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What Foods Cause Heartburn?

Wondering what foods cause heartburn? Even though they differ from person to person, heartburn attacks are the worst. Some foods that may cause a heartburn attack may very well be enjoyable for others. However, there are certain foods that are known to cause them in a large majority.

What Is a Heartburn?

Heartburn is described as a burning sensation that occurs in the lower part of the chest area, which, at times, can be quite painful. This is a symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition wherein the stomach acid escapes into the esophagus, which is a tube that delivers the beverages and the food to the stomach.

Typically, stomach acid should not be escaping into the esophagus as there is a barrier called the lower esophageal sphincter. This is a ring-like muscle that stays naturally closed but opens when you swallow or belch.

What Causes Heartburn?

When people have acid reflux, this muscle gets weakened. For this reason, people experience heartburn. While diet does play a major role in causing heartburn, there are other factors that can trigger it too. These factors include:

  • Consuming too much food

If you eat a large volume of food, irrespective of what it is or how often you eat it, the mere high quantity of it can trigger heartburn.

  • Eating on the go

Sometimes we are in an absolute hurry and end up just stuffing our face with food to save time. Nutritionists suggest that when you eat your food in a hurry or on the go, that is grabbing fast food, eating it too quickly and so on, can multiply the chances of heartburn.

What Foods Cause Heartburn?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what heartburn is, let us list some of the top foods that are known to trigger heartburns for several people.

  • High-Fat Foods

It is a known fact that food with high levels of fat can potentially cause heartburn. There are two ways this can happen. Firstly, these kinds of food may relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which then causes the acid to escape into the esophagus, and ultimately, heartburn.

Second, foods with high levels of fat could stimulate the release of the hormone called cholecystokinin. This hormone also has the ability to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, thus causing acid reflux.

Additionally, this hormone encourages the food to stay much longer in your stomach to be digested better. Unfortunately, this substantially increases the risk of acid reflux, and thus, heartburn.

  • Citrus Juices

In a study, it was found that 67% of the 382 participants experienced heartburn just after consuming orange juice. In another study with about 400 people, 73% of them experienced heartburn after drinking grapefruit juice right after the orange juice.

What these studies have suggested is that the level of acid in these citrus juices may have potentially been responsible for triggering heartburn. While the number of people who experienced heartburn after drinking citrus juices was substantial, it still does not affect everyone. Furthermore, it is not exactly clear how these juices can possibly trigger heartburn.

  • Spicy Foods

Spicy foods are well known for triggering heartburn. Most spicy foods contain a compound known as capsaicin. This compound can slow down the rate of digestion, which means that the food will stay in your stomach for a longer period. Because of this, it becomes a high-risk factor for heartburn.

Additionally, spicy food, in itself, can irritate the already inflamed esophagus. This could worsen the heartburn symptoms, which is why it is always best to reduce the intake of spicy foods if you easily experience heartburn.

  • Salt

In moderation, salt doesn’t cause any harm. However, consuming table salt or foods that are very salty could potentially increase acid reflux, which is a risk factor for heartburn.

In a study, it was found that people who use table salt in their food had close to 70% higher risk of acid reflux than those who never added salt. The same study also found that people who constantly consume highly salty foods more than thrice a week had a 50% higher chance of having acid reflux than people who do not consume highly salty foods.

That being said, there is no clear understanding of how the level of salt intake could increase the risk of acid reflux.

  • Whole Milk

While milk is consumed to treat symptoms of heartburn, consuming whole milk does the exact opposite. Research has shown that whole milk has the capability to increase the production of stomach acid, which is a high-risk factor for heartburn.

In a study of about 400 people who suffered from heartburn, it was found that 38% of them reported having symptoms of heartburn after drinking whole milk. It was suggested that the cause of the heartburn from whole milk was most likely due to the elevated fat content in the milk.

So, if you are prone to having heartburn when you consume milk, it is best to either reduce the consumption or avoid it altogether. Alternatively, you can also consider switching to other forms of milk, like soy milk or almond milk.

  • Onions

Eating onions, especially raw onions, are known to trigger heartburn. This is because onions have the ability to relax the lower esophageal sphincter that causes acid reflux and trigger heartburn.

In a study, people were given a plain hamburger to consume on day one and another hamburger with raw onions on top on day two. It was found that the symptoms of heartburn worsened when people ate the burger with the raw onions in comparison to the burger without the onions.

Furthermore, onions are a highly rich source of fermentable fiber. This fiber could potentially cause belching, and belching is known to aggravate the symptoms of acid reflux.


Knowing what foods cause heartburn is imperative if you want to steer clear from this painful experience. While the exact reasons as to why certain foods cause heartburn are unclear, some are extremely obvious, such as eating fatty foods and spicy foods. These are known to cause heartburn. So, it is best to either stay away from such foods or minimize your intake of them.

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