The worst foods for acid reflux

Acid reflux, with its accompanying heartburn pain, is no joke. Sure, it's the fodder for all kinds of silly TV commercials, but when the pain and discomfort strikes, nobody's laughing. According to Healthline, acid reflux occurs when stomach acid reverses direction and backs up into the esophagus. Something called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES (stop giggling at the name, we're not in 3rd grade here!) is supposed to prevent that from happening, but if the LES is weakened or damaged, it can't do its job properly so the stomach acid it should be containing may instead leak out of the stomach and make the upward journey to the back of your throat.

There are all kinds of OTC meds you can swallow to take the edge off this discomfort, of course, and even hard candies can help, since they increase saliva production and saliva can help to neutralize stomach acid. Still, if you want to avoid acid reflux altogether, the best cure is always prevention. If you're able to identify and then avoid the foods most likely to trigger your reflux attacks, you won't have to worry so much about after-meal misery. Everyone's body is different, so you'll need to figure out what foods are most likely to cause problems for you, but the following foods are among the common culprits known to cause heartburn in many people.

Carbonated drinks can cause problems

Daniel Mausner, M.D., section head of gastroenterology at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Center, N.Y., spoke to WebMD on the uncomfortable topic of heartburn, and advised that carbonated beverages are best avoided by anyone prone to this problem. According to Mausner, carbonation can cause gastric distension, which puts pressure on the LES and can lead to acid reflux. 

There have been several studies linking the consumption of carbonated beverages to heartburn, including one cited by Healthline that showed a 69 percent increase in reflux symptoms among subjects who consumed drinks with carbonation. Sodas and beer are obvious culprits, to be sure, but even the bubbles in sparkling water, spiked seltzer, or the finest French champagne will also lead to that "full of air" feeling that frequently precedes reflux pain.

Fatty foods are best avoided

Foods that are high in fat are known heartburn triggers. This included not only "bad fats" like greasy, fried foods but also healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, and cheese. Fatty foods may cause the LES to relax, which will allow stomach acid to leak out and cause reflux. 

Foods with a high-fat content also release a hormone called cholecystokinin which not only causes the relaxation of the LES, but also leads to foods remaining in the stomach longer so as to be better digested. Unfortunately, the longer the digestion process, the more acid is produced, and more acid equals more opportunity for reflux to develop. Robynne Chutkan, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C , told WebMD that, while you might not need to cut fatty foods out of your diet altogether, it is best to consume them on an empty stomach — and not to overindulge.

Onions often cause issues

Onions are another type of food that helps to relax the LES, which is a reflux risk factor. Onions are also high in the type of fermentable fiber that can lead to belching. Not only can belching be embarrassing, at least if you're eating in company, but it can also aggravate acid reflux. 

Healthline referenced one study where participants ate a plain hamburger on one day and a burger with onions the next day. The test subjects found that their heartburn symptoms after eating the burger with onions were far worse than those they experienced from eating the burger alone. While onions add a lot of flavor, they really don't have all that many nutrients, so they are one vegetable you could probably pass on without missing out on any great health benefits. Plus, you won't have to pack a bottle of Listerine in your purse every time you go out to dinner, since no more bad breath from this notoriously stinky vegetable.

Tomatoes are too acidic

Do you get heartburn after eating a big bowl of chili? Well, it may be the spices in the chili giving you problems, but there's also a real chance that the tomatoes may be your reflux trigger. While tomatoes are undoubtedly healthy, they are also surprisingly acidic, If you are prone to acid reflux, you should be careful not to overconsume not only raw tomatoes, but also any tomato-y products like marinara sauce, ketchup, and especially pizza.

In fact, a greasy pizza with onions and extra (full-fat) cheese, washed down with a soda or a beer, would pretty much guarantee the worst reflux attack imaginable. If this is your idea of a perfect meal — well, just be forewarned. Perhaps limit yourself to just a slice or two, but even so, probably best to make sure you've got a ton of Tums on hand.