Can I Get Heartburn From Oatmeal?

Young housewife having healthy breakfast in kitchen
Oatmeal made with whole milk is more likely to trigger heartburn. (Image: Alliance/iStock/Getty Images)

The American College of Gastroenterology calculates that more than 60 million Americans experience recurrent heartburn, the No. 1 symptom of acid reflux. This common digestive condition occurs when the one-way valve between your esophagus and your stomach is too weak to keep the contents of your stomach down. Although eating often triggers the problem, some foods -- including oatmeal -- are better tolerated than others.

General Tolerance

Plain oatmeal isn’t generally associated with acid reflux, meaning that it isn’t likely to trigger symptoms for most people affected by heartburn. On its own, the whole-grain cereal is actually an ideal part of the kind of diet that may help control acid reflux and suppress symptoms. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that a whole-foods based diet that's low in sugar and rich in B vitamins may help control acid reflux and prevent heartburn. Oatmeal is naturally high in thiamine, while the enriched variety is an excellent source of niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6 and folic acid.

Personal Tolerance

The dietary guidelines for acid reflux are just that -- guidelines. They don’t anticipate every food that will trigger heartburn for you, as the problem is highly individual. Foods that are harder to swallow, such as thick oatmeal, can irritate your esophageal muscles and provoke heartburn. Oatmeal made with whole milk or topped with a pat of butter may be troublesome because high-fat foods tend to relax esophageal muscles, which can also lead to heartburn. Food allergies can aggravate the condition, too. Choosing gluten-free oatmeal can help prevent heartburn if you’re allergic or otherwise sensitive to gluten.

Contributing Factors

Don’t be too quick to blame oatmeal for your heartburn if it’s only part of your breakfast routine. Orange juice, coffee and tea have been known to irritate the lower esophagus and trigger acid reflux. Some instant oatmeal products are high in sugar, and consuming too much refined sugar can also exacerbate the problem. Likewise, eating too much or too quickly can bring on heartburn, as can stress, wearing tight clothes or exercising too soon after mealtime. The only way to find out which foods you tolerate well is by keeping a journal that details what you eat and how you feel afterward.

Preparation Suggestions

The next time you make oatmeal, use unsweetened, vitamin-enriched oats and cook them in water or low-fat milk. Skip the dairy milk if you’re lactose-intolerant, however, as even a mild food sensitivity can trigger heartburn. Don’t make too much oatmeal -- 1/4 cup of dry oats yields 1/2 cup of oatmeal, which is the standard amount for a single serving. Cook it thoroughly and in just enough liquid to keep it from becoming thick and sticky. Refrain from adding honey, brown sugar or any other refined sugar. Instead, sweeten your cereal with a handful of blueberries or raspberries, a sliced banana or a few strawberries.

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