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Heartburn: Foods to avoid

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Heartburn relief: Food facts

Although heartburn can be triggered by different things for different people, certain food and drinks are more prone to allowing stomach acid to splash up into your oesophagus causing heartburn, including:

  • Meats - Minced beef, marbled sirloin, chicken nugget-style and chicken wings.
  • Fats, oils and sweets Chocolate, crisps, high-fat butter biscuits, brownies, doughnuts, creamy and oily salad dressings, fried or fatty food in general.
  • Fruits, vegetables and juice - Orange juice, lemon, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, tomato, mashed potatoes, chips, raw onion, potato salad.
  • Other drinks - Spirits, wine, coffee and tea.
  • Grains - Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with pasta sauce.
  • Dairy - Soured cream, milk shake, ice cream, cottage cheese.

Foods and beverages like these contribute to heartburn - and the more serious GORD - by lessening the effectiveness of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) to keep stomach contents in the stomach. Smoking also plays a large role, and fizzy drinks should be added to the list as they can put pressure on the stomach, forcing stomach acid back up into the oesophagus.

Reduce or avoid the foods and beverages above if you find they trigger heartburn - and eat smaller meals - and you may decrease the amount of reflux from your stomach into the oesophagus.

Yet changing what you eat isn't the only way to avoid the discomfort of heartburn - there are simple lifestyle changes you can make as well.

3 heartburn-preventing lifestyle changes

While watching what you eat and drink can help reduce your episodes of heartburn, there are a few changes you can make in everyday life that can go hand in hand.

Watch portion size. Larger meals and higher-fat meals tend to stay in the stomach longer before moving into the small intestine, so the LOS and oesophagus are potentially exposed to stomach contents/acid for a longer time.

So if you have frequent or occasional heartburn, it helps to keep meals in your stomach for as short a time as possible - that means watching portion size.

Keep a heartburn and food diary. Anything mentioned about food and heartburn are generalisations. The triggers vary from person to person. That's why it's important to keep a heartburn diary, discovering what triggers your heartburn, whether it's eating peppermint, drinking fruit juice or lying down after a meal. To make the most of your diary, record symptoms, the time they occurred, what you ate and activities you engaged in before the discomfort started.

Pick the right restaurants. Many of us end up eating out quite frequently and restaurants definitely offer a few challenges for those with heartburn. However once you know what your personal heartburn triggers are, eating out can be easier, leaving just two important restaurant challenges:

  • High-fat foods. Choose low-fat options when you eat out and you'll avoid one of the prime triggers for heartburn - fatty foods.
  • Huge portions. Eating too much can increase stomach pressure, causing acidic stomach contents to splash back into the oesophagus. When you eat out, avoid big portions.

Simple changes in diet and lifestyle can yield big heartburn relief. That's why it's a good idea to take the time to track your triggers, reduce or avoid the foods that trigger your heartburn, and make a few behavioural changes - and reap the relief that follows.

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Reviewed on November 29, 2017

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