5 Foods that Can Trigger Heartburn


Aged American woman suffering a heartburn – Image file: Health

Heartburn is an uncomfortable symptom that’s quite common. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, Heartburn is a painful and common but manageable health condition characterized by a burning sensation in the chest and/or throat after eating. It is caused by acid reflux, or the regurgitation of stomach contents back up into the esophagus.

It is generally felt behind the breastbone or in the back of the throat, and is often accompanied by an acidic taste in the mouth.

While every person has different triggers for this ailment, there are some common foods that can cause it according to Kim Rose-Francis, a registered dietitian with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. She lists five foods which she published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that are notorious for causing heartburn.

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Woman perceiving a spicy food – Photo credit: Healthline
  1. Spicy Foods

It’s true that many people experience heartburn after consuming spicy foods, but could the fiery spices really be to blame?

According to Rose-Francis, eating extremely spicy foods, such as curries with peppers can greatly increase the chance of triggering heartburn. This is because spicy foods contain chemicals called capsaicinoids. These compounds she said can irritate the stomach’s delicate lining and produce an excessive amount of stomach acid. This, in turn, causes a burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn.

  1. Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions have long been treasured ingredients around the world. Not only do they add flavour to culinary creations, they are also known to have powerful nutritional and health benefits.

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However, if you’ve ever suffered from heartburn after a big meal, you may want to think twice before indulging in the garlic and onions found in many dishes. According to Rose-Francis, these two ingredients could be the culprits behind your indigestion problem.

She said garlic and onions contain compounds that can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause acid reflux. When these compounds are exposed to stomach acid they are broken down into sulfuric acid, which can burn the delicate cells of the stomach and intestines, leading to symptoms of heartburn. While these symptoms can be uncomfortable, they usually don’t cause any long-term damage.

  1. Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most beloved and indulged treats around the world. Unfortunately, it has been suggested by Rose-Francis that it may be linked to heartburn. This fact can be difficult to accept for those of us who are chocolate lovers; however it is important to consider the science behind this claim.

She said when chocolate is consumed; the sugar and fatty acids it contains can be difficult for the body to process, causing the stomach to produce extra acid to help break it down. This increased acid production can cause heartburn and other digestive issues.

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In addition to poor digestion, Rose-Francis said that chocolate also contains a compound called methylxanthines that can increase production of stomach acid further. This compound can also relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle that is responsible for preventing stomach acid from entering the esophagus. This relaxation can leave us susceptible to discomfort from excess stomach acid and heartburn.

  1. Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol, we all know it has its drawbacks in terms of health. However, Rose-Francis noted that consuming alcohol can have an unexpected side effect, such as cause uncomfortable heartburn.

When we consume alcohol, the stomach tries to process the alcohol and begins to produce more acid. This increased production of acid can quickly become painful and cause a burning sensation, known as heartburn. It’s easy to understand why alcohol might cause heartburn, especially when we consume too much of it. Too much alcohol causes the stomach to work harder and produces more acid that can easily trigger heartburn.

This increased occurrence is a common problem for those who drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol, especially the elderly. This symptom may be a warning sign of serious medical issues beyond just heartburn, such as acid reflux, and should not be taken lightly.

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Most people think of heartburn as an occasional problem, but if it is caused by consuming too much alcohol, it should be taken seriously.

  1. Coffee and caffeinated beverages

Coffee and caffeinated beverages sure do provide that extra boost of energy, but did you know that they can also be the culprit of heartburn?

According to Rose-Francis research, caffeine is one of the culprits behind heartburn. It can irritate the lining of the stomach and the esophagus and make it harder for the lower esophageal sphincter to function properly. This can lead to food and acid coming back up into the throat, causing heartburn.

It doesn't mean that we have to give up coffee entirely. We can still enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning (or throughout the day), as long as we take precautionary steps to prevent heartburn.

The bottom line

If you experience heartburn frequently, try removing some of the foods in this list from your diet to see whether your symptoms will improve.

It’s a good idea to keep a food diary so you can track which foods give you heartburn.

Even though removing certain foods may help control heartburn, it’s best to work with your healthcare team to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan to manage your symptoms.




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