Why does bread give you heartburn?

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Bread is a possible heartburn trigger because of its gluten and carbohydrate content.

People with gluten intolerance often experience heartburn after eating bread.

Bread, pastry & heartburn

Gluten intolerance is a possible heartburn trigger, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity might affect a significant percentage of the population. Therefore heartburn after bread or pastry is very possible and not uncommon.

While intolerance or sensitivity to gluten can be possible triggers, there might be other causes:

  • Eating too much is a common cause of heartburn and other symptoms in the chest and stomach. If this is the cause, symptoms are not experienced regularly and are not related to the type but the amount of food consumed.
  • Bread is a carbohydrate-rich food, and carbohydrates are more difficult to digest in the stomach, causing the production of excess stomach acids that can cause reflux and consequently heartburn.
  • Bread also lacks important minerals and vitamins that have anti-inflammatory properties, and which can therefore protect the gastrointestinal tract from inflammation.
  • Some research studies have reported an aggravation in reflux and heartburn with the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods for people with gluten intolerance.
  • Pastries might also contain a lot of sugar, which can cause both gas and inflammation. Both of these are risk factors for acid reflux.

White bread and heartburn


White bread is a more common trigger of heartburn than whole grain bread, mainly because of its lower fiber content.

White bread is made from refined grains in which most or almost all the fiber has been removed.

Fiber has several benefits to the gut:

  • Fiber is known to soak up excess acid in the stomach.
  • Fiber also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria that prevent inflammation.
  • Furthermore, a lot of bread produced these days contain added sugars, artificial sugars, and/or sweeteners all of which when consumed in large amounts worsens heartburn.

Thus, consuming a lot of white bread can aggravate the heartburn sensation due to its low fiber content.

Whole wheat bread acid reflux

Whole grain bread includes whole wheat bread, whole grain oatmeal bread, and sprouted whole grain bread. They are rich in fiber which has been known to reduce acid reflux and heartburn in sensitive people.

A study reported that those who consumed bread high in fiber content did reduce their risk of experiencing reflux symptoms by half, compared to those who consumed bread low in fiber content.

Dietary fiber helps to prevent acid reflux in several ways:

  • binds nitric acid present in foods and reduces its negative impact on the lower esophageal sphincter pressure
  • increases motility in the esophagus, gastric emptying, and reduces gastric acidity in reflux patients

These factors reduce both the number of refluxes that occur and their destructive capability.

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommends the incorporation of whole grains in the diet of individuals suffering from reflux.

Whole grain bread is also rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium which are all enhance the proper functioning of the digestive tract.

Can gluten-free bread cause acid reflux?

If reflux symptoms are caused by gluten intolerance then gluten-free bread should be safe to consume.

Gluten-free bread usually contains corn, potato, tapioca, or rice. Intolerance to these ingredients is far less common than gluten intolerance, so gluten-free bread is less likely to trigger heartburn or other digestive problems.

However, sometimes even gluten-free bread might trigger acid reflux or abdominal pain. In such cases, these are the most common problems:

  • Egg and milk: Most types of gluten-free bread contain egg and milk, which are common allergens and might cause digestive issues for many people.
  • Carbs: Gluten-free bread is usually high in carbs, which might cause symptoms in people with certain medical conditions (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome).

Even though gluten-free bread might also trigger acid reflux, the reason for this is not gluten intolerance but some other health problem.

Does rye bread cause heartburn?

Rye bread

Since rye is not gluten-free, rye bread might trigger heartburn for people with gluten intolerance.

However, rye bread is more heartburn-friendly than white bread:

  • Rye contains more soluble fiber than wheat.
  • Its fiber is gum-like or mucilaginous, thus it lubricates the digestive tract easing stomach pain and gastritis soothing heartburn.
  • Rye bread is less likely to increase body weight.

In terms of acid reflux, rye bread is a safer choice than white bread, but people with gluten sensitivity might need to stay away from it.

Other types of bread

Oatmeal bread

Oats are one of the best sources of soluble fiber (beta-glucan), minerals, vitamins, and unsaturated fatty acids. They do not contain gluten in themselves but can get contaminated with gluten during growing or processing.

Sensitive people should consult the label and make sure the bread is not contaminated with gluten.

Sprouted whole grain bread

This is bread made from sprouted seeds: seeds that just started germinating. Sprouting breaks down the starch in the grains increasing digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients, making absorption easier as well.

Sprouted whole bread has also been reported to contain high levels of antioxidants and antioxidants are vital for soothing and improving reflux symptoms.

Can yeast in bread cause acid reflux?

Yeasts are single-celled microbes that belong to the fungi kingdom.

Some people are intolerant to yeast, and so they tend to suffer from digestive problems after consuming yeast containing products such as:

  • bloating, gas
  • abdominal pain
  • acid reflux
  • even skin rash in more severe cases
  1. Toast vs fresh bread

Some medical and health professionals have demonstrated that toast is better than fresh bread when it comes to heartburn.

The toasting process decreases the water level in the bread breaking down complex carbohydrates in the process due to a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. This reaction is responsible for the brown hue characteristic of toasts.

Toasting makes it easier to digest bread as it would normally take the body a long time to digest complex carbohydrates in fresh bread.

What is the best bread for acid reflux?

Bread with high fiber content is the best for heartburn sufferers. Whole grain bread and rye bread are probably the best. White bread is the most likely to cause symptoms and should be avoided.

Final thoughts

Gluten intolerance has been associated with acid reflux and heartburn in gluten-sensitive people.

However, though not all people suffering from acid reflux are gluten intolerant, most people that are gluten intolerant suffer from some acid reflux symptoms. Gluten intolerant people can either completely remove bread from their diet or go for gluten-free bread options.

This article has been written by:

Meggy Jones

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