Heart palpitations are often described as a pounding, fluttering, or fast-beating heart. It’s normal to feel this sensation during times of stress or physical exercise. Heart palpitations can also be brought on by certain medications or medical conditions.
If you experience heart palpitations after eating, whatever foods or beverages you just consumed could be responsible. It is also possible that those palpitations are due to an underlying medical condition.
Some healthcare providers blame caffeine for an increased heart rate after eating. Caffeine is a common ingredient in foods and beverages including:
- Energy drinks
Recent research has shown that caffeine may have certain heart health benefits and is not a likely cause of palpitations after eating. This 2016 study gave test subjects a steady intake of caffeinated beverages over a 24-hour period, monitoring them for any increases in heart rate. The study couldn’t find a link between caffeine and heart palpitations, but more research and longer studies are needed to get to the bottom of the results.
Sugar can cause palpitations after eating, especially if you have hypoglycemia.
Alcohol can also cause heart palpitations. It has an effect on the vagal nerve that can trigger heart palpitations, especially in people with a condition called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF) is an irregular rhythm in the upper chamber of the heart that can be triggered by alcohol. An observational study out of the University of California found that patients with PAF had a 4.42 percent greater chance of heart palpitations after drinking alcohol (especially beer) compared to a second group with a different type of arrhythmia. The common factor in each case was the activation of the vagus nerve by alcohol.
Researchers believe that foods rich in tyramine, such as cheese, dried yeast, red wine, bananas, and chocolate, may cause atrial fibrillation and a rapid heart rate after eating.
Chocolate is the primary source of theobromine in Western diets. It is also very high in saturated fat and caffeine. Many people love dark chocolate in particular for its antioxidants, especially flavonols, which provide a range of protective cardiovascular benefits. Dark chocolate may also cause an elevated heart rate and arrhythmia, but more research is needed to confirm this link.
Other possible causes of heart palpitations after eating are dietary supplements and over-the-counter decongestant medication containing phenylephrine.
Some herbal remedies can also increase your heart rate after eating, including:
- Bitter orange
A study out of Stanford University’s School of Medicine suggests a relationship between acid reflux and heart pounding after eating. Subjects noticed a reduction in heart palpitations (atrial fibrillation) once they were given a proton pump inhibitor to treat their gastroesophageal reflux disease. Larger studies are needed to prove a direct link between acid reflux and an increased heart rate after eating.
Fluctuations in estrogen levels can also have an effect on the heart. Estrogen is a key component in the healthy maintenance of tissues in your body. This includes the tissues of your circulatory system and heart muscle. During menopause, it is not uncommon to experience heart palpitations after eating.
Many people are sensitive to cold and flu medication, so consult your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter decongestants, especially if you’re taking medication to treat another condition.
People who are on insulin to manage their diabetes may experience heart pounding if their blood sugar drops. Monitoring your blood sugar at regular intervals and following a diabetic-friendly diet can help reduce heart palpitations after eating.
Some illegal drugs are stimulants that increase your heart rate and can lead to palpitations, more serious heart arrhythmias, and possible heart attacks.
In some cases, an increased heart rate after eating is harmless, but irregular heart rhythms can be a sign of potential heart disease and shouldn’t be ignored. Some medical conditions and symptoms that are associated with an irregular heartbeat are:
- Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial flutter
- Ischemic heart disease (hardening of the arteries)
Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) is an abnormal increase in heart rate that happens right after you sit down or stand up, which can cause dizziness, fainting and heart palpitations.
These symptoms could get worse after eating, especially refined carbohydrates, such as sugar or food made with white flour.
Your diet can affect the health of your heart. After working with your health care provider to rule out any underlying medical conditions, consider if what you’re eating may be causing your heart palpitations.
The best way to do this is to keep a food diary and write down everything you eat and drink, noting any symptoms you have after each meal.
Try avoiding tyramine-rich food and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. Stay away from common cold medications with phenylephrine and consider other lifestyle changes like quitting smoking.
Treatment for an increased heart rate depends on the diagnosis. When it comes to your heart and an abnormal heartbeat, a visit to your healthcare provider is always a good idea. Your heart palpitations after eating might be benign and may be improved by some healthy lifestyle habits. However, you might need medication if there is an underlying medical condition.
Eating heart-healthy foods can help reduce your heart palpitations after eating and your risk of heart disease. Experts suggest that eating a diet rich in whole foods such as nuts, fish, whole grains, olive oil, and fresh fruits and vegetables can improve your cardiovascular health. Start by replacing unhealthy options with wholesome, nutritious foods.
If you’re concerned about an increased heart rate after eating, first see your health care provider to rule out any medical cause. Try incorporating more heart-healthy foods into your diet and avoid other risk factors like over-the-counter allergy and cold medication. Heart palpitations after eating might not be a serious issue, but it is always a good idea to seek professional medical advice and get checked out.