If you’ve ever experienced a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat after downing a giant burrito at Chipotle, you’re definitely not alone. About 60 million Americans experience heartburn, or acid reflux, at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
To fight back, most of us simply pop an antacid and go on with our day. But have you ever noticed that sometimes your symptoms come crawling back, even after you’ve had a TUMS? And then the meds work just fine at other times? If you’re nodding your head “yes,” it’s likely because of what you’ve eaten after self-medicating.
According to the National Institutes of Health, certain foods exacerbate heartburn and acid reflux symptoms by carrying additional acid into the stomach and up into the esophagus, making you feel even more miserable.
Not only is this super uncomfortable, over time reflux can damage the esophagus, so it’s important to know how to identify these sneaky culprits so you can nip your heartburn in the bud!
To help you out, we’ve identified some of the top offenders below.
If a bout of acid reflux comes on after your afternoon snack, you’ll definitely want to steer clear of burgers, meatloaf, and anything else made with beef when dinner rolls around. The reason: beef tends to be high in saturated fat, which tends to linger in the stomach. The longer the food stays in the stomach, the higher risk of symptoms, explains Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, author of 25 Anti-Aging Smoothies for Revitalizing, Glowing Skin.
Eat This! Tip: If you absolutely must have beef, Koszyk suggests buying a leaner cut of meat or 93% fat-free ground beef to reduce the risk. “Portion size also matters so skip the one pound burger and go for the quarter pound,” she adds.
Citrus Fruits & Juices
Typically wash down your antacid with a glass of OJ or grapefruit juice? Big mistake. “Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are acidic, so they can cause heartburn or make symptoms worse, especially when consumed on an empty stomach,” explains Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS.
Sad but true: your post-dinner chocolate fix is probably making your acid reflux symptoms worse. And yes, that holds true even if it’s the heart–healthy dark variety. “Chocolate is high in fat and contains caffeine which has been suggested to be a trigger for acid reflux,” says Koszyk. “If you just can’t deny that chocolate fix, eat a small portion since fattier food takes longer to digest. The longer the food stays in the stomach, the higher risk of getting reflux.” And once you’re feeling better, don’t miss our report on the best dark chocolates to ensure you’re picking the very best bar for your waistline and health.
After a bout of heartburn, chips are not your friend. “The oils and high-fat content found in chips can trigger acid reflux and make existing symptoms worse,” cautions Koszyk. “Watch your portion size and how fast you eat the chips, too. If you scarf them down quickly, they may sit in your stomach longer which can trigger additional reflux.”
Tomatoes & Marinara Sauce
Tomatoes, whether eaten raw in a salad or transformed into a savory-sweet marinara, are also no-go’s if you want the painful burning feeling in your chest to subside. “Similar to citrus fruits, tomatoes are acidic and can make heartburn worse,” Rumsey tells us.
Coffee & Tea
Sorry, java and green tea lovers, but caffeine can contribute to heartburn—so you’ll want to find another way to get energized if you’ve recently had a bout of acid reflux, Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, tells us. “Caffeine relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter that usually prevents backflow from the stomach into the esophagus, she explains. And yes, those fancy drinks count, too. Even though they may have a bit less caffeine, they’re typically made with milk, which Smith cautions can be slow to digest and can contribute to heartburn, too.
If you’re suffering from heartburn, you should tread carefully in the land of romaine, ranch, and radishes. “Due to the high-fat content of oil in salad dressing, some people have experienced heartburn when eating a salad,” offers Koszyk, adding, “Rich, high-fat dressings can cause relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the risk of heartburn. Your best bet is to keep salad dressing on the side and do the fork-dip method when taking a bite to reduce the amount of salad dressing you use.” And no matter what you do, steer clear of these worst restaurant salads in America. They’re all fatty, caloric, diet disasters that will make you feel even more crummy and wreck your flat belly dreams, too.
Mmmm, french fries! They’re crispy, salty and just so darn delicious. But this is your warning: They’ll make you feel straight up awful if you’re getting over a bout of heartburn. It’s been suggested that high fat, fried foods can cause acid reflux and exacerbate existing symptoms, notes Koszyk. If you get a craving for French fries but just had a bout of heartburn, Koszyk suggests making baked “fries” at home with an oil spray instead of an oil-filled deep fryer. “Reducing the fat content can reduce the symptoms,” she explains.
Raw Onion & Garlic
If you’ve recently popped a TUMS, consider telling your waitress to hold the onions. “Some people with heartburn find that it worsens with onion or garlic consumption. Often a small amount of the food will be okay, but larger amounts can cause additional heartburn,” says Rumsey, adding, “It helps to keep a food log and track your eating and your heartburn symptoms to see if these foods affect you or not.”
If you have plans for a happy hours after heartburn comes on, you should either reschedule or plan to stick to water. Alcohol causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, Rumsey tells us, which makes it easier for the acidic stomach contents to go back up the esophagus, exacerbating existing symptoms and bringing on new ones.
Eat This! Tip: If you find yourself out on the town after you’ve had heartburn, martinis and beer aren’t the only things you should avoid. Skip the carbonated beverages like soda, which can put pressure on the stomach, forcing stomach acid back up into the esophagus. And don’t light up! Smoking can also make heartburn symptoms a lot worse. It’s partly due to the nicotine, which is thought to relax the muscles in the lower esophagus that keeps acid in the stomach. But the fact that smoking also causes the mouth to make less spit also plays a role.
Sure, the healthy fats in this popular and trendy yogurt variety can boost satiety and help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, but this isn’t what you should be spooning up if you’ve recently had trouble with heartburn. “Foods high in fat, like full-fat yogurt, can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, which allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Very high-fat foods also delay stomach emptying, which can also contribute to reflux,” Rumsey explains.
Since both fiery spices and dietary fat make heartburn symptoms worse, consider buffalo wings a Not That! after you’ve experienced pain in your chest or throat. “Spicy foods can trigger acid reflux, but that doesn’t mean spicy foods are out forever. Just be cautious if it irritates your stomach. Keeping a food journal can help determine which foods you eat cause uncomfortable symptoms,” says Koszyk. If you love wings, then you won’t want to miss our revealing report about worst restaurant chicken wings—ranked!
If you’ve recently experienced that horrible burning sensation in your chest or throat, keep that pint of ice cream where it belongs: in the freezer. “Foods high in fat, like ice cream, cause the ring of muscles in the lower esophagus to relax. When that happens, acid can trickle up and cause a burning sensation, contributing to reflux,” explains Rumsey.
People tend to forget that baked goods like donuts, cookies, and brownies don’t just have sugar. Many of them have tons of fat, too. And since high-fat foods take longer to digest, they tend to bring on heartburn and worsen existing symptoms, explains Koszyk. “It’s best to eat a smaller portion, eat slowly, or don’t eat it at all if you think there’s a chance they can cause more discomfort.” Even if heartburn isn’t an issue, always steer clear of worst supermarket cookies anyway!