Gut instinct isn’t the best way to overcome stomach problems. If you have acid reflux, you already know there are foods to avoid. Still, some people aren’t bothered by spicy food but endure heartburn after drinking peppermint tea. Acid reflux has many causes because everyone responds differently to the same meal. Just knowing which foods trigger your reflux can help you reduce recurrence of this pesky problem.
When Tummies Attack
Stretching from your throat to your stomach, the esophagus is about eight inches long. Lined with smooth muscles, this tube contracts and sends whatever you swallow speeding toward your belly. A valve acts like a stopper in a tub––opening to allow passage past the esophagus. Ideally this valve should clamp shut after what you’ve consumed reaches your stomach. When this doesn’t happen, digestive juices can flow backward into the esophagus and even the throat. This is about as pleasant as if your drainpipe bubbled back up into your shower.
Acid reflux has many causes but the average person can experience it for up to an hour a day while being completely unaware of it. When it’s recurrent and affects your quality of life, adjusting your diet and learning which acid reflux foods to avoid is a crucial first step. That’s because chronic acid reflux including the regurgitation of your stomach’s contents, coughing, or trouble swallowing are all symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. This condition requires treatment.
Eat, drink, but be wary
Although people often focus on the food they eat, acid reflux is also caused by many different beverages. Alcoholic beverages can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, that important valve separating esophagus from stomach. Plus, alcoholic beverages interact directly with your stomach and esophagus, which is why heavy drinkers are at risk for GERD. Although an examination of studies that looked at links between alcohol and acid reflux found most supported this connection, a few did not. Moderate drinking may not be as problematic. If you have problems after enjoying a drink or two with dinner, you may want to cut back. Similarly, besides beer and alcoholic seltzer water, carbonated beverages in general have been linked to acid reflux. This is because the act of belching after drinking a soda also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. Coffee and citrus beverages can cause acid reflux. Mint can irritate the esophagus lining, and peppermint tea has been linked to acid reflux.
Of course you’ll also want to know which foods to avoid if you have acid reflux. Fried food (like french fries) and high-fat food (like ice cream), and even some salad dressings along with certain cuts of meat have all been blamed for acid reflux. Citrus fruits like oranges or lemons have also been blamed. Even tomatoes can cause acid reflux in some people. Older studies linked raw onions and chocolate to acid reflux. Regardless of what studies suggest, common sense is key. If you notice the condition recurring when you eat certain foods, it’s a good idea to reduce your consumption of them. Still, there are surprises. One study that looked at spicy foods linked them to GERD. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili powder and chili peppers, has been linked to acid reflux. Yet a different study found that regular consumption –– particularly in foods that mixed with rice––actually lowered the incidents of acid reflux. Beyond any individual food or beverage, if acid reflux is a problem, losing weight and lowering your consumption of all food may pay higher dividends than eliminating two or three items that cause acid reflux. Changing your diet can improve your health far more than just figuring out which foods to avoid if you have acid reflux.
Written by John Bankston
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