You know that feeling all too well, when you’ve had a heavy or spicy meal, and this itching, stabbing sensation crawls up your chest. If you’ve experienced this before, you have encountered heartburn. Also known as acid reflux, it is a common occurrence that can happen to anyone.
The occasional bout of acid reflux is perfectly normal, and often goes away by itself, or can be relieved with over-the-counter antacids. However, some people experience heartburn symptoms that are frequent enough to interfere with their lives. When heartburn occurs regularly over a long period of time, it is diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
Whether you have sporadic incidents of acid reflux, or a persistent GERD, it has been found that a significant trigger of heartburn is the food we eat. Some foods directly trigger increased acid production, while others help to fight and control excess stomach acids. Read on to find out which of these foods you should eat and avoid if you want to stay away from heartburn.
Foods to avoid
Foods that are acid-triggering can be a cause for heartburn, although every individual may have different tolerances. Here are some foods notorious for inciting that burning feeling:
- High-fat foods: Fatty foods can cause the lower esophagal sphincter (LES) to relax, which allows the backflow of stomach acids. High-fat foods to avoid include red meat, full-fat dairy, deep-fried foods, processed foods, as well as desserts and sweets.
- Chocolates: The culprit is not just the fat or milk content in chocolates, but also a component called methylxanthine, which has been found to relax muscles of the LES and worsen heartburn symptoms.
- Caffeine: The major component of a lot of coffees and teas, caffeine, can also contribute to the relaxation of the LES. You can opt for decaf coffees or non-caffeinated teas if you find that caffeine is a trigger for your heartburn.
- Citrus fruits: Tangy fruits like orange, lemon, pineapple, and limes are high in citric acid, which can increase the chance of an acid reflux flare-up. Other plant-based common triggers are tomato, garlic, onions, and mint.
- Spicy foods: Spicy foods are commonly thought to aggravate heartburn due to the capsaicin and their ability to irritate the esophagus and stomach.
Acid-fighting foods to eat
Some foods are considered ‘acid-fighting’ and recommended for those suffering from frequent bouts of heartburn. Here are some foods you can consider adding to your diet:
- Lean meats: Low-fat cuts of turkey, chicken, and fish are ideal protein sources without the reflux-inducing fats. Avoid fried versions of these, and enjoy them baked, steamed or grilled instead.
- Healthy fats: Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthier alternative to saturated fats from meat. Some examples of healthy fat sources are avocados, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, and sesame oil.
- Wholegrains: Fibre-rich grains like oatmeal, wholegrain bread and brown rice have been found to lower the risk of acid reflux.
- Ginger: Widely used for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is a natural remedy for a variety of gastrointestinal problems, including heartburn. You can easily add it to juices, soups, as a garnish, or steeped as tea.
- Vegetables: Most vegetables are low in fat and sugar, and can help with regulating stomach acids. Some great choices are broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, cucumbers, and long beans.
The bottom line
While what we know of acid-triggering foods come from a combination of anecdotal evidence and scientific research, there are still a lot of inconclusive results as well as individual variation. Some foods can be triggers to some individuals, but have no effect on others.
What experts recommend is to keep a food journal to keep track of what you eat, and when symptoms occur. This way, you can figure out what foods your body reacts to, and avoid those foods accordingly.