Reasons a Vegan Diet Might Cause Heartburn (GERD)

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By going vegan, you’ve already eliminated many common triggers of heartburn like meat and milk (1).

However, it’s still possible to get acid reflux on a vegan diet.

I’ll go over a few of the most common reasons for it in this post, but if this is a serious recurring issue for you, you need to see a doctor. There could be an underlying condition that’s causing the problem that should be addressed.

What Causes Acid Reflux in Vegans

The formal disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is the result of having too much stomach acid (2).

This applies to non-vegans as well, but we’ll look at it from the perspective of a vegan.

There are 2 main reasons vegans might have too much stomach acid:

  • Eating a larger quantity of food
  • Eating certain types of foods that trigger acid production

Eating More Food As a Vegan

Volume is a simple one to rule out, but it’s very possible on a vegan diet. 

When you go vegan, you typically eat a lot less calorie dense foods (e.g. vegetables), so you may end up eating a lot more in terms of volume. 

For example, it takes 27 grams of cheese to eat 100 calories, but many times more of most plant foods to get that much.

FoodGrams to get 100 calories
Beans76
Carrots227
Lettuce667

There are 3 main ways that you can test if this is an issue for you:

  • Try spreading out eating throughout the day more
  • Eat less for a few days
  • Focus on eating a smaller amount of high calorie vegan foods like nuts and seeds.

It should be clear within a few days if this is a significant factor in your heartburn.

SUMMARY

New vegans typically eat a larger volume of food than they’re used to. If this is the case, you should be able to get used to the higher volume over time, but you can manage the discomfort by eating a bit less.

Vegan Foods That Can Cause Heartburn

vegan foods that trigger heartburn

While meat and cheese are common triggers of heartburn for many people, everyone is different.

Many common acid reflux trigger foods are still vegan, and you may be eating more of those with your new diet:

  • Oil and high fat foods (e.g. fried foods)
  • High amounts of salt
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Acidic drinks (e.g. coffee, orange juice)
  • Caffeine
  • Citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, grapefruit)
  • Alcohol
  • Mints (e.g. peppermint, spearmint)
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic and onions
  • Spicy food
  • Chocolate

That is one big list!

However, you’ll have to consider all of them to figure out what’s causing your issues. Luckily, you’re probably only eating a few of these on a regular basis.

You can either start excluding foods one-by-one to see if they make a difference, or you can start with a bland diet and add foods one at a time to see if they cause you issues.

SUMMARY

See if you’ve started eating more of any vegan foods on the above list that are common triggers of heartburn.

Vegan Substitutes Can Cause Heartburn

One final note to leave off on is that many vegan substitutes can trigger heartburn.

Fake meats like the Beyond Burger are really high in fat. It’s also common for people to report getting an upset stomach from eating Beyond Burgers because of this issue.

Daiya (and other fake cheeses) are also almost entirely fat. I know that if I eat too much of it I get a bit of heartburn (which is very abnormal for me).

Dealing With Heartburn as a Vegan

Heartburn is one of those problems that is usually connected to your diet.

So when you switch to a new diet like a vegan one and all of a sudden get acid reflux, it’s probably the cause.

However, heartburn is not normal on a vegan diet. You may need to just adjust to eating more, but more likely, you’ve started eating more of a type of food that triggers excess acid production in you.

If the issue gets really bad or you can’t figure out what the problem is, go see a doctor, because living with significant heartburn is not normal or healthy.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

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