How to Avoid Acid Reflux When Eating Chinese Food

Chinese restaurants can be difficult to enjoy if you are prone to heartburn, a common problem created by acid reflux. The dishes may contain ingredients that trigger reflux, and, unlike foods prepare at home, you don't have control of what is included in certain dishes.

This doesn't mean that you have to avoid Chinese restaurants and give up on Chinese takeouts at home. With a few precautions, you reduce the risk of reflux and continue to savor the flavors of Chinese cuisine.

overheat shot of people enjoying Chinese food
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What to Avoid

When looking at the choices on a typical Chinese menu, it is easy to be lured by dishes that sound too tasty to resist. Even so, you need to look at each dish individually and ask yourself if they contain any ingredient that triggers heartburn in you as an individual.

Acid reflux triggers can vary by person to person, with some ingredients affecting an individual with reflux more than others. With that said, there are a number of triggers that commonly affect people with acid reflux.

When ordering a Chinese meal, start by striking off fatty foods, fried foods, and spicy foods as well as dishes made with viscous sauces. These include:

  • Egg rolls
  • Spring rolls
  • Crab rangoon
  • Shrimp toast
  • Barbecued spareribs
  • Fried chicken wings
  • Hot and sour soup
  • Crispy fried noodles
  • Fried rice (which can sometimes be very oily)
  • Sweet and sour dishes
  • Curried dishes
  • Crispy beef, chicken, pork, or fish dishes
  • Dishes made with garlic sauce
  • Szechuan dishes (which are more likely to be spicy)

If you aren't sure what is in a dish or how a dish is prepared, don't be afraid to ask.

You can also request alterations or substitutions if a dish you love contains an ingredient you know will trigger heartburn. For example, you can ask that chilis be omitted from cold sesame noodles or that a side dish of fried rice be substituted with plain steamed rice.

What to Order

The following list of Chinese menu items may be kinder to your stomach and esophagus if you suffer from heartburn. None are fried or spicy. Most are relatively light and either have no sauce or are lightly sauced. Examples include:

  • Wonton soup
  • Velvety corn soup
  • Egg drop soup
  • Steamed dumplings
  • Summer rolls
  • Steamed pork buns (vegetarian fillings are the safest)
  • Satay skewers (peanut sauce on the side)
  • Steamed fish dishes (sauce on the side)
  • Cantonese steamed chicken
  • Steamed shrimp with broccoli
  • Peking duck (without the skin)

Other Tips

Many people consider sauces to be central to Chinese cuisine and can't do without them. To savor Chinese flavors with less risk of heartburn, ask for sauces to be placed on the side whenever possible. You can't do this with many Chinese dishes but can with most steamed dishes, satays, or dumplings.

If you do decide to order an old favorite, like chicken with cashews or moo goo gai pan, consider ordering for the table, serving yourself a smaller portion with plenty of plain rice. You can do the same with lettuce cups, removing the excess filling and replacing it with some steamed white or brown rice.

If dining at a restaurant with a limited menu, check the menu online, and call in advance to query the ingredients and ensure that the dish is still available. Doing so can prevent you from being stuck with nothing to eat or eating something that causes heartburn.

Smaller restaurants are also more likely to make adjustments, particularly if you give them advanced warning.

A Word From Verywell

If you are prone to heartburn, speak with your healthcare provider if it occurs more than twice weekly and/or is getting worse. You may be experiencing a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that requires medications, medical management, and lifestyle modifications.

If left untreated, GERD can lead to serious health complications, including esophageal ulcers, esophageal strictures, Barrett's esophagus, and esophageal cancer. Early diagnosis can place you on treatments to better avoid these problems.

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  1. Richter JE, Rubinstein JH. Presentation and epidemiology of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Gastroenterology. 2018 Jan;154(2):267-76. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2017.07.045