Numerous studies have examined how eating affects heart rate, and have concluded that heart rate actually increases after eating (for most people). Reviews published in 2013 in Psychophysiology and in 2014 in Nutrition Research and Reviews, as well as a study published in 2014 in Electrocardiology all say heart rate is generally higher after meals, especially large feasts.
How and Why This Occurs
The reason your heart rate goes up after eating has to do with increases in metabolism and blood flow to the digestive tract. This occurrence is also known as postprandial hyperemia. The National Center for Biotechnology Information says gastrointestinal blood flow increases (which can happen even when you see or smell food) and is characterized by a boost in aortic pressure, cardiac output, and heart rate.
Normal Heart Rate Fluctuations
The amount your heart rate fluctuates after meals varies based on the size of the meal. It might increase 10 to 30 beats per minute (based on patient testimonials). In most people, a boost in heart rate after meals isn't problematic, says Berkley Wellness. The American Heart Association says average heart rates for adults are 60 to 100 beats per minute (40 to 60 beats per minute for athletes). But, Dr. Howard LeWine, M.D. with Harvard Health Publications, says resting heart rates above 90 beats per minute are considered high, so avoid exceeding this level even after meals. Check your pulse to determine heart rate before and after eating. If you're feeling dizzy or are experiencing heart palpitations after meals, your heart rate might be too high.
Causes of Irregular Heartbeat
Heart palpitations happen when your heart races or pounds unexpectedly or feels like it's skipping beats. This can occur after meals, especially when eating certain foods. Harvard Health Publications says causes of abnormal heart rates after meals include:
- Acid reflux (heartburn)
- Dietary supplements, such as hawthorn, valerian, ginseng, bitter orange, or ephedra
- Low potassium levels
- Blood sugar drops
- Too much caffeine
- Too much chocolate
- Excess alcohol
- Anxiety or panic
Other causes of heart palpitations include medical conditions like heart problems, nervous system disorders, anemia, and thyroid imbalance. So, if you're experiencing irregular heart beats regularly, even after meals, it's time to check in with your doctor.
Can Eating a Fatty Meal Increase Heart Rate?
The composition of your meal doesn't matter much when it comes to heart rate increases after eating, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Anthropology. Researchers who conducted the study found heart rates were higher after meals regardless of diet composition, and changes in heart rate post-meal were the same after high-fat vs. high-carb meals. A 2013 study published in Plos One found high-fat shakes caused greater increases in heart rate than regular shakes, but the high-fat shakes were also higher in calories. Berkley Wellness confirms large meals boost heart rate more because of higher demands from your digestive system, and high-fat meals are often higher in calories.
Can Heart Rate Be Unchanged or Decrease After Meals?
Your body's natural response to eating is a higher heart rate, but no change or decreases in heart rate can occur after meals in some cases. Merck Manual says in some older adults, body mechanisms that boost post-meal heart rate are inadequate, causing heart rate to remain unchanged after eating (as well as drops in blood pressure). Certain medications can also inhibit heart rate increases. The American Academy of Family Physicians says taking beta blockers for heart problems can prevent the body's normal response of post-meal heart rate elevation.
When to Seek Help
Heart rate fluctuations are normal, and an increased heart rate is expected after meals. However, avoid eating very large meals when possible, which may generate large boosts in heart rate. Instead, opt for smaller more frequent meals, keep resting heart rate within a recommended range, and talk with your doctor if you experience heart palpitations or dizziness after meals.