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Why Do Bananas Give Me Heartburn?

By Stu Leo︱Published May 14, 2022

Why Do Bananas Give Me Heartburn?

Why do bananas give some people heartburn? It’s a point of frustration for many because bananas are supposed to be a neutral food…so then why the heck is it giving you heartburn? 

In this article, I’ll share my thoughts and go over some interesting research that may explain in part, why bananas are an issue for so many people.

First, the Good News: Heartburn is Usually Easier to Treat than LPR

First, let’s start with the good news. If bananas give you heartburn and regurgitation, you likely have typical reflux—the type of reflux characterized by only 2 symptoms: heartburn and regurgitation.

There is also a second type of reflux called laryngopharyngeal reflux(LPR). LPR is characterized by basically all symptoms other than heartburn and regurgitation. It is complicated because we still do not know exactly what causes LPR. We’ll talk more about this later. 

Back to typical reflux. Typical reflux(heartburn) is usually easier to treat because it’s straight forward. We already know what the problem is. The problem is heartburn/regurgitation—caused by the muscle that connects the esophagus to the stomach relaxing too much and too often(called a transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation):

Spincter Open and Closed 651

So as you can see, because heartburn and regurgitation is caused by a TLESR, heartburn technically has little to do with how acidic your food is, as there have been many reported cases of people getting reflux from simply drinking water!

Instead, I’d like to propose to you that the cause of your heartburn may be due to indigestion.

Why indigestion, you ask? Well, it’s because, for years now, studies have reported an overlap between heartburn, reflux, and indigestion(also known as dyspepsia in the medical literature). The symptoms for typical reflux are heartburn, regurgitation, bloating, and belching.

Well, guess what? The symptoms for indigestion or dyspepsia, ARE ALSO heartburn, regurgitation, bloating, and belching:

Bananas and Heartburn Swedish Study

Here’s a study from the University of Genoa et al. in Italy which concluded that there is an overlap between heartburn and indigestion:

Indigestion Bananas and Heartburn

So what could be the cause of your indigestion?

A potential cause is a lack of good gut bacteria. The acidity or alkalinity of food is irrelevant in this instance.

Is Your “Gut” Healthy?

As you may know already, our “gut,” or more precisely the millions of bacteria that live inside our gut, play a huge role in digesting the food we eat every day. Not only do these good gut bacteria aid our digestion, but they also perform critical functions, such as supporting our immune system.

According to several studies, more good gut bacteria may mean better digestion and better bowel movement. Insufficient gut bacteria, on the other hand, can lead to indigestion and constipation.

That’s why I make sure I have plenty of good gut bacteria by taking a probiotic supplement like this one every day. Also, I try to eat plenty of plant foods in my diet to help my gut make and maintain probiotics naturally in the long term.

Plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, beans, and various vegetables contain good amounts of fiber, which act as prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for our good bacteria to thrive, and this leads to better digestion!

Therefore, eating plants is crucial for optimal digestive health. If your heartburn is related to indigestion, this can make a big difference.

Your Body Needs Time to Adjust a More Plant-based Diet

If you decide to give a plant-based diet a try in order to improve your digestion, know that it could take 1-3 months to fully adjust and reap the benefits.

The exact time will probably vary with different people, but several studies have found that the longer you stick to a plant-based diet, the better it will be for your gut.

For example, this study from Wageningen University in the Netherlands studied pigs and discovered it took longer than 19 days for a pig’s gut bacteria(also called microbiota) to fully adapt from eating low-fiber foods to eating high-fiber foods:

Bananas Heartburn digestion time

Dr. Tomova et al. from Comenius University noted that while a switch of diet can have an immediate impact on gut bacteria, going long-term ultimately proves better:

Heartburn Bananas Diet Good Gut Bacteria Long term

So to sum it up, you can start to experience better digestion by eating a plant-based diet rich in prebiotics/probiotics in as little as a month, but continuing the diet for at least 3 months and beyond can improve your gut bacteria and digestion even more!

Can I eat bananas if I have heartburn AND LPR?

Let’s go back to LPR. I mentioned earlier that laryngopharyngeal reflux(LPR), is the second type of reflux people deal with that does not involve heartburn or regurgitation. Rather, LPR symptoms involve basically everything else outside of heartburn and regurgitation. This can include chronic cough, asthma, a sore throat, hoarseness, vocal loss, and more.

Though less common, it is possible to experience both LPR symptoms AND heartburn or regurgitation at the same time(I did). In this case, eating bananas may actually be a plus for you if they don’t give you heartburn. 

