Gastrointestinal5 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux

5 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux

There’s nothing worse than enjoying a nice meal, only to feel a burning sensation in your chest shortly after. For millions of people with acid reflux, this scenario is an all-too-common occurrence. It’s no surprise that the foods we eat have a major impact on our bodies, especially for those with acid reflux. But why do certain foods cause acid reflux symptoms, and which foods should you avoid? In this article, we’ll take a look at how certain foods can make your symptoms worse, and give you our list of the 5 worst foods for acid reflux.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common condition that causes burning pain, known as heartburn, in the lower chest area. This happens when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, and at least 15 million as often as daily.

At the entrance to your stomach, there is a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This ring of muscle is responsible for opening and closing to allow food to pass into the stomach. If the LES does not close all the way, or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as burning and chest discomfort.

Acid reflux can occur in anyone, at any time. However, if you have acid reflux symptoms more than two times a week, you may have acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What Causes Acid Reflux?

One of the most common causes of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality known as a hiatal hernia. This is a condition in which the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm (the muscle that separates your stomach from your chest). In a normal body, the diaphragm helps keep acid in the stomach. However, if you have a hiatal hernia, acid can travel up into your esophagus and cause symptoms of acid reflux.

Several risk factors can lead to the development of acid reflux disease. Oftentimes, these risk factors include lifestyle factors, which means that can be more easily controlled. Some of these factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
  • Smoking
  • Being pregnant
  • Taking certain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or blood pressure medications
  • Low levels of physical exercise

As previously mentioned, one of the most common causes of acid reflux, aside from a hiatal hernia, is the foods that you eat. Food and other dietary habits have been shown to cause “flare-ups” of acid reflux symptoms. Next, we’ll take a look at how foods can cause acid reflux, and which ones you should avoid.

5 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux

5 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux

Some of the foods you are eating might be causing your acid reflux symptoms. Certain foods can irritate the LES, which prolongs the amount of time food spends sitting in the stomach. This can cause the stomach to produce excessive amounts of acid, which can be passed up into the esophagus and cause heartburn. Similarly, other foods can cause your stomach to produce too much acid, without irritating or damaging the LES.

If you have acid reflux, it’s important to understand how certain foods can make your symptoms worse, and what foods you should avoid. Below is our list of the 5 worst foods for acid reflux.

Carbonated Beverages

Carbonated beverages such as sodas, alcoholic drinks, and sparkling waters can all cause your acid reflux symptoms to flare up. While one of these every once and a while may not trigger your symptoms, you should make a point to limit or avoid them completely if possible.

The gas that is released from carbonated beverages can increase gastric pressure in your stomach. As the bubbles continue to build, the pressure can stretch your stomach and can force the LES open. This can allow for the acid in your stomach to travel up into your esophagus, which can cause heartburn.

In addition to the bubbles, many carbonated beverages contain caffeine. Caffeine is highly acidic, which can make it a trigger for many people with acid reflux. It also can relax the LES, which can cause similar issues and lead to acid in the food pipe.

Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and other citrus fruits are acidic and can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms due to their low PH content. Eliminating these from your diet can bring serious relief from acid reflux symptoms. Because these fruits are high in citric acid, they cause your stomach to produce more acid. This buildup of acid can lead to heartburn, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.


Tomatoes are another food source that is high in acid, landing them on our list of the 5 worst foods for acid reflux. They are packed with malic and citric acid, both of which can make your stomach overproduce gastric acid. Products containing tomatoes can make your gastric acid levels rise high enough to force their way back up the esophagus.

Cooking tomatoes will not reduce the acidity enough to prevent acid reflux, which means you may find removing them from your diet altogether to be the best way to relieve your symptoms.

Fatty Foods

Fatty Foods Bad for Acid Reflux

Fatty foods are one of the worst types of food for people with acid reflux. Fried, greasy, and fatty foods can cause heartburn and lead to acid reflux because they prevent the LES from fully tightening; this creates an opening for stomach acids to flow upward. These types of foods are also harder to digest, which means they stay in the stomach longer, leading to more acid production and heartburn.

Fatty foods and foods low in nutrients can cause weight gain in some people. According to research published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, obesity can cause esophageal dysfunctions that are linked to acid reflux symptoms.

Bottom line? If you’re going to enjoy a meal with fatty, greasy, or fried foods, make it a small one. Also be sure to avoid eating fatty foods close to your bedtime, as laying down after a meal can increase your risk of acid reflux symptoms.


The last item on our list of the 5 worst foods for acid reflux is onions. Onions are another food with a clear link to acid reflux symptoms, and a result should be avoided or eliminated from your diet. When you eat onions, they stimulate gastric acid production due to the amount of time they take to digest. This can cause a host of symptoms such as belching, heartburn, and indigestion.

If you cook them, you may be able to get away with small amounts of onion, which can help reduce their acidity. Another option that some people find effective is to use a sweeter variety of onions such as a Vidalia because they are less acidic.

Bottom Line: 5 Worst Foods for Acid Reflux

Depending on what is causing your acid reflux, as well as how severe your symptoms are, you may find that avoiding certain foods can help curb your symptoms. While our list of the 5 worst foods may not include every known trigger food, it can be a great place to start. As always, if you are unsure as to what may be causing your acid reflux, or if you would like to learn more about the condition, talk with your doctor about what your next steps should be.

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