11 Foods That Cause Heartburn and How to Soothe and Relieve It

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 12/23/2022

What is heartburn?

About 20% of the US population deals with the bloating, burping, and discomfort that comes with heartburn. Foods that cause heartburn include pizza, fatty foods, citrus, and other foods.
About 20% of the US population deals with the bloating, burping, and discomfort that comes with heartburn. Foods that cause heartburn include pizza, fatty foods, citrus, and other foods.

About 20% of the US population deals with the bloating, burping, and discomfort that comes with heartburn, but what can you do about it? A good start could be limiting the consumption of foods that cause heartburn

A common cause of heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a long-term acid reflux condition that affects 20% of the population. Symptoms occur when the stomach leaks acidic contents into the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach) because the ring-shaped muscles that should prevent this backflow are no longer working properly. 

GERD may lead to nausea, a nasty taste in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, coughing, a sore throat, or a tight sensation in your chest. The following foods can cause these heartburn symptoms, so limiting their consumption can help you manage your condition.

Which foods can lead to heartburn?

Fatty/fried foods: Heavy foods like those that are fatty or fried have a tendency to linger for longer periods in your digestive system. This raises the risk of the stomach leaking acid up through the esophagus. 

Pizza: This late-night favorite has several ingredients that can irritate your esophagus. It is high in fat, salt, and sometimes spicy ingredients, including tomato sauce. Any of these can trigger heartburn.

Citrus products: Orange juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and other citrus products can cause heartburn. Their pH value is very low, so they are very acidic and can irritate your esophagus. 

Onions: Onions, especially raw ones, can trigger heartburn. A lot of raw onions in a meal can lead to problems with digestion. The resulting inflamed feeling of heartburn after eating is not the reminder you want of a great meal you have recently had. 

Pepper spices: Hot spices can trigger symptoms of heartburn. Examples include chili powder and white, black, or cayenne peppers. Spices can irritate the stomach and cause heartburn symptoms. 

Peppermint: Peppermint, spearmint, and other mints may lead to heartburn. This may be surprising because mints are commonly thought to ease several physical symptoms such as an upset stomach (think about your dinner mints). However, some evidence shows that mints may loosen the muscles that seal the esophagus. This can allow acid to enter it. 

Vinegar: Vinegar has the same effect on the GI system as citrus. It is one of many ingredients that can intensify your heartburn symptoms. 

Chocolate: This deliciously sweet treat is not so sweet after it triggers heartburn. Chocolate contains caffeine and cacao, which can lessen the tightness of the esophagus, allowing acid to flow up and increasing heartburn symptoms. 

Alcohol: Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons this popular drug can cause you to feel heartburn symptoms. It causes a buildup of the acid content inside of your stomach, leading to overflow into the esophagus. It also weakens the esophagus, which makes it harder to keep your food (and stomach acid) down. 

Potato chips and processed snacks: Processed snacks are usually high in fat and cause esophagus-irritating bile to be released into your GI tract. Their fat content prolongs digestion, so food will sit in the stomach longer, leading to the generation of more acid.

Cheese: Cheese is a dairy product that is high in fat. High-fat dairy products can aggravate heartburn symptoms.

Ways to treat heartburn

In addition to avoiding these triggering foods, there are other things you can do to keep heartburn from ruining your day. Numerous non-prescription meds can help with your symptoms. They are divided into the following categories:

  • An antacid will help with stomach acid neutralization. Relief can occur pretty quickly, though antacids will not be able to remedy any damage done to the esophagus by elevated levels of stomach acid. 
  • The amount of stomach acid in the stomach can be reduced with H2 blockers. Even though they are not fast-acting like antacids, the relief they bring can last longer. 
  • Proton pump inhibitors also reduce acid. Popular brands include Prevacid and Prilosec.

Of course, if over-the-counter items aren’t working for you, you should see your doctor. You may need testing and a prescription solution. If the symptoms just will not go away, you may even need to be evaluated by a digestive system specialist: a doctor known as a gastroenterologist.


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Medically Reviewed on 12/23/2022

Banyan Treatment Centers: "Connection Between Alcohol and Heartburn."

Harvard Health Publishing: "What to eat when you have chronic heartburn."

John Hopkins Health: "GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)."

Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn."

PRZEGLAD Gastroenterolgic: "Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease: the role of diet."

Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig Journal: "Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms related to lifestyle and diet."