Foods that most often cause acid reflux or heartburn include fatty foods, citrus fruits and tomatoes. Other foods that irritate the esophageal sphincter or cause a build-up of acid in the stomach are spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. Chocolate and carbonated drinks are also common causes.
Fatty foods cause acid reflux because they take longer to digest, causing the body to produce more gastric juices to assist in the digestive process. Foods such as cheese, marbled meats, nuts and fried foods are common sources of heartburn. Foods high in acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, also cause acid reflux and heartburn. Orange and grapefruit juice are to blame for many episodes of acid reflux, especially when the stomach is empty. Tomatoes are very acidic, so they add more irritating compounds to the stomach's juices.
Spicy foods, such as those containing pepper, chilis or other hot spices, often cause heartburn. Mexican dishes can be especially problematic when combined with other triggers, such as fatty cheese or acidic tomatoes. Alcohol helps to relax the esophageal sphincter, which allows acid to creep up into the throat. While alcoholic drinks may not cause an increase of acid in the stomach, they allow the acid created by other foods to rise up, leading to painful heartburn and a sour taste in the mouth. Chocolate also relaxes the sphincter, and since it contains caffeine, it is a common cause of heartburn as well. On an empty stomach, caffeine irritates the digestive tract, and the problem is worsened with the carbonation of soft drinks.