Is sweet potato good for acid reflux?

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Sweet potatoes are usually safe to consume even for people suffering from GERD or acid reflux. However, those who are sensitive to carbs might experience symptoms like gas and bloating.

Health benefits of sweet potatoes

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a sweet tuberous root commonly used in cooking as a root vegetable, where they can be boiled, baked, fried, and pureed.

The Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
A short overview of the health benefits of sweet potatoes. Duration: 1:30.

Cooked sweet potato consists of:

  • water (76%)
  • carbohydrates (21%)
  • a small amount of protein (2%)
  • a very negligible amount of fat (0.15%).

Sweet potato is an excellent source of vitamins:

  • vitamin A (120% daily value)
  • vitamin C (24% daily value)
  • vitamin B6 (20% daily value)

Besides the high vitamin content, sweet potatoes have several other health benefits:

  • help in weight management
  • antioxidant & anti-inflammatory
  • regulate blood pressure
  • cause no rapid blood sugar changes

Are sweet potatoes acidic or alkaline?

The acidic or alkaline nature of any food or substance is represented by a pH number, from 0 to 14. Values less than 7 are acidic, 7 is neutral, and greater than 7 is alkaline.

Sweet potatoes have a pH range from 5.3 – 5.6, thus they are weakly acidic based on their pH.

However, they are widely recommended and included as part of an alkaline diet.

This is because they have a net alkalizing effect on the body when consumed, as measured by their potential renal acid load (PRAL).

The kidneys and lungs are the two organs that do much of the work in controlling blood pH which must remain mildly alkaline (about pH 7.4). For this reason, when talking about an acidic or alkaline diet, the potential acid load that food exerts on the kidneys matters more than the actual pH of the food.

So even though sweet potatoes are somewhat acidic, they still have an alkalizing effect on the body and usually can be safely consumed by people suffering from acidity.

Does sweet potato cause heartburn?

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are unlikely to cause heartburn and are considered a safe food for people with acid reflux or GERD.

  • Sweet potato has an alkaline effect in the body after consumption so that already is a positive effect on acid reflux as it reduces the production of stomach acids and absorbs excess acid.
  • Sweet potato contains a high concentration of easily digestible fiber that eases digestion and promotes a healthy gut microbiome, thereby preventing indigestion that aggravates acid reflux. Fiber has been demonstrated to increase gastrointestinal motility and gastric emptying thereby aiding digestion.
  • Fiber also binds nitric oxide present in foods and reduces its negative impact on the lower esophageal sphincter pressure.

These actions reduce the occurrence and/or re-occurrence of refluxes and their destructive potential.

Sweet potatoes, bodyweight & GERD

Several studies have shown that obese people are more likely to suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease – the chronic form of acid reflux, more than two episodes per week).

Fiber-rich foods, like sweet potatoes, help in weight loss because fiber has a filling effect, so it gives a sensation of satiety, which is beneficial for reducing the amount of food eaten.

Pectin present in sweet potato is a soluble and fermentable fiber that enables the body naturally regulate body weight by increasing the activity of hormones responsible for satiety in the body.

Can sweet potatoes soothe acid reflux?

Sweet potatoes have many health benefits that might relieve acid reflux symptoms.

They contain high levels of carotenoids, which are responsible for the rich color. These carotenoids have been demonstrated to show both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • As antioxidants, they scavenge free radicals that cause oxidation and damage cells.
  • As anti-inflammatory agents, they inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin – 8 or prostaglandin E2, modulating inflammation which is soothing to those suffering from acid reflux.

Studies on animal models have reported a reduction in swelling of the tissues of the stomach walls with the use of sweet potato. Also, sweet potato extract was shown to protect the gastrointestinal tissues from ulcers in animal studies.

Do sweet potatoes cause gas?

The high fiber and sugar content of sweet potatoes might trigger gas and bloating, especially in sensitive people.

For more information, check out our article about potatoes & gas!

Do sweet potatoes cause heartburn?

Sweet potatoes are rich in carbohydrates (especially sugars) which when consumed in high amounts can cause heartburn in sensitive people:

  • Mannitol, as mentioned earlier, produces gas and causes bloating due to incomplete digestion and fermentation in the colon. This can raise pressure on the stomach as well as the upper gastrointestinal tract, pushing stomach contents back into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
  • Consuming too many sweet potatoes can result in excess indigested fiber in the stomach, more gas production, and bloating which all exert pressure on the stomach, causing the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, and this can worsen heartburn in people suffering from acid reflux.

Those who are sensitive to the carbs in sweet potatoes (e.g. people with IBS) or eat too much might indeed experience heartburn after eating sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato fries and acid reflux

Frying sweet potatoes increases its fat content and high-fat diets have been reported to exacerbate acid reflux:

  • Fats are calorie-dense, and their digestion requires the secretion of bile salts that irritate the esophagus for those suffering from acid reflux.
  • Fat digestion stimulates the release of cholecystokinin which is a neurohormonal mediator that relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.

In a research study carried out on GERD patients, 52% reported a reduction in reflux symptoms such as heartburn two weeks after withdrawing fried foods from their diets.

Besides, frying increases the acidity of foods by reducing their pH and adds to the final food compounds that form acid. This certainly worsens acid reflux and heartburn.

Is yam good for acid reflux?

Yams are plant-based root vegetables that give a pH of 9.0 when digested, making them strong alkalizing foods. Yams are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They are recommended in a typical alkaline diet and have not been known to cause or worsen reflux symptoms.

Final thoughts

Sweet potatoes can be a healthy and reflux-friendly part of most people’s diets. Even though sweet potatoes are slightly acidic, they have an alkalizing effect on the body.

However, those who are sensitive to the carbs in sweet potatoes might experience symptoms. Eating too much is another possible source of symptoms because of the excess fiber content.

Fried potatoes are more likely to cause heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms. Choose baked or cooked sweet potatoes instead of fried ones.

This article has been written by:

Meggy Jones

Expert Nutritionist and Food Scientist,
M.Sc. – Nutrition, ugent, Belgium