8 Foods That Can Cause Heartburn

Medically Reviewed By Sade Meeks, MS, RD
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Certain foods can cause heartburn, which occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. These foods may increase stomach acid production or relax the muscle that prevents stomach content from entering the esophagus. While avoiding these foods may be sufficient to prevent heartburn, some people may also need over-the-counter or prescription medications to control their symptoms.

Read on to learn more about foods that cause heartburn and how you can treat heartburn.

Overview

A person drinking coffee
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Heartburn occurs when stomach acid seeps out of the stomach and moves up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. This backflow of acid can cause a burning sensation in the chest, also called heartburn.

Any food that increases acid production in the stomach can cause heartburn. Foods that relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that controls the flow between the stomach and esophagus, can produce the same effect.

Avoiding the most common food triggers may help you avoid heartburn. However, if heartburn becomes chronic, it may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Learn more about GERD.

Caffeine

If you get heartburn from drinking coffee or tea, caffeine may be the cause. These drinks can also be highly acidic and stimulate your stomach to produce digestive acids, which can make heartburn worse.

Some people may be able to consume up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day without any harmful side effects. While the amount of caffeine in food and drinks can vary wildly, an 8-ounce cup of coffee generally contains around 95–200 mg of caffeine.

Soft drinks, energy drinks, snack foods, and ice cream can also contain caffeine. Reducing your caffeine intake may help prevent heartburn.

Alcohol

Alcohol increases acid production in your stomach and relaxes the LES. In large amounts, alcohol irritates the lining of your digestive tract.

In fact, researchers have found that drinking large amounts of alcohol can slow your digestive process. Avoiding alcohol or consuming it in moderation may help reduce heartburn and prevent other digestive complications.

Chocolate

Chocolate can cause the LES to stay open longer, leading to heartburn. Additionally, chocolate products consist of cacao pods, which naturally contain caffeine.

Avoiding chocolate, or eating it in moderation, may help relieve heartburn.

Citrus fruit

Citrus fruits, which get their name from their citric acid content, can cause heartburn. A 2021 review of several studies noted that daily consumption of citrus increased the risk for GERD symptoms, including heartburn.

Fruits that have high citric acid content include:

  • lemons
  • limes
  • oranges
  • grapefruits

Fatty foods

High-fat foods can relax the LES and cause heartburn. High-fat foods also digest more slowly, meaning they stay in your stomach for a longer time. This can put pressure on the LES and allow stomach acid to enter the esophagus.

Peppermint

Many foods — like gum, mints, and tea — have peppermint added to them as a flavoring. This herb may be able to soothe an upset stomach because of its relaxing effects on stomach muscles and additional calming and numbing effects.

However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that peppermint may also cause heartburn.

Tomato-based foods

Foods like pizza, chili, or spaghetti sauce that contain tomatoes can cause heartburn. This may be due to the high acid content of tomatoes. Avoiding foods or drinks containing tomatoes may help relieve your symptoms.

Spicy foods

Spicy foods can also cause heartburn. Common examples are foods made with paprika, vinegar, jalapeño pepper, and chili. A 2020 study found that people with GERD experienced heartburn and additional abdominal symptoms after consuming red chili capsules.

Keeping a log of how you feel after eating different spicy foods may help narrow down what foods or ingredients cause problems for you.

Treatments for heartburn

If avoiding trigger foods does not relieve heartburn effectively, you may need additional treatments to control your symptoms.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are three types of over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may help treat heartburn.

Antacids

Antacids help neutralize the stomach acid that causes heartburn. Common antacids include Mylanta, Rolaids, or Tums.

Histamine-2 (H2) blockers

H2 blockers reduce stomach acid production. Common H2 blockers include Tagamet HB, Pepcid, or Axid AR.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

PPIs also reduce stomach acid production but may take a few days to work. Common PPIs include Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec OTC.

Learn more about PPIs.

Additional treatments

If OTC medications are insufficient or your heartburn becomes chronic, your doctor may need to prescribe stronger prescription versions of the medications listed above.

Learn more about treatment options for acid reflux and GERD.

Foods that can help you avoid heartburn

While many foods can trigger heartburn, other foods do not have links to heartburn and other GERD symptoms. Another 2021 review of several studies concluded that a few different foods did not lead to GERD and other types of reflux:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • fiber

Additionally, the review found that vegetarian diets in general did not link to GERD symptoms. It also noted that although fruits generally did not contribute to GERD, citrus intake between meals could trigger symptoms.

Summary

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Certain foods can cause heartburn by increasing stomach acid production or relaxing the LES, allowing acid backflow.

Avoiding trigger foods may be all that is necessary to relieve heartburn. However, some people may also need OTC or prescription medications to control their symptoms.

Contact your doctor to discuss additional dietary or clinical options to control heartburn.

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Medical Reviewer: Sade Meeks, MS, RD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 10
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