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Why Does Sugar Give Me Heartburn? (Uh-Oh)

Who doesn’t love sweet foods? These days, sugar is almost in everything, from candies to processed meats.

Unfortunately, consuming too much sugar has negative effects on your health, and this includes worse acid reflux symptoms, such as heartburn. 

If you frequently experience heartburn, you’ve definitely noticed that it’s much more severe after eating sugary foods. But why does sugar cause heartburn?

Why does sugar cause heartburn?

Sugar alone doesn’t tend to cause heartburn, but this nutrient is often found in trigger foods like candy, processed meats, and many others. Sugar is also harder to digest and might cause inflammation in your digestive system, which leads to heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms. 

Aside from that, eating too much sugar, especially added sugar, has adverse effects on your health, including an increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Is sugar acidic?

White, refined sugar has a pH level ranging around 7, so it’s technically not acidic nor alkaline – just basic.

But once it’s digested, it causes symptoms similar to acid reflux since it leads to inflammation in your stomach and digestive tracts. Because of that, sugar is often commonly referred to as acidic, even though its pH level might not reflect that.

Why Does Sugar Give Me Heartburn?
Why Does Sugar Give Me Heartburn?

Don’t know what to drink? We made a list of more than 20 most and least acidic juices and 20+ alcoholic drinks ranked by acidity levels.

How does sugar cause heartburn?

Sugar and sugary foods and beverages tend to relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscles found between your stomach and esophagus.

These muscles help keep the stomach contents down, preventing them from refluxing up your esophagus. 

So, when they’re relaxed, your stomach contents, along with gastric acid, rise up and cause heartburn. Because of that, if you notice unpleasant acid reflux symptoms after consuming a lot of sugar, try limiting it to see if it helps.

Sugar is also rather hard for your body to digest, which means that it will spend more time in your stomach.

If food stays longer in your stomach, your digestive system is forced to produce more gastric acid, which is then more likely to reflux up your esophagus. 

This can cause heartburn and even irritation and damage to your esophagus. If you’re especially sensitive to acidic foods, you may want to completely eliminate sugary foods and beverages from your diet and replace them with naturally sweet foods like fresh fruit.

Is sugar bad for you?

Consuming sugar in small amounts isn’t bad for you. It’s still an essential nutrient that gives you energy and prevents fatigue throughout the day.

Is sugar bad for you?
Is sugar bad for you?

Even though there’s a global perception that sugar is harmful to you, research disagrees with that. So, you can include some sugar in your life and not risk developing any diseases.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all sugar is bad. Yes, it’s important to avoid added sugars found in candies, chocolate, and other similar products.

But naturally-occurring sugar like fructose comes with many vitamins and minerals. 

For example, one medium apple contains 18.9 g of sugar, but it also comes with 17% of your daily need for fiber, lots of vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K. You wouldn’t be able to get all of these nutrients without taking in some sugar. 

So, make sure not to eliminate healthy foods like fresh fruit from your diet, even if they’re high in sugar – just consume them in moderation.

What’s more, eating a lot of sugary foods may make you crave them even more. According to experts, sugar stimulates certain pathways in your brain, which are linked with pleasure and reward.

So, once you consume them, you want to get that feeling again, which can lead to excessive consumption of sugar. Because of that, make sure not to add table sugar to your foods and avoid products with added sugar.

While cutting down on this nutrient might be hard at first, you will quickly notice the positive benefits. For example, you’ll feel more energized and focused, and you’ll also reduce your risk of various diseases.

Can you eat sugar on acid reflux?

Can you eat sugar on acid reflux?
Can you eat sugar on acid reflux?

On its own, sugar shouldn’t lead to acid reflux symptoms like heartburn. But unfortunately, it’s often found in foods that might trigger these symptoms in some people.

Because of that, if you notice that sugary foods aggravate your heartburn, try limiting them, especially before bed. 

Some of these triggering foods include chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruit, fatty foods, and caffeinated beverages.

So, try avoiding these if you suffer from acid reflux and replace them with some healthy alternatives, such as pure honey or maple syrup.

It’s also important to remember the difference between naturally-occurring sugars in your food and added sugars. Added sugar is the most harmful kind, as it causes spikes in your blood sugar levels. 

This can lead to high blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity. So, make sure to check the food you purchase to make sure that it contains no added sugar or as little as possible. 

Are artificial sweeteners better than sugar on acid reflux?

Artificial sweeteners don’t contain sugar but other substances that are much sweeter than sugar itself. There’s not much research concerning artificial sweeteners and heartburn.

But they’re still acidic and may lead to inflammation and irritation in your digestive tract. 

Can you eat artificial sweeteners on acid reflux?
Can you eat artificial sweeteners on acid reflux?

Also, sugar-free or low-calorie beverages might still cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. Because of that, if you want to improve your symptoms of diabetes or a similar condition, choosing these drinks might not make a big difference.

So, while they can help you cut down on calories and sugar, you shouldn’t rely on them every day. Instead, opt for a well-balanced diet that contains naturally-sweetened foods like fruits and some honey.

Conclusion

Sugar might aggravate the symptoms of acid reflux and lead to heartburn in various ways. It’s not only acidic but also bad for your health if you don’t consume it in moderation. 

So, make sure to choose natural sources of sugar like honey and fresh fruit and avoid artificial sweeteners and table sugar as much as possible to stay healthy.

Don’t know what to drink? We made a list of more than 20 most and least acidic juices and 20+ alcoholic drinks ranked by acidity levels.

Sources: Oxford Academic, Mayo Clinic, Nutrition Data, National Library of Medicine, and PMC