7 Foods That Cause Acid Reflux

These foods and drinks that cause acid reflux are pretty popular in Western diets.

Acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux or GER) happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Many people have acid reflux once in a while. In some cases, acid reflux may cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

When acid reflux causes repeated symptoms that are bothersome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be diagnosed. According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), GERD is the disease caused by the flow of gastric contents into the esophagus. Heartburn is one of the symptoms of GERD. And acid reflux is the reason why patients have GERD.

When it comes to GERD, there are certain foods or drinks that trigger symptoms, says the NIDDK. The best strategy is to avoid these foods if possible.

In Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure, authors Jamie Koufman, MD, Jordan Stern, MD, and French master chef Marc Bauer share foods they consider triggers, based on medical literature and their experience treating thousands of patients.

Chocolate

Bad news for chocolate lovers as this favorite food is a trigger for acid reflux. According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), chocolate contains a chemical called methylxanthine from the cocoa tree, which is similar to caffeine, a trigger for GERD (see below). Chocolate also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which causes acid reflux.

In a 2021 study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, chocolate was identified as a triggering food by over half of GERD patients enrolled in the study.

Soda

Soda and other carbonated beverages are considered a trigger food of acid reflux. According to ASGE, fizzy drinks cause gaseous distension of the stomach (bloating) which increases pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter causing acid reflux.

In addition, a 2021 study in Preventative Nurtrition and Food Science, found a significant relationship between reflux disease and carbonated beverages, including soda, aerated, and soft drinks during their systemic review of exisiting research.

Fried Food

Fried food is another culprit in acid reflex. The fats in fried foods relax the lower esophageal sphincter and cause a delay in stomach emptying—both factors leading to acid reflux, says the ASGE.

In the 2021 study mentioned above fried foods were identified as a triggering food by over half of GERD patients enrolled in the study.

Alcohol

Beer, liquor, and wine are believed to contribute to reflux. The NIDDK lists alcohol as a food to avoid if you experience GERD.

Also, previous research found that intake of alcohol reduces esophageal sphincter pressure and increases esophageal exposure to gastric juices.

However, another study also done in 2021 cited several studies that found no significant relationship between drinking alcohol and GERD.

Abstain if you can; otherwise, have only one cocktail or glass of wine a day, and completely avoid acidic mixers like orange juice or soda.

High-fat Dairy Products

All high-fat foods cause reflux, according to the ASGE. And cheese, while a great source of protein and calcium, is often high in saturated fat. High fat foods are on the NIDDK's list of foods that trigger symtpoms of GERD.

Use a small amount of these foods as flavoring, but not as main ingredients. Low fat is better than no fat.

High-fat Meats

Acid reflux is caused by high-fat cuts of meat—beef, pork, lamb—which stay longer in the stomach and increase the chance of acid reflux. Like all high fat foods, their fat content can trigger acid reflux symptoms.

Try cutting back to a lean cut of meat and eat it only once a week.

Caffeine

Caffeine from coffee or other sources is on the NIDDK's list of foods that trigger symptoms of acid reflux. This is likely because, according to the ASGE, caffeinated beverages relax the lower esophageal sphincter.

However, there's some conflicting science as a 2014 meta-analysis published in Diseases of the Esophagus found no significant association between coffee intake and GERD.

If you experience symptoms of acid reflux with coffee, try switching to low caffeine tea such as chamomile, or you can have one cup of green tea a day if it is lightly brewed.

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