Heartburn or acid reflux is a very common digestive disease in Singapore. It is a form of indigestion that typically presents itself as that awful burning sensation in your throat or chest, which happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. The feeling can worsen when your lie down or bend over. This condition often related to abnormal relaxation of the sphincter muscle that prevents acid from flowing back to your food pipe from stomach.
As heartburn usually occurs after a meal, we explore how the potential food triggers can be the primary cause of one’s digestive discomfort. These are some of the common food that can trigger acid reflux and you may consider to avoid them if you are experiencing the problem.
1. Onions, Garlic and Spicy Foods
While the spice tolerance for individuals varies, spicy and tangy foods including garlic and onions can trigger heartburn symptoms in many people. Chillies, spicy sauces and chilli powder may aggravate acid reflux. If you wish to seek for an alternative, you can use other flavour enhancers like ginger, cinnamon, sea salt and herbs in your meals.
2. High-Fat Foods
High-fatty foods can be a major contribute to acid reflux symptoms. Greasy, fried and processed foods with trans and saturated fats as well as fatty meats such as ham or bacon linger longer in the stomach. This may slow down overall digestive process and relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which can prompt or precipitate reflux. As a result, the stomach pressure is increased and the muscles that keep stomach acid out from the esophagus are forced open, leading to heartburn.
3. Chocolate and Dairy Products
An ingredient called methylxanthine is found in chocolate and has been shown to relax or weaken the stomach valve muscle. This makes it easier for the contents in your stomach to escape up to your throat, causing acid reflux and heartburn. Healthy, dairy products such as cheese and butter contain fats that exacerbate acid reflux. Milk also creates excessive secretion of acid and will cause further discomfort, especially if consumed when the stomach is full.
4. Citrus Fruits
Highly acidic fruits and juices, such as oranges, lemons, limes, pineapples and grapefruits, can cause or worsen acid reflux symptoms. This also includes tomatoes or tomato products such as sauces in pizza and salsa.
5. Caffeine and Alcohol
For those with acid reflux and wish to enjoy their morning coffee, the high levels of caffeine present in coffee can actually lead to a rise in the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach, causing symptoms like heartburn to act up. When you consume alcohol, it contributes to an increase in gastric acid as it relaxes the muscles in your body, including LES which allows more stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
Keep a Food Diary
Keeping track of your meals carefully can help you to identify your individual triggers and control painful, uncomfortable flare-ups. Jot down what foods you eat and the time of day you ate followed by the symptoms that you may experience. Some food and beverages can also help to soothe your discomfort by neutralising the stomach acid, such as ginger tea and oatmeal.
Prevent Heartburn After Meals
Sometimes it may not be practical to avoid these foods in your diet, but you can take note of the following measures to prevent heartburn after eating.
- Avoid overeating. Instead of several large meals, eat 5 or 6 small meals each day
- Avoid eating before bedtime. Allow 2 hours for your food to be digested before lying down. This provides sufficient time for the food to pass out of the stomach and into the intestine, instead of it risking it getting back up into the esophagus. When you lie down too soon after eating, it makes digestion difficult and increases the chance of having heartburn.
Heartburn is a symptom for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and its other symptoms may include nausea, tightness in the chest, persistent dry cough, a sour taste in the mouth and trouble swallowing. If symptoms persist despite taking over the counter medication, your GP may recommend a gastroscopy for further evaluation. If you need further advice, you can consider consult our doctor. We are a gastroenterology clinic in Singapore that provides a full spectrum of sub-specialized care and clinical services for liver and digestive disorders.