Everyone experiences heartburn at some point in their lives. A heavy feeling accompanied by a burning sensation in the chest after eating a big meal is bound to happen at some point. But when it occurs more than once a week, gets worse, or keeps you up at night, then it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD. Using over-the-counter remedies can help in the short term, but they may mask any underlying causes. To treat GERD, lifestyle changes are commonly recommended, including a diet that eliminates foods that may trigger heartburn.
Not all causes of heartburn are the same, but there are many foods that seem to be problematic for most sufferers.
Chocolate, even dark chocolate, contains fat. Fatty foods are known to cause heartburn and chocolate contains fat, caffeine, and other stimulants. One of them is theobromine, which is known to cause reflux. And beyond the fat and caffeine, chocolate is largely comprised of cocoa, which also causes reflux.
Soda and carbonated beverages may help an upset stomach, but when it comes to acid reflux they are a no-go. Sodas contain acid, and many of them also contain caffeine. The carbonated bubbles, themselves, are a problem because they expand inside the stomach, creating pressure that contributes to reflux. Most major brands contain both acid and caffeine; and all are carbonated, so skip the bubbles and switch to water.
Alcohol isn’t acidic, but it seems to trigger acid reflux nonetheless. It is believed that beer, wine, and liquor relax the valve at the base of the throat that connects to the stomach, allowing reflux to occur. If you do enjoy an occasional drink, avoid acidic cocktail mixers like orange, tomato, or pineapple juices.
Caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea can actually cause reflux if you drink it all day. Drink only one cup a day and then drink herbal teas like chamomile or a lightly brewed green tea.
Fried foods are rough on any digestive system, but the high fat content makes them especially hard for GERD.
High-fat dairy products are the same as any other high-fat food: a no-go. If you love cheese, have only a small amount as a flavoring rather than a main dish. Also, low-fat cheese is better for you than no-fat cheese.
High-fat cuts of meat, including beef, pork, and lamb, stay in the stomach longer, increasing the risk of experiencing reflux. Choose lean cuts of meat, and try to limit your consumption to only once a week.
Other foods that may trigger reflux include black pepper, garlic, raw onions, spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, peppermint, and tomatoes.
Timing is also important when discussing foods that may trigger heartburn. Some foods are fine when consumed early in the day; but closer to bedtime, they can cause heartburn. Instead of three large meals a day, try five to six smaller ones to avoid the large-meal feeling that can cause reflux. Be mindful of your triggers, and you may be able to avoid symptoms as you fall asleep.