Can orange juice cause heartburn?

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Orange juice is a great source of various vitamins (like A, C), calcium, potassium, iron, and folate.

Besides these nutrients, orange juice tastes great, no wonder it is so popular. In 2020/21 about 497,000 metric tons of orange juice were consumed in the US.

However, despite the great marketing around it, orange juice consumption has been on the decline in the past ~10 years. More and more studies debate if orange juice is indeed as healthy as the marketing slogans try to make it look.

The problem with orange juice in one word: sugar. A cup of orange juice contains about 20g of sugar. The daily recommended sugar intake for adults is around 30g, for children it is around 20g-25g.

Are oranges and orange juice acidic?

While orange is an acidic fruit, it is the sugar content of orange juice you should worry about!

Oranges and orange juice contain citric and ascorbic acids. The sourer the fruit the more acidic it is.

The strength of acids is measured in pH. pH is a number between 0 and 14, with 7 being neutral. Lower numbers mean acidity, higher numbers indicate alkalinity.

The ph of orange juice is around 3.5 – 4, which means it is acidic. However, the stomach is even more acidic, the ph of gastric acid is around 1 – 3.

As long as moderate amounts of orange juice and heavy a healthy stomach, the acidity of orange juice shouldn’t cause a problem.

The sugar content of orange juice

As mentioned above, a glass of unsweetened orange juice contains about 20g of sugar, roughly 65% of the recommended daily sugar intake. Packaged orange juices in supermarkets often contain added sugars, so their sugar content is even higher.

Orange contains natural sugars, like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Orange has a glycemic index of 52, but its glycemic load is 4.4, which is low. (Glycemic load takes into consideration the usual portion size as well, not only the glycemic index.)

So oranges in their raw forms are not likely to cause problems, because you don’t eat too much of them and besides the sugar, they also contain fiber, which slows down digestion and flattens blood sugar spikes.

How about orange juice? There are about 3 oranges in a cup of orange juice, which means orange juice has a much higher glycemic load.

On top of this, juices sold in supermarkets usually contain added sugar, and often the healthy fiber content is removed… You might want to steer clear of such juices.

But can orange juice cause heartburn, chest pain, and other symptoms. And if yes, exactly how?

Can you be allergic to oranges?

Albeit not common, it’s quite possible to be allergic to oranges. It is called citrus allergy. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits can all trigger reactions.

Common symptoms are:

  • runny nose, itchy eyes
  • hives
  • swelling of face, tongue, lips
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

A rare, but very serious symptom of food allergies is anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical help!

Allergy symptoms usually occur soon after eating or getting in contact with the food. However, sometimes people experience symptoms hours after eating.

Orange intolerance

It is also possible to be intolerant to citrus fruits.

Unlike an allergy, which is caused by the immune system, food intolerance is a digestive problem. As such, the symptoms are less severe, even though they are still unpleasant.

Chest pain, which might feel like heartburn, a common symptom of acid reflux, is also a possible symptom of food intolerance.

However, if you are experiencing these symptoms, it is more likely that you have a food intolerance and not acid reflux:

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • gas

Does orange juice give you heartburn?

Heartburn, a burning pain around the center of the chest, is a typical acid reflux symptom. It is caused by stomach acids flowing up (reflux) into the food pipe.

One might think the high acidity of orange juice can trigger heartburn, but this is usually not the case. However, if you are experiencing heartburn, drinking orange juice might aggravate your symptoms.

More often it is the high sugar content that causes heartburn and triggers acid reflux episodes. A high carbohydrate diet was found to trigger reflux symptoms more often, while a low-carb diet seems to reduce reflux symptoms, especially in obese people.

Most fruit juices can cause chest pain and other symptoms because of the high sugar content. Besides orange juice, pineapple juice can also make heartburn worse.

Is orange juice good for heartburn?

It might look counterintuitive that a highly acidic drink can soothe heartburn and other reflux symptoms, but this might be the case.

For many people, low stomach acid levels can lead to slow digestion and acid reflux. Drinking a small cup of orange juice 15-30 minutes before having a meal might raise the amount of acids in the stomach and can speed up the digestion process.

This study found that orange juice might protect against the detrimental health effects of a high-fat meal.

The key is to take orange juice in moderation and not too frequently. Try to eat a healthy, reflux-friendly diet, so that your stomach can digest the food without help.

Orange juice and ulcers

Research says, oranges are effective in fighting Helicobacter pylori, which is known to cause ulcers.

Even though oranges can help to prevent the development of ulcers, those who already have ulcers might need to avoid orange. Spicy, acidic, and high-fat foods might irritate the ulcer and make symptoms worse.

Ulcers in the stomach are probably the most common, but it is also possible to have ulcers in the food pipe. They are called esophageal ulcers and acid reflux is one of the possible conditions that might lead to such ulcers.

Those who have esophageal ulcers might feel a burning pain in their chest while consuming oranges or orange juice. The reason is usually not the classic heartburn, which is caused by stomach acids flowing up in the food pipe, but the high acid content of oranges, which irritate the ulcer in the food pipe.

Final thoughts

Orange is considered to be healthy food, but only in moderation. It contains a lot of vitamin C, fiber, and has anti-inflammatory effects.

However, most experts agree that orange juice is far from being as healthy as marketing slogans suggest it. This is because of its high sugar content.

Packaged orange juices sold in supermarkets are even worse, as they contain added sugar, and the healthy fiber content is often removed.

High sugar foods can trigger acid reflux and therefore orange juice might indeed cause heartburn for some. Citrus fruits might also cause acid reflux for some.

If orange juice causes heartburn or other symptoms, it’s best to eliminate it from your diet. If you are unsure what exactly causes the symptoms, you need to consult with a gastroenterologist to find the problem.