion. You know yourself better than anybody. If you don’t know how peppermint affects you, just like with any food, there’s only one way to find out. Eat a little bit of it. If you’re afraid of reflux, keep a journal of what you eat and how much of it you ate.
Cheese falls into the high-fat category of foods. Foods high in fat, if you remember from #7, can cause reflux because fats stay in the stomach for a long time. High fat cheeses include cheddar, gouda, cream cheese, Parmesan and stilton. If you know or think you might suffer reflux after eating cheese, pay attention to the cheese you eat and how much you eat. It’s best if you can record it in a journal and include everything you ate. If it was pizza, was there tomato sauce? From which pizza parlor did it come? The more you record the easier it will be to locate the trigger food. Incidentally, low-fat cheeses include ricotta, cottage cheese and any that lists “low-fat” on the label.
[Featured Image Credit: www.webmd.com]