The Corrosive C’s: Acid Reflux Trigger Foods

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

The corrosive C’ are a group of foods and drinks are known to trigger reflux symptoms, including heartburn and burping: caffeine, chocolate, citrus, and canned foods.

Caffeine

Fifty-four percent of adults in the United States drink at least one cup of coffee a day. Unfortunately, for people with acid reflux, coffee — and more specifically, the caffeine found in coffee — can inflame symptoms.

Many sodas and energy drinks are also loaded with caffeine. Tea and even chocolate have caffeine as well.

Caffeinated soda is even worse than coffee. On top of the impact its caffeine has on reflux, you also have to worry about the carbonation. The bubbles from carbonated soda expand inside your stomach, increasing the pressure.

This increased pressure can push stomach acid up and out of the stomach, damage your esophagus, and trigger heartburn. Plus, most sodas contain a high level of carbonic acid, which can further irritate your already sensitive esophageal lining.

There are three main ways that caffeine affects reflux:

  • Caffeine can weaken the LES. Strength is a critical component for the LES to function properly, and any change, no matter how minor, can cause the LES to malfunction.

  • Caffeine causes the stomach to generate more gastric acid. This is a very strong acid that can do some significant internal damage.

  • Caffeine affects a substance called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA is an important substance produced in the gastrointestinal tract. It plays a crucial role in helping relax the gastrointestinal tract. Caffeine makes GABA less effective, which hampers its ability to act as a relaxing agent in the gastrointestinal tract. GABA also plays a role in helping your body deal with stress.

Chocolate

Sadly, for those who suffer from acid reflux, chocolate can be one of those nuisance trigger foods. For many people, a life without chocolate is a life not worth living. Well, the good news is that you don’t have to stop eating chocolate to reduce reflux. Instead, try cutting back.

Even if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), if you don’t notice reflux symptoms after you eat chocolate, then you don’t have much to worry about.

Just like coffee and soda, chocolate contains caffeine. There is much less caffeine in chocolate than in coffee or colas, but chocolate does contain a stimulate called theobromine, which is also known to trigger reflux.

One of chocolate’s primary ingredients is cocoa, which has a proven link to heartburn and other reflux symptoms. Research has also found that eating chocolate causes serotonin to be released into the small intestine.

Serotonin is a chemical that has been linked to relaxation. Although relaxation is a good thing in general, unfortunately it’s not when it comes to acid reflux. The increased serotonin relaxes the LES, which makes it easier for enzymes and acid to escape.

Chocolate is also very high in fat. Research has indicated that eating high-fat foods can lead to GERD.

Citrus

Citrus fruits have a lot of citric acid. And acid is the primary culprit behind all the pain and suffering experienced as a result of reflux, which can make citrus a no-no. However, citrus has many health benefits. Its high water content makes it a great low-calorie snack. Plus, it’s a fantastic source of vitamin C and other nutrients.

If you’ve been suffering from reflux for quite some time, you’ve likely had some bad encounters with citrus. The damage reflux does to the esophagus can make a simple glass of orange juice or a sliver of grapefruit a searing source of pain.

Canned foods

Most people who suffer from reflux have probably learned to stay away from caffeine, chocolate, and citrus, but finding out that canned foods can have an impact on your reflux may be a shock.

Whether it’s the money or the convenience that drives you toward canned foods, you may rethink your position when you realize that it could very well be those cans that are causing your suffering.

The main problem when it comes to canned foods, especially fruits, is that they tend to be more acidic than their fresh counterparts. There is a good reason for this. See, manufacturers add acidity to canned goods because it prolongs the shelf life of products. Additionally, acid helps kill bacteria inside the cans.

You’ll want to look out for canned products that say “vitamin C enhanced” or “vitamin C enriched,” because this is generally a good indicator that the product is more acidic. Also, check the ingredients for any kinds of acid. Whether it’s citric acid or ascorbic acid, any form of acid can impact reflux.

It’s not just canned fruits and vegetables that have high levels of acid. Canned drinks, including canned sparkling water, are more acidic. In some cases, there is actually more acid in a canned drink than inside the stomach.

The extra exposure to highly acidic foods and beverages can lead to severe throat, larynx, and esophagus damage. This long-term exposure has been linked to serious medical problems beyond reflux.