You know that feeling in your chest and throat… the burning pressure up your breastbone. It’s that sore throat feeling and can sometimes even lead to a bitter taste in your mouth? It gets especially bad after you eat certain foods (even healthy foods)…
I’m talking about two of the most annoying digestive issues out there —
Heartburn and acid reflux.
If you’ve dealt with heartburn and acid reflux before, you know how aggravating they can be. In addition, they might even be precursors to more serious conditions with potentially long-term consequences. So if you have long-term, persistent heartburn or acid reflux symptoms, it is important to speak with a medical professional.
Heartburn Vs. Acid Reflux
Contrary to popular belief, heartburn and acid reflux are not interchangeable. Here are some of the biggest differences between the two.
Heartburn is actually more common than reflux — more than 60 million Americans deal with it every year.1 But, don’t trust the name to describe the issue accurately. Heartburn actually has got nothing to do with your heart. Of course, you may feel a burning or tightening sensation in your chest and that’s how heartburn gets its name.2
In many cases, heartburn is the symptom and acid reflux is the cause.
You see, between the stomach and esophagus is a circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES in charge of closing the esophagus when food passes to your stomach. But sometimes the muscle gets weak and fails to close properly and when this happens, stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
In many cases, discomfort can occur in the lining of the esophagus because it’s more delicate than that of the stomach. When stomach acid rises into the esophagus, it can cause that burning sensation in your chest — but the discomfort of heartburn stemming from acid reflux can vary.
Most people with acid reflux feel it right after eating a meal, and in many cases bending over or lying down can make it worse.
Along with heartburn, acid reflux can lead to other issues including:
- Epigastric discomfort (below your ribs in the area of your upper abdomen)
- Feeling uncomfortably full after a meal
It’s important to mention that you can have acid reflux without having heartburn. And it’s not uncommon for people to have a bit of reflux every once in a while. But if reflux becomes habitual you might need to consider the possibility of a deeper gastroesophageal reflux issue.
When Things Get Serious
Acid reflux can start to occur on a more regular basis. If the signs of acid reflux and heartburn occur at least once every two weeks, you may want to check with your healthcare professional. Because if a doctor can see visible damage to your esophagus due to stomach acid damage, you’ll likely need a more serious plan of attack.
Along with the regular symptoms of acid reflux, keep an eye out for things like:
- Difficulty swallowing
- The sensation of a lump in your throat
At its worst, untreated reflux can lead to further concerns. In some cases, stomach acid can actually wear away the esophageal lining over time which can lead to complications like bleeding, esophageal narrowing, or other concerns.
Now, there is quite a degree of variance when it comes to what foods can trigger acid reflux, but some foods are more likely than others to cause issues.
A Low-Acid Diet
Like with any diet, there could be a bit of trial and error as you find your favorite low acid foods. But there are certain foods that are more likely to irritate your esophagus.
However, if you stick to foods with lower acid content, you’ve got great cornerstones for a low-acid diet. (And many of these foods are vegan). Bonus!
Heartburn-Friendly Foods For Vegans
Bananas are one of the richest sources of potassium out there. They’re also an alkaline food which means they’re low in acid. Bananas also contain several bioactive compounds like polyphenols, carotenoids, biogenic amines and phytosterols, which exert many positive effects on human health and well-being. Plus, some of these compounds have antioxidant activities that can help protect your body against oxidative stress.6
Fatty and fried foods are often associated with acid reflux. However, you can seek out healthy fats to help curb reflux. Almonds have relatively low levels of acid and make a great portable snack.7
In the same vein, avocados are healthy fats with minimal acid content as signaled by their rich, creamy consistency. And avocados anti-inflammatory properties are helpful as well.8
4. Green Leafy Vegetables
It’s no surprise that green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are some of the healthiest foods around. But like bananas, not only are these greens relatively alkaline, they’re so nutrient-rich you’ll want to include them in every meal.
Ginger’s use as a natural anti-inflammatory aid could make it a valuable asset if you’re suffering from discomfort due to acid reflux. Consider adding it to your cooking… or to your daily smoothie.9
Whole grains are good choices for dealing with acid reflux, but oatmeal is one of the best options for your stomach. Consider combining it with almond milk for a great way to start your day.
7. Fermented foods
Science is unraveling more and more about gut bacteria and its role in the body, but one thing you can do is try to bring balance to your gut with fermented foods. Great vegan options include kombucha, kimchi, and kefir.10
Vegan Foods To Avoid For Heartburn
Peppermint is by no means bad for you and many reports suggest it can be used to help an upset stomach. But, some studies suggest it can also relax the sphincter between your stomach and esophagus and, as a result, you may actually exacerbate your acid reflux symptoms.11
Alcohol can actually affect the esophagus directly. Not only does it come into actual contact with your esophagus, but it can cause mucosal damage.12,13 A direct link isn’t clear, but alcohol abuse can lead to several health issues. Here, moderation is always the way to go.
3. Citrus Fruits
Similar to alcohol, citrus fruit may not be a direct cause of reflux. However, if you already have heartburn, citrus might cause further irritation. The best course of action here is measured use until you can determine what foods cause issues for you.14
Chocolate is one of the most popular foods associated with reflux. Some say chocolate isn’t really a culprit, but cocoa powder is acidic and it can worsen symptoms of reflux.15
Onions are tasty and can add flavor to any dish you prepare, but one study showed onions increased the number of heartburn and reflux episodes in 30 participants. An increase in belches from heartburn patients was also reported.16
Acid Reflux and the Low-Acid Diet In Review
Whether it’s an irregular occurrence or an everyday issue, acid reflux can have an impact on your daily life. Like with so many biological processes, your diet can impact acid reflux and cause it to get better… or worse.
Unfortunately, some of the most common foods that can lead to acid reflux are components of a vegan diet. So even within the parameters of a vegan lifestyle, you should strive for a balanced diet. Be sure to fill your plate with several healthy options. Your stomach — and rest of your body — will thank you.