What foods are the worst for acid reflux?

pizza, potato chips, antacids
Eating pizza and potato chips? Don't forget the antacids.
© iStockphoto.com/hillwoman2

What would you eat if it was your last day on earth? When prisoners condemned to death are offered one final meal of their choosing, they often select comfort foods from their youth, fast food or a big hunk of meat, perhaps in the form of steak or fried chicken. Few of us would probably choose a sensible salad to remember this world by; instead, we'd feast on pizza, burgers and ice cream -- all things we've been told to eat in moderation for health reasons. But when you're not around to face the consequences of weight gain or clogged arteries, then all bets are off.

It's interesting to consider what habitual sufferers of acid reflux and heartburn would select for their last meal. While many of us abstain from foods simply to keep our weight down, those who experience acid reflux often have to abstain from certain foods to keep their stomach acid down. That's because certain foods seem to particularly hasten and aggravate the condition. Without the specter of a burning sensation in the chest, would those with acid reflux or heartburn go hog-wild during their last meals?


Though there are other lifestyle choices that acid reflux sufferers can make, including quitting smoking, wearing loose-fitting clothing or elevating the head of the bed, most of a doctor's recommendations will revolve around food. How much you eat and when you eat are certainly issues -- it's recommended that those who experience acid reflux not eat large meals or in the three hours before bed. But which foods are worse for acid reflux?

Common Acid Reflux Food Triggers

These are the foods considered to be the enemy in the battle against acid reflux:

  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based foods, including pizza
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Peppermint
  • Citrus fruit
  • Fried foods
  • Salt

Beverages aren't in the clear, either. The following would all require mug shots for their roles in acid reflux:


  • Coffee (including decaf)
  • Alcohol, particularly wine
  • Soda
  • Citrus fruit juices

Many doctors will suggest that acid reflux sufferers eliminate all of these foods from their diet. Other doctors, however, say that the evidence just isn't there for some of these items. While these foods and beverages may bring on acid reflux for some people, there's no need for everyone to give up on coffee or garlic. In fact, researchers at Stanford University found that making dietary changes had very little effect on the occurrence of acid reflux [source: Stanford]. More important to getting relief were lifestyle changes like elevating the head of a bed or losing weight.

The reason that those that lost weight had such success is likely due to the fact that obesity is such a major risk factor for acid reflux. That means that eating too much of any food may be much worse than consuming just a little of one of the so-called bad foods above. Even shaving just a few pounds off your frame can make a difference in the occurrence and severity of acid reflux.

Still, just because doctors say these trigger foods might have an undeservedly bad reputation doesn't mean that you shouldn't limit some of them from your diet. The worst food for acid reflux is the one that causes your acid reflux. To determine which foods get your acid churning, keep a food journal and note the meals that brought on symptoms. Once you identify those foods, you can cut them from your diet completely, try consuming them in smaller quantities or take an anti-reflux medication before eating them.

For more on acid reflux, heartburn and other puzzles of the digestive system, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bakalar, Nicholas. "Connections: A Few Extra Pounds May Raise Acid Reflux Risk." New York Times. June 6, 2006. (June 22, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/06/health/06conn.html
  • Brody, Jane E. "Personal Health." New York Times. Sept. 25, 1996. (June 22, 2009)http://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/25/us/personal-health-487570.html
  • "Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. May 2007. (June 22, 2009)http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd/
  • Jaret, Peter. "A Sigh of Relief for Heartburn Sufferers." New York Times. Nov. 8, 2007. (June 22, 2009)http://health.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-gerd-ess.html
  • Jaret, Peter. "Personalizing the Management of Heartburn." New York Times. (June 22, 2009)http://health.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-gerd-qa.html
  • Mann, Denise. "Top 10 Heartburn Foods." WebMD. July 1, 2008. (June 22, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/top-10-heartburn-foods
  • Maranto, Gina. "As Acid Reflux Cases Rise, Doctors Are Asking Why." New York Times. Dec. 11, 2001. (June 22, 2009)http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/11/health/as-acid-reflux-cases-rise-doctors-are-asking-why.html
  • O'Connor, Anahad. "The Claim: Avoiding Spicy Foods Can Ease Symptoms of Heartburn." New York Times. Sept. 5, 2006. (June 22, 2009)http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/05/health/nutrition/05real.html
  • O'Neil, John. "Not So Fast: List of Reflux Culprits Grows." New York Times. Nov 16, 2004. (June 15, 2009)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A00E5DE153FF935A25752C1A9629C8B63
  • Stanford University Medical Center. "Chocolate, Wine, Spicy Foods May Be OK for Heartburn, Stanford Study Finds." ScienceDaily. June 29, 2006. (June 22, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2006/06/060629084452.htm