8 worst foods for acid reflux: From caffeine to cheese, here's what you need to know
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
Roughly five million individuals in Canada experience acid reflux weekly.
It's possible that flare-ups are caused by certain types of foods and their ingredients.
But what exactly is acid reflux, and why do certain foods cause this uncomfortable condition?
Read on to find out the eight worst foods for acid reflux, and how you can help prevent it.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is a gastric condition that occurs when the contents of your stomach rise to your esophagus. This causes a burning sensation from your chest to your throat — also known as heartburn or indigestion.
Heartburn that frequently occurs may be a severe form of acid reflux known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is characterized by additional symptoms including chronic heartburn, vomiting and coughing.
What happens during acid reflux?
Your stomach has a valve that normally closes tightly after food passes into your stomach.
If the valve doesn’t close securely enough, stomach contents and acids can rise into your esophagus. This leads to burning sensations or pain anywhere from your stomach to your throat.
If severe and frequent, acid reflux may be diagnosed by your healthcare provider as GERD. If left untreated, acid reflux can damage the lining of your esophagus.
Why do certain foods cause acid reflux flare-ups?
People's bodies respond differently to different foods, so there is no one-size fits all approach to identifying what will trigger your acid reflux.
When diagnosing GERD, healthcare providers may recommend eliminating certain parts of your diet to determine which foods cause acid reflux.
However, some foods trigger the lower esophagus to open for different reasons. For example, some foods relax the muscles controlling the valve, which causes it to open and release gastric juices. Others irritate the gastric lining and stimulate acidic digestive juices.
Foods that can cause acid reflux
If you're experiencing symptoms of acid reflux, consider avoiding the following foods to reduce flare-ups.
Lovers of spicy food are likely aware of the heartburn that can follow. Dishes made with chili peppers or cayenne contains capsaicin, the chemical component that gives these foods their heat.
While capsaicin does have some health benefits, there may be a link between capsaicin and the slowing gastric accommodation – the function of stomach muscles during the digestive process.
At this time, acid reflux can occur because the lower esophageal sphincter can relax and open.
Foods high in fat — such as cheese, fried or fast foods and ice cream — have been known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, causing it to open.
Additionally, foods high in fat break down more slowly and stay in the stomach longer, making acid reflux worse.
Unlike spicy and fatty foods, which directly cause acid reflux, acidic foods do not directly impact acid reflux symptoms. Still, they can worsen the condition if it's already present.
Foods like citrus, pineapple and tomatoes can irritate your esophagus. Instead, opt for alkaline foods, which have a neutralizing effect on the stomach.
Caffeine in beverages like coffee and tea can stimulate digestive juices.
While adding cream to these drinks reduces the acidity, doing so doesn’t affect the amount of caffeine in them and will not counteract the relaxing effect.
Chocolate can trigger acid reflux by relaxing the lower esophagus.
Chocolate contains serotonin, a relaxing hormone, and caffeine, which exacerbates acid reflux symptoms.
Onions contain rapidly fermentable carbohydrates that may contribute to stomach inflammation and a backflow of stomach juices into the esophagus.
Although cooking lessens the adverse effect, you may still benefit from avoiding onions.
Alcohol causes inflammation and irritates the stomach lining. Reflux can worsen depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, leading to nausea or vomiting.
Drinking carbonated beverages can cause acid reflux because of the gas buildup in the stomach.
The esophagus opens to relieve the pressure buildup inside the stomach, releasing stomach contents.
Next steps and how to prevent acid reflux
Acid reflux is common and happens to most people from time to time.
Although uncomfortable, you can manage this condition by avoiding certain foods and utilizing over-the-counter medications when necessary.
If you're consistently experiencing acid reflux, consider seeking medical advice from your healthcare provider about diagnosis and treatment plans.
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