Fiery tacos. Spicy enchiladas. Sizzling fajitas. For fans of Mexican food, the vibrant flavors and textures are hard to resist. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans with acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion may leave you avoiding some of your favorite South-of-the-border staples.
So why does Mexican food often spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E for acid reflux sufferers? Many classic ingredients like tomatoes, onions, peppers, and chili-based spices tend to be high in acidity. Not to mention greasy cheeses, buttery tortillas, and fried meats that slow digestion and stimulate stomach acid production. For people prone to reflux, dining on Mexican can be a recipe for disaster.
But don’t resign yourself to a bland burrito-less existence just yet. With a few simple precautions, you can craft an acid reflux-friendly Mexican meal that won’t leave you miserable.
This guide will teach you how to pick the right foods and make smart prep choices so you can enjoy the vibrant flavors without the fiery chest pain.
What Is Acid Reflux and What Causes It?
Before we dive into solutions, let’s quickly cover what exactly acid reflux is and what factors typically trigger those unpleasant symptoms.
Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), happens when stomach acid inadvertently flows back up into your esophagus, causing irritation. This can lead to painful heartburn, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and other bothersome symptoms.
A few key culprits tend to exacerbate acid reflux:
- Spicy foods – Chili peppers, salsa, hot sauce can irritate the esophagus. Go for milder versions.
- Fatty and fried foods – Greasy meats, cheese, sour cream, and fried tortilla chips slow digestion. Limit intake.
- Acidic foods – Tomatoes, citrus fruits, and onions contain acids that can aggravate symptoms. Avoid when possible.
- Caffeinated drinks – Coffee, tea, and sodas loosen the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to back up. Limit intake.
- Chocolate – Contains methylxanthine, which relaxes the esophageal sphincter muscle. Avoid before bed.
- Alcohol – Can directly irritate the esophagus and relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Abstain if possible.
- Mint – Can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing reflux. Avoid mint candy and gum.
- Carbonated beverages – The bubbles expand the stomach, increasing pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. Limit intake.
- Large portions
- Eating late at night
- Smoking, alcohol, obesity
Unfortunately, many of these triggers are commonplace in Mexican fare. But with a few simple tweaks, you can still enjoy all the flavors you crave without suffering later.
Strategies for Preventing Acid Reflux When Eating Mexican Food
The keys to indulging in Mexican cuisine without acid reflux are making smart menu picks, watching your portions, and taking some preventive precautions during and after your meal.
Pick and Choose Ingredients Wisely
Avoid dishes with excessive raw onions, garlic, tomatoes, jalapeños and other bothersome ingredients. Opt for milder salsas and chilis. Choose corn tortillas over fried taco shells. Go for grilled proteins like chicken, steak or shrimp instead of greasy chorizo. Say no to heavy amounts of sour cream, cheese and other dairy-based toppings.
Go Easy on the Fat
Rich ingredients like refried beans, queso, guacamole, and buttery tortilla chips can stimulate acid production. Limit high-fat foods or ask for them on the side.
Watch Your Portions
Overeating forces your stomach to work harder, increasing the risk of acid backup into your esophagus. Keep portions in check to avoid putting excess pressure on your digestive tract.
Avoid Eating Too Close to Bedtime
Try to finish dinner at least 3 hours before lying down. This gives your body time to digest before reclining, which can cause stomach contents to come back up.
Eat Slowly and Chew Thoroughly
Wolfing down your food quickly leads to swallowing excess air, which can aggravate reflux. Take small bites, chew well, and put down your fork between bites. This helps you better digest your food.
Satisfying Mexican Meals That Won’t Aggravate Acid Reflux
Wondering what Mexican dishes you can still enjoy despite your acid reflux? With the right ingredients, preparation and portion control, these options make savory and safe picks:
- Guacamole made without onions or garlic
- Mild homemade salsa with lots of cilantro
- Roasted pepitas instead of greasy chips
- Bean dip paired with raw veggies
Soups and Salads
- Chicken tortilla soup, hold the tomatoes and onions
- Gazpacho loaded with cucumber and bell peppers
- Grilled chicken salad with lime vinaigrette
- Shrimp and avocado salad
Tacos and Fajitas
- Grilled steak or chicken with corn tortillas
- Carnitas made with lean pork
- Baja fish tacos with cabbage and avocado
- Spicy black bean and veggie tacos
Other Filling Entrees
- Enchiladas with mild red or green sauce
- Chicken tamales wrapped in corn husks
- Tostadas with lettuce, lean meat, guacamole
- Veggie quesadillas with low-fat cheese
Perfectly Permissible Sides
- Cilantro lime rice
- Small portion of refried beans
- Roasted sweet potato wedges
- Elote made with low-fat mayo
Handling Acid Reflux When It Hits
Despite your best intentions, you may still experience occasional acid reflux symptoms after eating Mexican food. Here are some quick remedies to relieve flare-ups:
- Chew gum to increase saliva production
- Suck on antacid lozenges like Gaviscon
- Take over-the-counter antacids after eating
- Don’t lie down for at least 3 hours post-meal
- Loosen any tight clothing pressing on your stomach
See your doctor if symptoms persist. They can prescribe stronger medications or lifestyle changes to better control your acid reflux long-term.
Yes, You Can Have Your Mexican Food and Eat It Too
With a few simple precautions, you can craft an acid reflux-friendly Mexican meal that won’t leave you with regrets. Be choosy with ingredients, go easy on fat, control portions, prevent late night snacking, and slow down your eating pace.
Arm yourself with knowledge of reflux-safe recipes and foods so you can modify both homecooked and restaurant Mexican dishes to your needs. A pinch of planning goes a long way toward helping you enjoy the cuisine without discomfort.
By making smart choices, you can say “¡Buen provecho!” to Mexican food without the side of heartburn.