Low in calories and high in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals, grapefruits are a healthy addition to your diet. But if you find you get indigestion or an upset stomach after eating them, you may have to give them up. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit can trigger heartburn, and some people have a citrus intolerance or allergy 67. Speak to your doctor about whether grapefruit is causing your stomach discomfort and what you can do about it.
Your esophagus transports food from your mouth to your stomach for digestion. A muscular band around the lower esophagus, called the esophageal sphincter, allows food and liquid to pass through to the stomach but prevents stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. Certain foods and other factors such as smoking and being overweight can weaken the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This results in a range of symptoms, including stomach discomfort. Grapefruit and other citrus fruits have a high acid content and can trigger or worsen acid reflux.
- Your esophagus transports food from your mouth to your stomach for digestion.
- Certain foods and other factors such as smoking and being overweight can weaken the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
Skin Rash from Strawberries
Grapefruits are high in salicylates, compounds found in plants used to protect the plants from diseases, insects, fungi and bacteria. For people with a salicylate sensitivity, eating grapefruit can cause a reaction 5. Symptoms of salicylate sensitivity include stomach pain, diarrhea and nausea 5. If a salicylate sensitivity is to blame for your gastrointestinal discomfort, you will likely also have discomfort after eating other fruits high in salicylate such as:
- watermelon 5
Citrus Intolerance and Allergy
Some people are allergic to citrus fruits, including grapefruit, although this is rare. A food allergy is an immune response to a protein found in certain foods. An intolerance, on the other hand, is not an immune response and will not show up in allergy testing 7. However, both an allergy and an intolerance to citrus can manifest in stomach problems, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting 7. In the case of an intolerance, you may be able to eat a small amount of grapefruit without symptoms; with an allergy, even a small amount will cause a reaction.
- Some people are allergic to citrus fruits, including grapefruit, although this is rare.
- In the case of an intolerance, you may be able to eat a small amount of grapefruit without symptoms; with an allergy, even a small amount will cause a reaction.
When to Avoid Grapefruit
Stomach Burns After Eating Oranges
If grapefruit triggers your acid reflux, Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology recommends limiting or avoiding it 2. A citrus allergy may result in severe symptoms that can be life-threatening, including anaphylaxis and death, so it is important to see your doctor to determine whether you have an allergy. According to the Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana, for some people eating grapefruit within two hours of exercising can trigger food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis 6.
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- MNT: What Are the Health Benefits of Grapefruit?
- Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Diet
- Merck Manuals: Overview of the Esophagus
- Patient: Dyspepsia (Indigestion)
- Total Health: Do You Have Salicylate Sensitivity?
- Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana: Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit: Citrus Allergy
- Better Health Channel: Food Allergy and Intolerance
- Grapefruit, raw, pink and red, all areas. USDA FoodData Central. Updated April 2019.
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- Chen P, Zhang W, Wang X, Zhao K, Negi D, Zhou L, et al. Lycopene and risk of prostate cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015;94(33):e1260. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000001260
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- Dow CA, Going SB, Chow H-HS, Patil BS, Thomson CA. The effects of daily consumption of grapefruit on body weight, lipids, and blood pressure in healthy, overweight adults. Metabolism. 2012;61(7):1026-1035. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2011.12.004
- Zhao CN, Meng X, Li Y, et al. Fruits for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Nutrients. 2017;9(6):598. doi:10.3390/nu9060598
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- Bourrier T, Pereira C. Allergy to citrus juice. Clin Transl Allergy. 2013;3(Suppl 3):P153. Published 2013 Jul 25. doi:10.1186/2045-7022-3-S3-P153
- Grapefruit Juice and Some Drugs Don't Mix. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Consumer Updates. Updated July 2017.
- Grapefruit juice and statins. Harvard Medical School - Healthbeat. Harvard Health Publishing. Updated September 2019.
- Bailey DG, Dresser G, Arnold JM. Grapefruit-medication interactions: Forbidden fruit or avoidable consequences?. CMAJ. 2013;185(4):309-16. doi:10.1503/cmaj.120951
- Kanellis A, Manganaris G. Fruit Ripening. (Nath P, Bouzayen M, Mattoo A, Pech J, eds.). Oxfordshire: CABI; 2014:110.
- Wanlapa S, Wachirasiri K, Sithisam-ang D, Suwannatup T. Potential of selected tropical fruit peels as dietary fiber in functional foods. International Journal of Food Properties. 2015;18(6):1306-1316. doi:10.1080/10942912.2010.535187
- Murphy MM, Barraj LM, Rampersaud GC. Consumption of grapefruit is associated with higher nutrient intakes and diet quality among adults, and more favorable anthropometrics in women, NHANES 2003-2008. Food Nutr Res. 2014;58:10.3402/fnr.v58.22179. doi:10.3402/fnr.v58.22179
Jody Braverman is a professional writer and editor based in Atlanta. She studied creative writing at the American University of Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland. She also received personal trainer certification from NASM and her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from YogaWorks.