Dairy is a very common food group that contains a lot of protein and important nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium.
Eating dairy products contributes to bone strength, a healthy immune system, and a wide array of other benefits.
But, if you’ve ever had too much dairy at once, you’ve definitely experienced some acid reflux-like symptoms, including heartburn. But why exactly does dairy give you heartburn?
Why does dairy give me heartburn?
Dairy products are made with milk, which tends to have acid-forming properties that can cause heartburn and other acid reflux-related symptoms. Dairy causes acid reflux in several ways, either by irritating your digestive tract or relaxing the muscles between your esophagus and stomach, allowing the gastric acid to rise up.
On the bright side, if dairy doesn’t cause you unpleasant symptoms, it’s beneficial to add it to your diet, even if in small amounts.
Is dairy acidic?
Most dairy products are acidic, as they have low pH levels and acid-forming properties.
Some of the worst products for people with acid reflux or GERD include whole milk, products made with whole milk (like yogurt and cheese), flavored milk types, hot chocolate, ice cream, and milkshakes.
Not everyone will experience heartburn after eating dairy, though. So, adjust your diet accordingly, depending on how you feel after eating it.
Some fermented dairy products are actually alkaline-forming and gut-friendly.
These include kefir, which helps feed the ‘good’ gut bacteria that reduce digestive tract inflammation and improve digestion.
This can help prevent acid reflux symptoms and make you feel much better after eating. So, don’t eliminate all dairy products from your diet unless you absolutely have to.
How does dairy cause heartburn?
Dairy products tend to be high in fat. This macronutrient slows down digestion and makes your stomach work much harder.
In turn, this forces your stomach to produce more gastric acid, which can then reflux up your esophagus, causing heartburn.
As a result, you might experience an improvement in your symptoms if you choose low-fat dairy products as opposed to full-fat options.
Eating dairy products also relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter muscles, which are located between your esophagus and stomach.
These muscles are meant to keep gastric acid in your stomach and prevent it from rising up. So, if they’re relaxed, gastric acid can rise up and cause heartburn.
This isn’t the case for everyone, though – only for those particularly sensitive to dairy and acidic foods.
Some people also develop a dairy allergy or sensitivity as a result of the compounds and substances found in products based on cow’s milk.
This can manifest itself as heartburn in most people, which resembles acid reflux and GERD. While not everyone experiences this issue, it can be serious.
Luckily, there are many dairy-free alternatives these days, and some of them aren’t acidic at all.
Is dairy good for you?
Dairy products are very balanced when it comes to their macronutrient content. They contain calories from all carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
In particular, fat and protein help make you feel full after eating, which prevents overeating. This can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight in a healthy way.
Protein also helps build lean muscle mass and prevent overall muscle loss, which might be especially important for athletes and avid fans of exercise.
Most dairy products are a great source of vitamin B12. This micronutrient helps keep your blood and nerve cells healthy. It also contributes to making genetic material in all of your cells.
Vitamin B12 may also help prevent megaloblastic anemia, which is a blood condition making people tired and weak.
Adequate amounts of this nutrient also help lower your risk of heart disease and prevent heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Dairy also supports bone health thanks to the high content of calcium and magnesium.
These nutrients improve bone density, reduce your risk of osteoporosis, and lower bone fractures risk in older adults.
Dairy isn’t the only dietary source of calcium, but some people’s bodies might find it easier to absorb this mineral from animal-derived foods than from plant-based alternatives.
But, as always, it’s important to follow a balanced diet, so veggies and fruits high in calcium should be a staple in your diet as well.
Eating dairy products has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes.
Most dairy provides you with probiotics that lower your levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, helping in high blood pressure prevention.
As a result, adding natural dairy products to your diet can improve the health of your heart as long as you eat in moderation and with other high-fiber foods.
Can you make dairy easier for your digestive system?
While most dairy products tend to irritate your digestive tract and lead to heartburn, there are some ways that you can make them less acidic.
For example, you can try serving yogurt with alkaline-forming fruits or veggies to offset the acidity and add more nutrients beneficial for the health of your gut and stomach.
You can also consume smaller quantities of dairy to avoid any unpleasant symptoms.
On the other hand, if even small amounts of dairy products give you heartburn, it might be best to switch to plant-based alternatives, which tend to be easier on your stomach.
If you absolutely can’t live without dairy, make sure to drink and eat plain dairy products, such as cheese, milk, or Greek yogurt.
It also might be best to avoid flavored and artificially-colored dairy products like chocolate milk.
This is because they’re very high in sugar and fat, which are both contributing factors to acid reflux symptoms.
You also might want to try switching to low-fat dairy options that may be easier for your stomach, reducing your risk of heartburn.
Most dairy products have acid-forming properties, which means that they’re very likely to cause acid reflux symptoms, including heartburn.
They do so in various ways, so if you always experience heartburn after eating foods like milk, yogurt, or cheese, try limiting them to improve your health and wellbeing.
Alicia is the senior content editor and writer here at Food FAQ. She has extensive experience with acid reflux, heartburn, GERD, and various supplements. When not eating food for “research”, she’s watching “Friends” for the 100th time.