Heartburn is a burning or painful feeling in the center of your chest. It’s caused by acid reflux — stomach acid traveling back up toward the throat. If you have heartburn, you may be wondering if specific foods or drinks might be causing it. For example, can bananas cause heartburn? What about garlic or cinnamon?
Read on to learn all about causes of heartburn.
What Causes Acid Reflux and Heartburn?
Normally when you eat, food passes through a long tube called the esophagus. At the end of your esophagus, a valve opens up to let the food into your stomach and then closes again to keep the food and stomach acids down. If the valve is too weak or doesn’t close completely, stomach acids can move back up into your esophagus and cause heartburn.
Many lifestyle factors can trigger heartburn — like stress, smoking, eating large portions and eating too close to bedtime. However, the most common cause of heartburn is certain foods and drinks that are very acidic, very fatty or very high in caffeine.
Foods that may trigger acid reflux and cause heartburn include:
- Citrus fruits and citrus juices
- Tomatoes and tomato-based products
- Fatty and fried foods
- Spicy foods
Drinks that can trigger heartburn include:
- Coffee and other caffeinated beverages
- Carbonated beverages like soda
You may wonder if other foods and drinks may be causing your heartburn. Some people have different triggers for heartburn than others, so we’ll address some common questions about heartburn triggers and go through the evidence for each.
Can Bananas Cause Heartburn?
To answer this, first we need a quick science lesson on acidity. The level of acidity in food is measured on a pH scale, ranging from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline, which is the opposite of acidic) with a neutral value of 7. In general, foods with a pH level below 4.6 are considered to be acidic.
Bananas have a pH value that ranges between 4.5 to 5.2, so they’re closer to neutral and generally considered to be non-acidic. But the acidity may also depend on how ripe the banana is. Unripe bananas are more acidic than ripe bananas. Unripe bananas also contain a substance called potassium nitrate, which may trigger acid reflux.
So while it’s unlikely that bananas are the cause of your heartburn, it’s possible they could be a trigger — especially if you eat green bananas.
Can Garlic Cause Heartburn?
Garlic may trigger acid reflux and heartburn in some people — especially if you eat raw garlic. But it’s not one of the most common heartburn triggers, and most people eat garlic in very small amounts. So it’s more likely that something else is triggering your heartburn.
Try keeping a food diary to record all the foods and ingredients you eat. Then start eliminating the more common heartburn triggers first. And if you’re still having symptoms, try cutting out less common triggers like garlic and see if that helps.
Can Ginger Cause Heartburn?
Ginger has a pH level of 5.60 to 5.90, so it’s not very acidic and isn’t a common cause of heartburn. However, a systematic review on the health effects of ginger found that in 16 studies where participants consumed between 500 to 2000 mg (milligrams) of ginger per day, they consistently reported heartburn as a side effect.
So if you often eat about half a teaspoon of ginger a day, this could be the cause of your heartburn. Try avoiding ginger for a few weeks and see if this eases your symptoms.
Can Cinnamon Cause Heartburn?
Cinnamon is a spice, and spices or spicy food in general has been linked to acid reflux. However, the evidence for cinnamon in particular is less clear. A 2019 systematic review found that in studies on the health benefits of cinnamon, the most frequent side effects were stomach issues, which include acid reflux and other stomach problems.
If you have heartburn and you eat cinnamon on a regular basis, try eliminating it from your diet to test whether it could be a trigger for you.
Can Peanut Butter Cause Heartburn?
Fatty foods can cause heartburn, and peanut butter and other nut butters are high in fat. But these are unsaturated fats, which are generally healthier and less likely to cause heartburn than the saturated fat found in animal products.
While peanut butter is not a common trigger for heartburn, it may affect some people differently. If you think peanut butter is the cause of your discomfort, try cutting it out of your diet for a while to see if that helps with symptoms of heartburn.
Can Water Cause Heartburn?
Water is not a common trigger of heartburn. In fact, if you’re trying to avoid heartburn, it’s best to opt for plain flat beverages like water instead of carbonated drinks. However, drinking an unusually large amount of water may cause reflux — especially in combination with a very large meal.
Try These Tips to Prevent Heartburn
To prevent acid reflux and heartburn, try to identify the habits or foods that you think may be causing your symptoms and then make changes to avoid these triggers. Try these steps:
- Eat smaller portions at mealtimes
- Avoid fatty or acidic foods known to cause reflux
- Choose plain water instead of caffeinated drinks, carbonated drinks and alcohol
- Eat dinner earlier to allow a few hours between going to bed
- Try a pillow that keeps your head higher while sleeping
Occasional heartburn that lasts for a few minutes to an hour is fairly common and will usually go away on its own or with over-the-counter antacids. But if you have frequent, severe heartburn, talk with your doctor to find out what’s causing it and get treatment.
- “Heartburn — Symptoms and Causes” via Mayo Clinic
- “Heartburn and Acid Reflux” via National Health Service
- “Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment” via Cleveland Clinic
- “GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)” via Johns Hopkins Medicine
- “Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials” via Nutrients
- “Cinnamon: A Systematic Review of Adverse Events” via Clinical Nutrition