Bananas often soothe heartburn, as they have an alkalizing effect on the body. However, in some cases, they might cause reflux or make symptoms worse.
Some people can eat ripe bananas without issues but have symptoms after eating unripe bananas. Others experience the exact opposite.
Banana (Musa spp.) is a sweet long curved yellow fruit, that originates from the tropical Indomalaya and Australia. They are primarily consumed raw when ripe as fruits, though they can also be cooked, and to a lesser extent, used in the manufacture of wine (banana wine), beer (banana beer), or fiber.
- water (75%)
- some carbohydrates (23%)
- dietary fiber (3%)
- protein (1%)
- almost no fat (0.3%)
Bananas are rich in Vitamin B6 (0.4mg) providing about 31% of the recommended daily value (DV) per 100g serving. It also supplies 13% DV for manganese and 10% DV for vitamin C.
Are bananas acidic or alkaline?
Banana has a pH range of 4.5 -5.7, placing it in the acidic range of the pH scale, though in this case a mild acid.
The pH scale is a scale that measures how acidic or alkaline a food is by assigning it a value between 0 and 14. A pH measure of less than 7 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and greater than 7 is alkaline.
Even though a pH of 4.5-5.7 is somewhat acidic, it is not acidic enough to cause reflux symptoms after eating bananas, since the pH of gastric acid is around 2.
Furthermore, bananas are considered to be alkaline-forming when ingested, so they have an alkalizing effect on the stomach.
Do bananas cause heartburn?
Consuming bananas is said to relieve heartburn in some people as well as it has been reported to worsen symptoms in others.
Bananas are a rich source of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation, which is crucial in relieving GERD. Vitamin C also plays a vital role in healing tissues that have been irritated by acid reflux.
Furthermore, bananas are loaded with vitamin B6, and dietary supplementation with vitamin B6 has been proven to help treat acid reflux in GERD patients.
Bananas contain pectin, which is a soluble fiber that helps to:
- increase gastric emptying
- increase motility in the gastrointestinal tract
Generally, both of these are beneficial for relieving GERD.
However, excess consumption can result in too much fiber in the gut which some people cannot handle. The results are the massive fermentation in the colon, leading to much excess gas production, bloating, constipation, and stomach cramps all of which worsen acid reflux.
Ripe vs unripe banana and acid reflux
Both ripe and unripe bananas are unlikely to trigger reflux symptoms. However, people with certain health issues might experience heartburn after eating either ripe or unripe bananas.
Sensitivity to sugar
Unripe bananas are low in sugars, unlike ripe bananas whose sugar content increases as the banana ripens. Therefore unripe bananas might be less likely to cause symptoms to certain people, e.g. those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
If consuming ripe bananas worsens your GERD, then you may be intolerant to FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). Ripe bananas contain high levels of the FODMAP called oligo-fructans.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates reputed for their poor absorption in small intestines. They end up in the colon where they undergo fermentation by bacteria, resulting in gas production.
Polyols are known laxatives, noted for causing stomach pains, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence.
Ripe bananas have a higher pH (5 and above) than unripe bananas, making them milder acidic foods. They however have alkaline-forming properties when eaten, helping to reduce acid reflux episodes as well as their severity.
Generally, it is uncommon for ripe bananas to cause acid reflux. As a matter of fact, banana extracts have been reported to work better at preventing acid reflux than some antacids like omeprazole.
They are only trigger foods to sensitive people, when eaten too much or on an empty stomach.
However, those who have low stomach acid levels might actually experience symptoms after eating bananas.
Unripe bananas contain a higher amount of resistant starch (38g/100g of total starch) compared to ripe bananas (4g/100g of total starch). As the banana ripens, the resistant starch levels drop because they are converted to simple sugars such as fructose, glucose, and sucrose.
Resistant starch is starch in food that resists digestion and so ends up in the large intestines where the good bacteria feed on them and grow, increasing in numbers and contributing to a healthy gut environment which boosts our overall immunity.
However, bacteria fermentation of resistant starch also results in the production of gas (carbon dioxide and methane) which can cause moderate to severe bloating, stomach cramps, and discomfort.
This increase in gas can increase the pressure exerted on the stomach which further puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, which can open and cause the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Gastric acid secretion
Unripe bananas have also been reported to increase acid production in the stomach, which can trigger acid reflux. This is because the stomach produces more acid than it would normally do to try and break down the resistant starch in the unripe banana as much as possible.
Thus, consuming ripe bananas can be more unlikely to trigger or aggravate acid reflux than unripe bananas.
Is banana smoothie good for heartburn?
There is little or no study on whether making a banana smoothie makes a difference in heartburn. Just like eating normal bananas, a banana smoothie will soothe some people suffering from heartburn, and it might not soothe some others.
Some professionals say adding some milk and/or other alkaline fruits like watermelon, and/or green leafy vegetables, or even ginger may make your banana smoothie even more alkalizing and thus more soothing for heartburn.
But this again is very subjective, and the question of lactose intolerance in the case of milk also comes in.
Bananas are generally safe for consumption and do not cause acid reflux or heartburn except for sensitive people.
Consuming ripe bananas is generally safer for sensitive people than unripe and consuming on empty stomach is also not advisable.
Cooking unripe bananas has been reported to help reduce resistant starch, however, cooling can cause a rapid buildup of resistant starch worsening reflux acid and heartburn symptoms.