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Foods usually do not cause heartburn, but they can aggravate your condition and cause symptoms. Certain foods can cause symptoms by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which allows digestive juices to splash up into the esophagus, causing irritation of the esophagus.

Everyone reacts to foods differently, so keep track of the foods you eat and how they affect you. Share this information with your doctor.

The foods that most commonly cause symptoms of heartburn include:

  • Acidic foods, such as:
    • Citrus foods, like oranges, grapefruits, and their juices
    • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Fatty or greasy foods
  • Chocolates
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, soda, or tea
  • Some herbal products, like peppermint tea

Try to avoid the following:

  • Eating within a few hours of your bedtime
  • Lying down after you eat
  • Overeating—consider eating smaller, more frequent meals spaced over the course of the day

If you are overweight, losing weight can reduce pressure on the LES, which can help relieve symptoms.

Smoking aggravates heartburn symptoms by increasing acid production and relaxing the LES. It also greatly increases your risk of esophageal cancer (especially when combined with alcohol). Talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.

If you have problems controlling symptoms with lifestyle changes, or you have heartburn at least 2 days per week, make an appointment with your doctor. Although most digestive conditions that cause heartburn are easily treated, ignoring symptoms can result in serious complications.


American Gastroenterological Association

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders


Canadian Institute for Health Information

Health Canada


Acid reflux. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: Accessed April 6, 2016.

Functional dyspepsia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 23, 2015. Accessed April 6, 2016.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 22, 2016. Accessed April 6, 2016.

Heartburn: Treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated March 2014. Accessed April 6, 2016.

Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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