If you find yourself dealing with acid reflux, you know: it’s no fun. Unfortunately, a lot of popular foods (and drinks) may be triggering acid reflux for some. If you have a burning sensation in your stomach after a meal, your diet may be to blame.1
Acid reflux is also known as gastroesophageal reflux. What is it, exactly, and what role does diet play in causing you to feel so miserable? Read on to learn more, and to learn what foods you might need to try and avoid if you’re dealing with this frustrating – and very uncomfortable issue.
What Is Acid Reflux And How Can Your Diet Affect Stomach Acid And Gastroesophageal Reflux?
Acid reflux can make it almost impossible to get comfortable. It occurs when stomach acid moves into the esophagus. There’s a valve at the end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter. When this esophageal valve works as it should, stomach acid remains where it belongs – in the stomach.2
When someone has gastroesophageal reflux, however, this is not the case. Instead, the esophageal valve relaxes, or stays open. It should stay closed when food passes through the esophagus into the stomach. When it doesn’t, acid flows into the esophagus and the mouth and throat. That’s what leads to the burning, sour taste you may get.3
How Spicy Foods And Fatty Foods Can Affect Your Stomach, Esophagus, And Digestive Tract
Your diet is a major contributing factor to reflux. There are certain acid reflux trigger foods that relax the esophageal sphincter. When this happens, it delays the digestion of food, because food sits in the stomach too long. This leads to acid moving up into the esophagus and other areas when you lay in bed.4
Two of the biggest culprits that contribute to reflux are spicy foods and fatty foods.
- Spicy foods can really do a number on your stomach and esophagus. One of the reasons is that many spicy foods contain a compound known as capsaicin. This slows digestion, allowing food to remain in the stomach longer than it should. This in turn can lead to reflux.5
- High-fat foods can also lead to problems. They produce a hormone known as cholecystokinin. And cholecystokinin may relax the esophageal sphincter, leading to reflux issues.6
Note: Of course, diet is likely not the only cause behind acid reflux. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. They will be able to address your unique situation and determine a cause.
Foods And Drinks That May Lead To Acid Reflux: Coffee, Chocolate, Citrus Juices, Alcohol, Carbonated Beverages, And More
If you have acid reflux, but enjoy things like a hot cup of coffee in the morning or a candy bar, sodas, or a cold beer every once in a while, here’s some bad news: All of these can set off an acid reflux attack. There are many studies showing the effects they can have on your stomach.
Research shows that coffee relaxes the esophageal sphincter.7 Why might this happen? Well, one theory holds that the caffeine in coffee reduces pressure in the sphincter, which causes it to relax.8 Other researchers, however, believe something else in coffee besides caffeine may be causing this drop in lower esophageal sphincter pressure.9
Yes, the unfortunate truth is that chocolate may also contribute to a burning sensation in the stomach, esophagus, and throat. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, stimulates the production of serotonin.10 This is a hormone that has been shown to relax the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus.11
Juices from citrus fruits can lead to reflux as well. In one study, a majority of people with gastroesophageal reflux experienced an attack after drinking citrus juices.12 In a separate study, 73 percent of participants suffered reflux after consuming citrus drinks. Scientists believe that the higher the acidity of a beverage, the more likely it is to lead to potential heartburn.13
But what about other kinds of fruit juices or fruits? It appears that non-citrus fruits, such as bananas, apples, and pears, are less likely to contribute to reflux.14
Some alcoholic drinks, such as beer and wine, not only relax the esophageal sphincter, they may also increase the amount of acid in the stomach.15 There is also evidence that the more alcohol consumed – and the more frequently people consume it – has a direct effect on the prevalence of experiencing reflux.16
If you’re a fan of sodas and other carbonated beverages containing caffeine, you already know that caffeine can trigger reflux. But the bubbles created by carbonation can also contribute to your discomfort. They do this by expanding the stomach, forcing stomach acid into the esophagus.17
If you must drink soda, don’t drink it before bed. One study showed that drinking sodas before bedtime can greatly increase the risk of reflux at night.18 Another study showed that drinking sodas (at any time of day) could substantially increase the risk of gastroesophageal reflux.19
Other Potential Triggers
These are just a few of the other foods and beverages that might trigger reflux attacks:
- Dairy products
- Fried foods
- Sausage and bacon
- Hot dogs20,21
Could Following The Mediterranean Diet Help If You Have Acid Reflux?
There is some evidence that following a Mediterranean diet might help those dealing with certain reflux issues. Staples of this diet include legumes, nuts, vegetables, fish, grains, and olive oil.22
According to one study, people suffering from reflux who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had a reduction in discomfort similar to that provided by medications typically used to address acid reflux.23
There is no such thing as a specific diet to help those suffering from acid reflux. However, it does appear that avoiding alcohol, caffeine and citrus fruits, as well as eating foods such as lean meats and whole grains may help.24
Avoid Reflux Trigger Foods And See Your Doctor
If you’re dealing with the frustration of acid reflux, seek the guidance of your healthcare professional – especially if reflux is making it hard for you to sleep, or if it’s otherwise interfering with your quality of life.
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