Food is an essential part of our lives. Without it, life would be even possible so now it comes down to what food you are eating. There are all sorts of foods, healthy, unhealthy, etc., and then there are some which cause acid reflux.
1.1. What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a condition where the contents of your stomach, particularly the stomach acid and sometimes the partially digested food, move in the backward direction and find their way up to the oesophagus.
This regurgitation can lead to various uncomfortable symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, and an acid taste in the mouth.
On the other hand, when GER causes repeated symptoms or leads to complications over time it forms a more severe and long-lasting condition, known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The two terms GER and GERD are often used interchangeably.
1.2. Acid Reflux in the Common Population
Acid reflux is a common condition that affects a significant portion of the population. It is estimated that about 20% of the population in the United States experiences acid reflux symptoms at least once a week.
1.3. Importance of Identifying What Food Causes Acid Reflux
It becomes an important part of crucially managing the condition effectively by identifying the specific foods that trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms apart from causing the reflux from ground zero.
By understanding dietary triggers not only individuals can make informed choices about their food intake and minimize symptoms but at the same time it makes them improve their overall well-being and radiate a positive & strong outlook towards life.
2. Understanding the Topic, the Acid Reflux
2.1. The Digestive System
Our bodies need to break down the food, extract nutrients from it, and at the end eliminate the waste products which is done through a complex series of events by the digestive process.
It begins in the mouth, where food is chewed and mixed with saliva, which contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of carbohydrates. From the mouth, the food travels down a muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach, through the esophagus.
The food is mixed with the gastric juices, primarily hydrochloric acid (HCl), pepsin, and other enzymes as it enters the stomach through the oesophagus, where the gastric juices help extract the proteins by breaking the food down into smaller peptides and the same time provide an acidic environment which makes the digestion easy.
A semi-liquid substance called chyme is formed by the stomach’s muscular contractions which further mixes and churns the food forming the substance.
The chyme then passes through the lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), which is a ring of muscles that separates the oesophagus from the stomach. The LES acts as a barrier to prevent stomach acid and contents from flowing back into the oesophagus by closing itself like a valve. From the stomach, the chyme enters the small intestine, where further digestion and absorption of nutrients occur.
The further process of digestion is not necessarily important for the part of the acid reflux discussion for this article.
2.2 Mechanism of Acid Reflux & Symptoms
Acid reflux occurs when the lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that separates the oesophagus from the stomach, fails to close tightly which opens a path for undigested food and acid other than the forward path.
The failed valve allows stomach acid and contents to flow backwards i.e. back into the oesophagus, leading to symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and chest pain indicating acid reflux condition.
Other symptoms include a sudden taste of bitterness in your mouth, coughing, sore throat, and excessive belching that goes on for a while among other symptoms mentioned above.
2.3. Dietary Impact on Acid Reflux
In the management of acid reflux symptoms, a crucial and significant role is played by the diet.. Certain foods can relax the LES, increase stomach acid production, or irritate the oesophagus, exacerbating acid reflux symptoms. Understanding the impact of diet on acid reflux is crucial for symptom control and proceeding towards a healthy life with a positive outlook and outgoing attitude.
3. Causes of Acid Reflux
Being obese means you have an excess of fat around the abdomen region which in turn means that the pressure on your abdomen increases, forcing your stomach to get squeezed due to the pressure and forcing more fluid like acid to travel back while the LES weakens at the same time & reach your oesophagus making you experience a situation of acid reflux.
Smoking, from tobacco to cannabis, is responsible for causing acid reflux in a number of ways,
3.2.1. LES Weakens
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscles located between the esophagus and the stomach which in simple terms acts as a valve, allowing food to enter the stomach and preventing stomach acid and other liquids from flowing back into the esophagus.
Smoking has been shown to relax and weaken the LES, making it less effective in keeping stomach acid where it belongs. As a result, stomach acid can reflux back into the oesophagus more easily, leading to acid reflux.
3.2.2. Acid in Stomach Increases
The production of stomach acid is triggered by smoking. When a person smokes, nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco can stimulate the stomach to produce more acid and thus increase the overall concentration of the same in the stomach. The now increased acid produced in the stomach can overwhelm the weakened LES and contribute to acid reflux symptoms.
3.2.3. Saliva Production Reduced
Saliva plays an important role in neutralizing the stomach acid in the esophagus and smoking is known to reduce saliva production. Thus, decreased saliva production can result in less effective acid clearance from the oesophagus, leading to prolonged exposure to stomach acid and in turn increased acid reflux symptoms
3.3. LES’s Dysfunction
Dysfunction of the LES is a common underlying cause of acid reflux. Factors such as a weak LES tone, impaired relaxation of the sphincter, or increased pressure in the stomach can contribute to acid reflux episodes as the valve would not be closing strongly to prevent the backward flow of acids into the oesophagus.
3.4. Hiatal Hernia
When a portion of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, a condition of hiatal hernia occurs. This condition can weaken the LES, making it easier for acid to flow back into the oesophagus and leading to acid reflux symptoms.
4. What Foods Causes Acid Reflux
There are a variety of food items that can cause acid reflux or increase the symptoms of acid reflux. These include the following:
4.1. Citrus Fruits
As of now, we understand that increased acid production in the stomach can trigger acid reflux thus it becomes important to look out for citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, which are highly acidic. The high acidity can irritate the oesophagus and trigger acid reflux symptoms in susceptible individuals due to the aggregated acid.
