8 Foods That Can Cause Heartburn

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on November 3, 2020
  • doctor-making-heart-shape
    Know Your Food Triggers
    Heartburn occurs when stomach acid seeps out of your stomach and moves up into the esophagus, your swallowing tube. That's why it feels like burning in your chest. Any food that increases acid can produce heartburn. So can foods that relax the muscle that controls flow between the stomach and esophagus. That circular band of muscle is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Avoiding the most common offenders can help you avoid heartburn.
  • coffee
    1. Caffeine
    If you get heartburn from drinking coffee, it's probably from the caffeine. Caffeine relaxes the LES. Often, a cup is fine but several cups a day could trigger heartburn. The amount of caffeine in coffee varies by brand. It's usually 100 milligrams (mg) to 160 mg in 12 ounces of brewed coffee. Eight ounces of black tea can have up to 80 mg. Soft drinks, energy drinks, snack foods, and ice cream also contain caffeine. Additionally coffee, which is highly acidic, stimulates your stomach to produce digestive acids and can make symptoms of heartburn worse.
  • Chocolate
    2. Chocolate
    Chocolate also relaxes the muscle that controls the backflow of stomach acid, called reflux. Chocolate can cause the LES to stay open longer. This allows stomach acid to seep up and cause heartburn. Some experts believe that it's the caffeine in chocolate that's the main problem. A 1½-ounce bar of dark chocolate could have up to 20 mg of caffeine.
  • Oranges
    3. Citrus Fruit
    Citrus fruits get their name from citric acid. Both whole citrus fruits and their juices can cause heartburn because they increase acid production in your stomach. Lemons and limes have the most citric acid of any fruit. Grapefruit has a much higher amount than orange juice. Pineapple is also on the list. Also, be aware that many soft drinks contain citric acid to give the drinks their tart taste.
  • French fries
    4. Fatty Foods
    High-fat foods and greasy foods make the list of common heartburn offenders. First, these foods relax the LES. High-fat foods also stay in your stomach for a longer time. This slower digestion can lead to a higher risk for obesity. In turn, people who are obese are more likely to have conditions that cause heartburn, like hiatal hernia and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). That's why a fatty diet can cause short-term heartburn and also lead to long-term heartburn.
  • Peppermint
    5. Peppermint
    Many foods have peppermint added to them as a flavoring. It's also used in gum, mints, and peppermint tea. The herb can soothe an upset stomach because it relaxes stomach muscles and has a calming and numbing effect. However, peppermint also relaxes the LES. That means peppermint can make symptoms of heartburn worse.
  • Sliced tomatoes
    6. Tomato-Based Foods
    High heartburn offenders include pizza, chili, and spaghetti sauce. The best way to measure the acid content of foods is by a number called the pH. A pH less than 7 is acidic—the lower the pH, the higher the acidity. A fresh tomato may have a pH of 4.3. The pH tends to go up as the tomato ripens. For canned tomatoes and tomato paste, the pH may go down to 3.5. On the other hand, vegetables like celery, lettuce, carrots and spinach have a pH above 5.
  • mixture of wine, liquor, beer glasses on bar
    7. Alcohol
    Alcoholic beverages make the list of frequent heartburn offenders because alcohol increases acid production in your stomach. Alcohol also relaxes your LES. In large amounts, alcohol irritates the lining of your digestive tract. In fact, drinking large amounts of alcohol can bring your digestive process to a halt. If you're going to drink, always do so in moderation.
  • Woman eating pepper
    8. Spicy Foods
    Spicy foods round out the list of frequent heartburn culprits. Common examples are foods made with paprika, vinegar, jalapeno pepper, and chili. But, lots of foods are spicy, and a dish that gives some people heartburn may not affect you at all. Keep a log of how you feel after eating different spicy foods to find what causes problems for you. Also, remember that eating smaller meals and staying upright for three hours after eating can take the edge off many heartburn-causing foods.
  • find-a-5-star-gastroenterologist
8 Foods That Can Cause Heartburn

About The Author

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.