Foods That Cause Heartburn: Here’s What to Avoid (and What to Eat Instead)

If you’ve had heartburn even once before, you definitely don’t want to ever have it again. Thankfully, it isn’t one of those mysterious unpleasantries without a known cause or without any symptoms. When you have it, you know it. And usually, you can pinpoint exactly what triggered it.

It’s not often that foods are the direct cause of a disease or health condition. But the biggest risk factors for developing heartburn are the exception: They all involve food.

Here are the foods that trigger heartburn the most — and what to eat instead to relieve your symptoms.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn

Heartburn | iStock.com/mheim3011

Heartburn is a form of indigestion you experience as an unpleasant burning sensation in your chest. Usually this worsens after eating, when you’re lying down, or when you bend over.

It happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. This can happen occasionally, and it’s usually manageable at home. Some people have a condition called GERD, in which heartburn is frequent and requires major lifestyle changes to treat properly.

When your heartburn starts or gets worse after a meal or snack, it’s possible that the foods you’re eating are the problem. Certain foods can trigger symptoms or make them worse. Others can relieve symptoms altogether.

Which foods cause heartburn?

As with any health condition, everyone’s collection of symptoms and triggers usually varies. However, highly acidic foods, fried foods, and even foods you wouldn’t expect to cause trouble are often the biggest offenders. The most common heartburn triggers include:

  • High-fat foods like cheese, avocados, and nuts
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods such as those that contain chili powder or hot peppers
  • Garlic and onions
  • Salty foods, whether they come that way or you add it in yourself
  • Acidic foods like tomatoes and grapefruits.

Alcohol, caffeine, citrus juices, soda, and other carbonated beverages can also trigger heartburn. For some people, eating big meals also leads to heartburn symptoms. Eating smaller meals — and the “right” foods — can help relieve heartburn or help you avoid it altogether.

Foods to eat to relieve or avoid heartburn

Spinach

Spinach | iStock.com/dionisvero

When you eliminate cheese, chocolate, salt, and spice (the heat, not the herb) from your diet, what’s left? More than you think. Some foods have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce your risk of heartburn. Others simply lack the ingredients that can trigger symptoms but are good for you in a dozen other ways.

Some of the best foods to relieve or avoid heartburn also have many additional nutrients good for your heart and brain. They include:

  • Healthy fats such as olives, olive oil, and seafood
  • Whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, or brown rice
  • Ginger products including ginger tea
  • Lean meats like turkey, fish, and chicken
  • Nonacidic fruits such as bananas, apples, pears, and melons
  • Vegetables such as kale, cucumbers, spinach, and potatoes.

You can also relieve occasional heartburn by chewing gum or taking an over-the-counter medication or antacid.

Pay attention to your trigger foods (and beverages) and try to limit them as much as possible to avoid an unwanted heartburn comeback.

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