Having heartburn is a miserable experience. When you feel that painful, burning sensation in your lower chest area, you know you’re in for a rough time. Diet has an important part to play in preventing heartburn – and in causing it! Certain foods can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that usually stays closed. When this muscular barrier is relaxed, stomach acid can escape into the esophagus and have you reaching for the antacid tablets.
There are quite a few foods that have been linked to heartburn. If you are a sufferer it may help you to read this list and see if there are any on here that you consume regularly.
One of the more surprising entries on the list is mint, as it is usually known to soothe digestive issues. Peppermint and spearmint in particular are thought to cause heartburn. Researchers think that spearmint causes heartburn by irritating the lining of the esophagus, not by relaxing the muscles, although there is limited evidence that mint can make heartburn worse at all.
In a study of around 400 people with heartburn, 73 per cent experienced heartburn after drinking orange or grapefruit juice. It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but it’s thought that the acid in the juices has a part to play.
This entry probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to heartburn sufferers. Spicy foods are often the culprit because they contain a substance called capsaicin, which slows down the digestive rate. This means that food stays in the stomach longer, which increases the risk of heartburn. Spicy foods can also irritate your esophagus, which can make things worse.
A study showed that people who ate salty food at least three times a week had a 50 percent higher risk of reflux than those who never added salt. Again, it’s not understood yet how salt intake can have an influence on heartburn.
Raw onions can be a trigger for heartburn, but cooked ones can contribute to it as well. One study had their participants eat a plain hamburger one day, and one loaded with onions the next day. The onion-smothered burger seemed to significantly worsen heartburn symptoms compared to the plain one. Onions also contain a high level of fermentable fibre, which may cause belching and promote acid reflux symptoms.
Chocolate is often touted as a beneficial food, but unfortunately it’s not for heartburn sufferers. Like other high-fat foods, chocolate can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Another reason may be because chocolate with a high cocoa content contains serotonin, which may relax the muscle as well. Other compounds in chocolate that may have an effect are theobromine and caffeine.
Alcohol is also a well-known contributor to heartburn, even if your intake is moderate. It can relax that important esophageal muscle to allow the acid to escape, and it can also increase the amount of stomach acid you produce.