If you get heartburn or indigestion the easiest remedy is to avoid or limit those foods that cause problems. There are 9 major types of foods to avoid with heartburn and indigestion. Everyone’s body reacts differently to food. To get rid of heartburn symptoms for good, you need to work out which foods trigger your heartburn. In this article you’ll discover foods to avoid with heartburn and tips to try if you really can’t do without.
Heartburn is caused by acid refluxing from your stomach back up into your esophagus (the food tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). This causes a burning sensation, and can be mistaken for a heart attack. It is most often caused by too much stomach acid, which is worsened by eating too much of the wrong foods. In fact, if you know which foods to avoid with heartburn and eliminate your triggers, you will most likely get relief from you distressing and often painful symptoms.
Heartburn vs indigestion vs acid reflux
In general terms, indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux and GERD are similar conditions and people use these terms interchangeably. For this article, we will too. However, it is important to know that there are some differences in symptoms, causes and severity. If you want to know the difference between heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion in more detail, click here
Which foods are best for me to avoid with heartburn?
Everyone is different. The only way for certain you will know which foods to avoid with heartburn is trial and error. Try keeping a food diary, and note the following:
- What you ate or drank
- How much you ate or drank
- What you were doing (eg. walking, watching TV, napping)
- Any symptoms that followed
Over time, your food diary will provide useful information about what triggers your heartburn and what foods you should avoid or limit. And if your heartburn doesn’t go away and you need medical advice, you can take your food diary along. Your food diary will give you and your doctor a head start on finding treatment that works for you.
Foods to avoid with heartburn
1. Fatty foods cause heartburn
The fat in the food makes it more difficult to digest and it stays for that much longer in the stomach. This makes your stomach produce more acid.
Also, fatty foods make your lower esophageal sphincter relax. That’s the band of muscle that is supposed to stop acid and food refluxing back into your esophagus. Food needs to get digested fast if you want to avoid heartburn.
Most takeout foods are high in fat.
Fried food and foods cooked in fat and oils – When considering whether a certain food will trigger your heartburn, don’t forget to consider how the food is cooked. Foods that are cooked in fat or oil absorb it during cooking.
Cheese – Cheese is another food to avoid with heartburn and indigestion due to the high fat content of most cheeses. Try eliminating high fat cheeses such as cream cheese, parmesan and cheddar to see if your heartburn symptoms improve. You might be able to tolerate low fat cheeses such as low fat cottage cheese, feta and low fat ricotta. Also, don’t forget cheese sauces – these usually contain lots of butter and cream, both of which are high fat foods.
Milk and yoghurt – Milk and yoghurt provides instant relief but can cause heartburn in the long term. Here’s a good article about the effect of different milks on heartburn. The article also includes information on milk substitutes such as nut milks, oat milk, goat milk and coconut milk.
Other dairy foods including butter, cream, sour cream – these are high in fat, and are foods to avoid with heartburn. Fat free sour cream should be fine for heartburn sufferers.
2. Acidic foods to avoid with heartburn
These aren’t just foods that contain acids; they also include foods that form acids when they are being broken down in the stomach. Examples are vinegar, lemon juice or lemonade, potatoes (in any form – fried or boiled), grain based food like spaghetti marinara or mac and cheese, milk, sour cream or even ice cream!
Citrus foods – These fruits (and juices) are high in citric acid. When had on an empty stomach, they do not use up enough of the stomach acids, but instead add on to that. The result – the excess acid refluxes into the esophagus. Examples include – lemons, limes, grapefruit, sour oranges and of course, juices; although apple juice may be ok. If you like fruit juice, try diluting it with water.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes are pretty high in acid content. They are the vegetable equivalent of oranges so to speak – high in citric and malic acid. And therefore best avoided for the same reason as citrus fruits.
Onion and garlic – Onions are a very common heartburn trigger. Raw onion is especially bad for heartburn (more acidic), so be sure to cook it. Garlic can cause heartburn and irritate your digestive tract.
3. Spicy foods to avoid with heartburn
Food that is spicy or chili hot increases the heartburn and actually worsens the discomfort. Plus, these actually harm the stomach lining. So when heartburn seems to become a regular aspect of your life, switch to less spicy food for a time and see if you notice a difference.
4. Caffeine and heartburn
Any drink high in caffeine is highly acidic and should be avoided if you have heartburn. This is because the caffeine increases acid production in your gut and relaxes your sphincter that is supposed to stop acid from re-entering your esophagus.
We all know coffee contains caffeine, but it also contains tannins (tannic acid). Tannins also make your stomach secrete more acid.