This is because bananas are a soft, closer-to-neutral pH food that is easy on the throat and easy for most people to swallow. So even if the bananas do reflux back up, they shouldn’t do much damage.

My Banana pH Experiment

Let’s talk about pH now(or how acidic a food is), as I think pH definitely matters if you experience throat sensitivity/LPR. 

I’ve heard other sources say that bananas are:

1. Acidic

2. Most acidic when they are green/unripe

I had a hunch this might be key to understanding LPR so I decided to put this to the test. I measured the pH of an unripe, ripe, and super-ripe banana.

Here’s what my bananas looked like:

Bananas

And here are my results:

Unripe Banana 400

*Unripe Banana: 4.62 pH

Ripe Banana 400

*Ripe Banana: 4.77 pH

Very Ripe Banana 400

*Very Ripe Banana: 5.34 pH

So here’s what we got:

Unripe Banana: 4.62 pH
Ripe Banana: 4.77 pH
Very Ripe Banana: 5.34 pH

As you can see, there’s only a .15 difference between an unripe and ripe banana, which basically translates into no perceptible difference(I doubt anyone can really taste a .15 difference).

So here’s what I think about unripe bananas: there shouldn’t be any issues with “unripe bananas” being acidic at all if you decide to eat one because unripe and ripe bananas have nearly the SAME pH. It’s a non-issue.

But notice the pH of the very ripe banana. It’s almost 1 pH point(the higher, the more alkaline) above the ripe banana, which is significant:

Ripe Banana: 4.77 pH
Very Ripe Banana: 5.34 pH

But is that enough to make a difference for people who have LPR?

Maybe. 

So if you want to eat a banana and reduce your chances for LPR symptoms, I would recommend going for an overripe one, as that will be the closest to neutral.

One more thing. Let’s take another look at the very ripe banana again:

Very Ripe Banana 225
*Very Ripe Banana: 5.34 pH

Now let’s pull up the pH scale—notice where 5.34 falls:

ph scale banana

Interesting, right?

According to the pH scale, even a very ripe banana is technically acidic.

Now have a look at the pH of a ripe banana again:

Ripe Banana 225
*Ripe Banana: 4.77 pH

And see where it lies on the pH scale:

ph 4.77 banana

What the..

Whoa. So again, a very ripe banana has a pH of 5.34; a ripe banana has a pH of 4.77; and an unripe, green banana has a pH of 4.62. That puts bananas in general, at an average pH of 5.05.

So yes, bananas are technically acidic. And yes, green bananas are technically the most “acidic.”

YET bananas are still included in most prescribed GERD diets because they are considered a “bland” food. And that is really more important than simply focusing on the pH of a banana.

Though technically acidic, bananas are a bland food and bland foods are less likely to make you gassy because they are easy to digest. 

And the truth is a lot of foods sit right around pH 5-6 with a few notable veggies that are pH 7+. I don’t have time to get into that right now and plan to do a whole post about this, but for now, just know this:

pH isn’t THAT big of a deal, especially if you’re just dealing with heartburn and regurgitation and not throat sensitivity.

So don’t freak out too much about how “acidic” foods are if they’re not directly causing you heartburn, OK? I’ve been there and done that. Being super paranoid about the acidity of my food was in part, what dwindled me down to 127 lbs at one point in my life. Believe me, it’s much better to focus on the nutritional/healing properties of food than to be fixated on acidity alone.

How to Eat a Banana If It Gives You LPR/Heartburn

Here are some final tips to help you out if you experience LPR or heartburn when you eat a banana:

First, a very ripe banana should look something like this:

very ripe bananas

Very ripe bananas are the least acidic, so make sure to have yourself a dark-ish, overripe banana.

Secondly, if bananas are causing issues for your throat, try “neutralizing”(technically, raising the pH) of your banana with oat milk(almond milk works too). Here’s the pH I got when I mixed a very ripe banana with oat milk:

oat milk + very ripe 400

As you can see, the oat milk raised the pH to 6.47—almost 7(which is neutral)! So there you have it, eat your bananas with oat milk(or almond milk) for a less “acidic” experience.

In Conclusion

Don’t let fear mess with you! Focus on both short-term heartburn relief AND long-term health. 

How do you do this? 

For short-term relief, choose very ripe bananas(if palatable) and eat them with oat or almond milk to avoid or improve reflux symptoms.

For long-term health, support your gut by eating more plants—especially legumes!