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The Usual Suspects: 12 Foods Known For Causing Heartburn (And Why)

12 Foods Known For Causing Heartburn (And Why)
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Apple cider vinegar in jar, glass and fresh apple, healthy drink.
Apple cider vinegar in jar, glass and fresh apple, healthy drink.
ThamKC via Getty Images

This article is sponsored by the makers of ZANTAC®.

Heartburn is that tight, sharp pain sensation in your chest. It’s caused by stomach acid in your esophagus, and the usual suspects are the things you eat and drink.

Knowing how and why heartburn happens is key to ensuring it doesn’t happen, or that it happens less frequently. But you don’t have to give up your favourite foods — in some cases you just have to be smarter about how you eat them.


The humble tomato can be a nightmare for heartburn sufferers, because it’s a very acidic food. That’s an adjective heartburn sufferers don’t want to hear, as the more acid a given food has, the more likely it is to stir up trouble during digestion.


Speaking of acid, how about citric acid? Sure, we love our oranges and grapefruits, but the acid in these breakfast buddies could be causing heartburn — possibly because there’s little to nothing else in our system in the morning when we tend to eat them.


That cuppa Joe may keep you from falling asleep at your desk, but too much could make you clutch your chest. The lower esophageal sphincter stays closed except for when food and drink passes from the esophagus to the stomach. Excess caffeine relaxes it, making it open up when it’s not supposed to, which leads stomach acid to venture back up into the esophagus and sends you to Pain Town. ZANTAC®, which reduces stomach acid and relieves heartburn, is good to have around because coffee is so omnipresent in our culture.


Coffee isn’t the only caffeine-rich beverage we consume too much of. Caffeinated sodas and other drinks are commonly associated with heartburn for the same reason coffee is: they relax the lower esophageal sphincter and let acid spill upwards.


Alcohol is notorious for relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, which, again, lets acid flow up into the esophagus. This doesn’t mean every drink will give you heartburn, but it’s worth remembering that drinking turns a one-way street into a two-way street. If you’re prone to hurt after a glass of wine or two, keep a ZANTAC® handy when you’re having a few.


Sorry, chocoholics — chocolate is a no-go for heartburn sufferers for a variety of reasons. It’s got caffeine in it, and it’s a high-fat food. High-fat foods can trigger heartburn because they stay in the stomach longer, causing the production of more and more stomach acid and putting more stress on your digestive system.


All high-fat foods are bad for heartburn sufferers because of how much stomach acid they require to digest them properly. So a burger and fries every now and then won’t kill you, but eating it on a daily basis? Not the best idea.


Black pepper can cause the amounts of acid in your esophagus to increase, leading to common indigestion symptoms. We’re sorry in advance if this takes a bit of the spice out of your life.


Spicy food is too often mistakenly blamed for heartburn because what some think of as heartburn is actually just an upset stomach. Still, all bodies are different and a lot of people feel the burn after hot peppers. If you can’t avoid those hot wings, keep some ZANTAC® in your pocket so you can enjoy and feel fine afterwards.


Garlic is unfortunately universally recognized as a food that triggers heartburn in sufferers despite its myriad health benefits. That being said, it might only be fresh garlic and not the dried kind that is to be avoided or limited.


In the same vein as garlic, raw onions are another red flag for heartburn sufferers. Which makes sense, because garlic is a member of the onion family.


This could really just be vinegar, but people don’t traditionally eat vinegar on its own. Regardless, the acidity of vinegar can react badly with inflamed esophageal tissue.

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