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Heartburn: Foods to Avoid

Need heartburn relief? Here are top foods to avoid -- and why.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

You wake in the night, your chest burning. Sometimes the pain is so intense you think it's a heart attack.

For the 60 million Americans who get heartburnat least once a month, the pain isn't just a small inconvenience. Heartburn can affect almost everything you do, keeping you from sleeping at night and functioning well during the day.

Heartburn: Why It Happens

A muscular ring between the end of the esophagus and the beginning of the stomach normally keeps stomach acid where it belongs -- in the stomach. But in people with frequent heartburn, this area, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES), may not prevent stomach acid from splashing up into the esophagus.

Does this mean you just have to live with heartburn? No! A recent survey conducted by the National Heartburn Alliance (NHBA) revealed that 92% of frequent heartburn sufferers point to food as the primary cause of their digestive discomfort.

So, if a change in diet can help you avoid heartburn, which foods should you choose to lose to help head off the pain?

Heartburn Relief: Food Facts

Though heartburn triggers can vary from person to person, certain food and drinks are more prone to allowing stomach acid to splash up into your esophagus, including:

  • Meats. Ground beef, marbled sirloin, chicken nugget-style, and chicken/buffalo wings.

  • Fats, Oils & Sweets. Chocolate, regular corn and potato chips, high-fat butter cookies, brownies, doughnuts, creamy and oily salad dressings, fried or fatty food in general.

  • Fruits, Vegetables & Juice. Orange juice, lemon, lemonade, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, tomato, mashed potatoes, French fries, raw onion, potato salad.

  • Other Beverages. Liquor, wine, coffee, and tea.

  • Grains. Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with marinara sauce.

  • Dairy. Sour cream, milk shake, ice cream, regular cottage cheese.

Foods and beverages like these contribute to heartburn (and the more serious GERD) by lessening the effectiveness of the LES to keep stomach contents in the stomach. Smoking also plays a large role, and carbonated beverages should be added to the list as they can put pressure on the stomach, forcing stomach acid back up into the esophagus.

Avoid the foods and beverages above -- and eat smaller meals -- and you may decrease the amount of reflux from your stomach into the esophagus.

Yet changing what you eat isn't the only way to avoid the horrors of heartburn, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make as well.

3 Heartburn-Preventing Lifestyle Changes

While watching what you eat and drink can help reduce your occurrences of heartburn, there are a few changes you can make in everyday life that can go hand in hand.

Watch Portion Size. Larger meals and higher-fat meals tend to stay in the stomach longer before moving into the small intestine, so the LES and esophagus are potentially exposed to stomach contents/acid for a longer time, according to Pat Baird, RD, with the National Heartburn Alliance.

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Heartburn: An Inside Guide

Learn what's causing your burn -- and what you can do to stop it.

A prime heartburn trigger for me is: