“How hot would you like that?” the server at my favorite Thai restaurant
asks. My taste buds whisper: fiery. My belly moans, What about
I love a hot, spicy meal. But an hour later, like many people, I can end up
wishing I’d never lifted my fork. The culprit? Heartburn and acid reflux.
Officially known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, acid reflux
occurs when food and stomach acids escape up into the esophagus through the
valve at the top of the stomach. That causes the burning sensation that can
sometimes rise up into the throat, known as heartburn.
You exercise to feel the burn -- but not that kind of burn. Muscles, yes. Stomach, no. But when you go running, do aerobics, or go to an indoor cycling class, there it is: heartburn. It's not just your legs that are churning, it's your last meal as well, churning right up into your throat. Your exercise heartburn has even made you hesitate to work out and made you wonder: What's going on here?
Surveys of heartburn sufferers suggest spicy foods are among of the worst
offenders. Whether spicy foods deserve their reputation is controversial,
I’ve discovered. Many different foods can trigger heartburn.But luckily, you
don’t have to say no to Chinese kung pao chicken, Mexican salsa, or fiery Thai
noodle dishes. A few practical tips can help you put out the fire of heartburn
before it starts.
Preventing Heartburn: Recognize Your Own Heartburn Triggers
Researchers have compiled a long list of foods that seem to trigger
heartburn. These include alcohol, citrus fruits and juices, carbonated
beverages, coffee and caffeine, chocolate, tomato sauce, fatty foods, mint,
and, of course, spicy foods.
“But no single food stands out,” says Anish Sheth, MD, assistant professor
of medicine at Yale University and co-author of What’s Your Poo Telling
You? “For some people, the same food can cause problems after one meal but
not after others.”
Dispelling Myths About Heartburn Triggers
In theory, foods most likely to cause acid reflux and symptoms of heartburn
are those that cause the valve at the top of the stomach to relax. Mint,
alcohol, and caffeinated coffee, among other foods, are believed to have that
Yet when gastroenterologist Lauren B. Gerson, MD, an associate professor of
medicine at Stanford University, and colleagues looked at trials designed to
test the effects of these and other particular foods on heartburn symptoms,
they found very little evidence to support the associations.
Even spicy foods may not deserve their reputation as being the worst
culprits. Sure they taste hot, but that doesn’t mean they cause acid reflux.
They may simply irritate the stomach.
“Still,” Gerson says, “it’s commonsense that if a particular food happens to
cause you problems, the best advice is to avoid it.”
Since even heartburn sufferers can be misled by popular misconceptions,
experts recommend keeping a food diary for several weeks.
“As soon as heartburn strikes, jot down what and how much you ate,” suggests
dietitian Elaine Magee, author of Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Acid
Reflux. “Also keep track of foods you thought might cause trouble but
don’t. That way you won’t have to eliminate foods unnecessarily.”