Decaffeinated coffee can also be highly acidic, but it’s worth trying if you can’t imagine life without coffee. Remember, it still contains tannins that increase acidity.
Black tea and green tea contain tannins and caffeine, but not as much as coffee. Green tea in moderation might be OK for you.
You can also try herbal teas for heartburn. While peppermint tea is likely to heartburn, there are other herbal teas that can relieve heartburn symptoms.
Energy drinks also contain caffeine and are a common cause of heartburn.
5. Candy and sugary foods to avoid with heartburn
Sugar itself doesn’t cause acid reflux, but sugar is found in many foods that trigger reflux. Small amounts of sugar that don’t form part of a food that triggers heartburn for you should be fine. For example, honey, maple syrup and jam.
Chocolate – Chocolate releases serotonin. This makes the lower esophageal sphincter relax and more acid moves from the stomach into the esophagus causing heartburn. Chocolate also contains caffeine which is highly acidic and tannins which make your stomach secrete more acid.
Hard candies and gum balls – These increase the amount of air you swallow, which then increases gas in your stomach and indigestion.
Peppermint, spearmint and Starburst candies (or similar) – These contain a lot of acid which can trigger heartburn and acid reflux.
If you really need a sugar hit, try a few jelly beans, gummy bears or even a bit of dark chocolate. And true black licorice is good for heartburn, but only in very small amounts. Make sure you read up on the side effects of licorice before consuming.
6. Carbonated drinks to avoid with heartburn
Soda has high acidity. Also, the bubbles in carbonated drinks add gas to the stomach which is why you feel uncomfortable after having a soda. The bubbles (or gas) can also force open the the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus letting acid reflux and create a burning sensation.
Many carbonated drinks also contain caffeine, which we know is highly acidic and relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter. So caffeine makes it even more easier for reflux to occur.
You can try letting your soda go flat, and this will remove some of the bubbles and gas. But you still need to consider the acidity of your drink.
7. Meaty foods to avoid with heartburn
Fatty meat or meat in rich sauces or gravy stay in the stomach longer and can make heartburn worse. Sausages, bacon, ground beef and deli meats are definitely out.
Cuts of beef to avoid with heartburn are those that you would normally eat as a streak. They have a high fat content which keeps the meat tender, and include filet mignon, porterhouse and T-bone.
Lower fat beef cuts are usually those that need stewing or marinating, and these are usually better for heartburn, but best eaten in small quantities. examples include chuck and round steak.
Lamb is a fatty meat, so is best avoided, but you could try small servings of leaner cuts. Leg is the leanest part of lamb.
Skinless chicken or turkey breast and pork loin are better choices of meat for heartburn sufferers.
White fish is a very good choice for people with heartburn. Just be sure not to cook it in a lot of oil which will increase fat content and contribute to heartburn.
8. Indigestion after alcohol
Alcohol is a known contributor to acid reflux and heartburn. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the band between the stomach and esophagus that is supposed to stop acid refluxing back up into the esophagus. Alcohol relaxes this band. Also, alcohol stimulates the stomach to produce more acid.
Beer is very acidic, and it’s carbonated. Those two things are bad for heartburn. But, compared to other alcoholic beverages, beer has a relatively lower alcohol content,
Gin, tequila, and non-grain vodkas are the lowest acidity alcohol options. But remember, you’re not just dealing with acidity, you got to consider the effects of the alcohol – relaxing the LES which can cause acid reflux.
Discover the best alcohol to drink if you suffer from acid reflux.
Overall, there are multiple factors to consider when deciding whether or not alcohol should be part of your lifestyle when you suffer from heartburn.
9. Smoking and heartburn
Smoking often goes hand in hand with food and drink, so we’ve included it in our list. Research shows smokers are more likely to suffer from heartburn than non-smokers.
Nicotine from tobacco weakens the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and this causes stomach acid to reflux back into your esophagus, causing burning.
Passive smoking, or secondhand smoke can also give you acid reflux.
Tips to help you avoid reflux
- Eat slowly – eating too fast makes heartburn and indigestion worse.
- Don’t eat until you feel too full – small, frequent meals are best.
- Don’t lie down immediately after eating – wait at least for about an hour or two – when you stay upright, gravity is working with you to keep the food down.
- And when you do lie down, it’s best to elevate your body from your hip to head to continue the work of gravity.
- You could also try eating mostly alkaline foods.
Heartburn is, at the end of the day, a symptom of some other problem – like GERD or acid reflux, or inadequate acid secretion in the stomach or stomach infection. And while it is important to eliminate food triggers to control the situation instead of taking pills, it is also advisable that you visit a doctor if the condition persists, because you need to treat the actual underlying factors causing the heartburn.