Individuals with acid reflux should be cautious about consuming citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits, as well as their juices.
4.2.Spicy and Fried Food
The production of stomach acid can be stimulated by spicy foods, including hot peppers and spices like chilli powder and black pepper, and at the same time, they are responsible for relaxing the LES.
Fried foods, which are high in fat, can delay stomach emptying, putting additional pressure on the LES as the stomach takes more than usual to empty.
Spicy and fried foods like hot wings, curry dishes, deep-fried snacks, and greasy fast food should be avoided by or limited by individuals with acid reflux.
4.3. Oily and Fatty Food
Fatty and oily foods, such as fried foods, high-fat meats, and rich desserts, can delay stomach emptying and relax the LES, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux episodes just like in the case with friend food which is more of an extension of oily.
Examples of high-fat and oily foods to limit or avoid include French fries, fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, creamy sauces, and buttery baked goods.
4.4. Mint and Peppermint
LES can be relaxed by mint and peppermint, often used to flavour foods, candies, and chewing gums, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the oesophagus and exacerbating acid reflux symptoms.
Individuals with acid reflux should be cautious with mint-flavoured items such as peppermint tea, breath mints, chewing gum, and mint chocolate products.
4.5. Onions and Garlic along with Other Spices
Onions, garlic, and certain spices, including cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and cloves, can stimulate acid production and relax the LES, contributing to acid reflux symptoms in susceptible individuals.
It is advisable for individuals with acid reflux to limit or avoid raw onions, garlic-infused dishes, spicy curries, and meals heavily seasoned with the aforementioned spices.
4.6. Tomatoes and Tomatoes-Based Products
Lycopene, a compound that can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms in some individuals, is contained in the tomatoes which are acidic in nature and thus acid reflux promoter.
Tomato-based products such as tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, and canned tomatoes can be potential triggers for acid reflux symptoms.
4.7. Caffeine and Chocolates
Caffeine and chocolate contain substances like theobromine, which can relax the LES and stimulate acid production, leading to acid reflux symptoms. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, and some sodas, can also exacerbate acid reflux.
Foods and beverages to be cautious about include chocolate bars, cocoa-based desserts, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and caffeinated sodas.
Consuming alcohol in large amounts always paves the way for serious health issues and one of these issues can be acid reflux. Alcohol can relax the LES and thus promote the backward flow of acids and undigested food, and at the same time trigger more acid production in the stomach.
Apart from the above-mentioned food acid reflux can be caused by other food as well depending upon the individual to individual as everyone has a different body type and tolerance. It becomes important to notice triggers and what food causes repetitive episodes of acid reflux in your body.
5. Food That Helps with Acid Reflux
While it is important to take care of the food that causes acid reflux, it becomes important to note down the food that helps with acid reflux as well. There are certain foods that you might wanna keep handy to help with acid reflux.
5.1. Non-Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits might have higher acidic levels but on the other hand, noncitrus fruits have lower acidic levels which makes them more suitable for individuals with acid reflux. Non-Citrus fruits have lower acidity levels, fruits like bananas, pears, apples, melons, etc can really help with the acidity levels.
Non-citrus fruits are rich in dietary fibers. Fiber is known to aid with digestion and promote regular bowel movements which is really helpful for the stomach and thus helps in preventing acid reflux.
Non-citrus fruits such as berries are even known to have antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation in the oesophagus and protect the oesophagal lining from damage caused by stomach acid.
Apart from that, non-citrus fruits are always a better option than citrus fruits when you know you have the problem of acid reflux or have a history of the same.
Most vegetables have low acidity levels, high dietary fibers and are rich in antioxidants. As we know that all these properties aid in getting relief from acid reflux, it becomes important to incorporate vegetables into your diet.
Some vegetables, such as leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce), cucumbers, and broccoli, have alkaline properties that may help neutralize stomach acid. Consuming alkaline foods can help balance the body’s pH levels and reduce the acidity in the digestive system.
Vegetables with high water content, such as cucumbers and celery, can contribute to hydration, which can help dilute stomach acid and reduce the risk of acid reflux episodes.
5.3. Lean Protein Intake
Lean protein sources, such as skinless poultry, fish, and legumes, are low in fat compared to fatty meats and high-fat dairy products. Fat takes longer to digest and can delay gastric emptying, potentially contributing to acid reflux by putting pressure on the LES.
Protein is essential for tissue repair and maintenance. The oesophagal lining can be damaged by stomach acid during acid reflux episodes. Consuming adequate protein helps support the healing of the oesophagal tissues.
It is vital for maintaining muscle function, including the tone of the LES. A healthy and functional LES can better prevent the backward flow of stomach acid.
Lean protein sources are typically non-acidic, which means they are less likely to trigger acid reflux symptoms compared to acidic foods like citrus fruits and vinegar.
There are several reasons why acid reflux can be caused and there are several foods that can cause acid reflux. Some of these food items include citrus food, spicy & fried food, oily & fatty food, mint & peppermint, nicotine, tomatoes, onions & some spices, and alcohol apart from other foods which might not be accepted by your body.
A good and healthy lifestyle is something every human aspires to have and thus it becomes necessary to take some steps in that direction.