Dining Out Choices for People With Heartburn

Eating certain foods in restaurants can trigger heartburn, just like they do at home. However, there are methods you can use to reduce your chances of having acid reflex triggered by what you eat and drink. These include regulating food choices, knowing how the food is prepared, beverage selection, and limiting portion sizes.

The following recommendations on what to avoid and what is better to eat cover many of the trigger foods and safer foods identified by people with heartburn. Keep a food record to identify which are often a problem for you. This will help you make smart choices for a heartburn-free dining experience.

Shanghai Style Meat Dumplings
Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

General Dining Guidelines

When you eat out, inquire how the dish is prepared and whether it is served with a sauce or gravy. Ask for a low-fat substitute or for the sauce to be served on the side. Check whether the meal includes any of your trigger foods that you know are often followed by a bout of acid reflux.

Foods to Avoid

These foods are often identified as setting off heartburn:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, iced tea, and cola
  • Cheese-intense foods, including sandwich melts (grilled, with cheese)
  • Chili
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus drinks such as orange juice and lemonade
  • Citrus fruit and dishes with a lot of them
  • Club sandwiches
  • Creamy soup
  • Foods prepared with butter or oil
  • Fried foods, such as burgers, fried chicken, fried fish
  • High-fat sauces, salad dressings, gravy, mayonnaise
  • High-fat side dishes, such as french fries
  • High-fat sauces, salad dressings, gravy, mayonnaise
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Tomato-based foods, including catsup

Better Choices

These foods are less likely to set off heartburn.

  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Broth-based soups
  • Grilled foods
  • Lean cuts of meat, white meat
  • Low-fat or no-fat salad dressings
  • Lighter desserts, such as angel food cake
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole grain bread
  • Steamed vegetables

Type of Cuisine

Dining out at your favorite Chinese, Mexican, or Italian restaurant can mean you have less control over your meal options and it may be harder to prevent heartburn.

If you aren't sure what is in a dish or how the dish is prepared, don't be afraid to ask and request alterations or substitutions. Here are some suggestions for dining out at one of the following specific types of restaurants.

Chinese Restaurants

Asian cuisine can range from mild to very spicy and use preparation styles that are heartburn-friendly or not. It may be best to avoid buffets and instead order off the menu requesting the type of preparation and ingredients that you best tolerate. Use these rules of thumb.

Foods to Avoid
  • Breaded and fried entrees

  • Crispy deep-fried noodles

  • Egg rolls

  • Hot and sour soup

  • Overly spicy dishes

  • Ribs

  • Sauces thickened with eggs and butter

  • Sweet and sour dishes

Better Choices
  • Brown rice

  • Dishes made with vegetables in a light sauce

  • Entrees such as beef with broccoli, velvet chicken, or shrimp with mushrooms and bamboo shoots

  • Sauces thickened with broth and cornstarch

  • Steamed dumplings

  • Stir-fried or steamed dishes with light wine or lobster sauces

  • Wonton soup

  • Fortune cookies for dessert

Mexican Restaurants

A typical chain restaurant may have dishes that are heavy on cheese, acidic ingredients, and spices. The basket of fried tortilla chips and salsa is probably best avoided. But you should be able to find choices that are more heartburn-friendly and request mild spices.

Foods to Avoid
  • Cheese and sour cream toppings

  • Chile peppers

  • Chimichangas

  • Chorizo (Mexican sausage)

  • Deep fried tortilla chips and taco shells

  • Mole (chocolate) sauce

  • Refried beans

  • Salsa, tomato, and onions

  • Sangria and margaritas (citrus)

  • Flan or other rich desserts

Better Choices
  • Broth-based soups

  • Burritos

  • Dishes prepared with herbs such as cumin and cilantro

  • Fajitas

  • Grilled chicken or fish

  • Low-fat refried beans and rice

  • Mild guacamole on a flour tortilla

  • Tortillas

Italian Restaurants

Visions of tomato sauce and cheese might come to mind when you think of Italian cuisine. You will need to learn to ask about preparation and sauces that are less likely to trigger heartburn.

Foods to Avoid
  • Antipastos with cheese, salami, and spicy peppers

  • Carbonara (cream, cheese, and bacon)

  • Foods prepared with lots of garlic and spices

  • Heavy tomato or cream sauces

  • Oil-based salad dressings

  •  Parmigiana (fried, smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella)

  • Pizza toppings such as double cheese, lots of sauce, sausage and pepperoni, hot peppers

  • Rich, heavy desserts, such as cheesecake or tiramisu

Better Choices
  • Dishes with little or no cheese

  • Grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Minestrone (vegetable) or pasta fagioli (macaroni and bean) soups

  • Pasta "en brodo," which is a light broth-type sauce

  • Pasta primavera without sauce

  • Pizza with little sauce and cheese

  • Risotto or polenta dishes made with vegetables, not butter and cheese

  • Veal or chicken in a light mushroom sauce

  • Vegetable side dishes without garlic or too much olive oil

  • Biscotti (crunchy Italian cookies) for dessert

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is GERD?

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as chronic acid reflux, is a condition that causes acid contents in the stomach to travel upward into the esophagus. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak or relaxes when it shouldn't.

  • What causes GERD?

    Some common causes for GERD include a malfunctioning LES, obesity, certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, smoking, impaired stomach function, and asthma, among others.

  • What's the difference between heartburn and GERD?

    Heartburn, or acid reflux, can happen to anyone. It is a digestive problem defined by stomach acid coming into contact with the esophagus which causes inflammation and burning. When reflux is frequent and severe, it is known as GERD.

  • Is pasta good for acid reflux?

    By itself or with little sauce and cheese, pasta shouldn't trigger acid reflux. However, specific ingredients and toppings can lead to heartburn in people prone to it, such as heavy tomato or cream sauces, lots of garlic and spices, and carbonara (cream, cheese, and bacon).

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. What to eat when you have chronic heartburn.

  2. Koufman, JA, Stern, J, Bauer, MB. Dropping acid: the reflux diet cookbook & cure. New York, New York.

Additional Reading

By Sharon Gillson
 Sharon Gillson is a writer living with and covering GERD and other digestive issues.