Bloating is a problem many people experience after eating; the feeling of an enlarged or over-full belly is often caused by the digestive system reacting badly to a food you’ve ingested.
If you’re among the 16 – 30% (1, 2) who have trouble with bloating on a regular basis, you’re probably all too familiar with the symptoms, which include pain and discomfort in the abdominal area, a distended belly, flatulence, and nausea.
Sometimes these symptoms can indicate a serious medical condition, and it’s important to rule that out by seeing your doctor.
For most people, avoiding foods you don’t tolerate well can solve the problems.
We’ll take a look here at six of the most common foods that cause these symptoms and strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate bloating.
The Suspect List
Each of us has a unique body, and paying attention to how you react after eating will help pinpoint problematic foods.
If feeling bloated is a frequent occurrence and you eat a wide variety of foods, you may need to do a little record-keeping with a food journal.
Beans are in the legume family, and while they don’t taste sweet, beans contain sugars from a carb group called alpha-galactosides. These are classified as “fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols,” or FODMAPs.
Healthy people may not be strongly affected by eating beans, but those with irritable bowel syndrome can suffer from intense bloating, cramping, gas and diarrhea. (3)
Soaking and sprouting legumes before cooking can help (4), and the two legumes that seem to cause the least problems are black beans and pinto beans.
- Onions and Garlic
The strong flavors of these two foods are popular in a variety of dishes, but they are also rich in fructans and belong to the FODMAP group; the soluble fibers they contain are known for causing bloating. (5, 6)
Eating these foods raw is more likely to cause problems, but some people don’t do well with them after cooking, either.
- Broccoli and Other Members of the Cruciferous Family
Loaded with essential nutrients and fiber, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower are some of the most common culprits in causing digestive problems.
These foods are also FODMAPs, and many people get gas and bloating after eating them. (7)
They’re harder on the system raw, but since they’re usually cooked before serving, you may have to avoid these if they cause bloating.
- Dairy Products
The list includes milk, cream, all types of cheese, butter and yogurt. Eating these foods will likely cause anyone with lactose intolerance to experience bloating, stomach pain, cramps and diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance is one of the most common causes of bloating.
- Beer and Other Carbonated Drinks
Beer contains carbon dioxide, as well as fermentable carbohydrates, both of which are known to cause gas and bloating.
This popular drink is made from carbs like wheat, rice or barley, which are fermented with yeast. The grains can also contain gluten, which means anyone with gluten sensitivities is likely to have problems with beer.
Carbonated drinks like soda also introduce gas into your stomach; this can often lead to bloating, belching and cramps.
- Sugar Alcohols
Xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and sorbitol are sugar alcohols often used to sweeten low-calorie foods, and are commonly found in many types of chewing gum as well.
These FODMAPs are problematic for many people, partly because the sugar alcohols reach the large intestine in essentially the same form as you ingested them. While they feed friendly bacteria, they can also cause bloating and gas.
Erythritol seems to be the easiest on the system of sugar alcohols, but some people may need to avoid these altogether.
Strategies for Reducing Bloating
Bloating is miserable. To reduce pain and discomfort, along with decreasing the frequency of experiencing problems, try some of these strategies.
- Determine which foods you may be allergic or sensitive to; the most common sensitivities and allergies include wheat and gluten, milk products, eggs and fructose. Many people have trouble with other grains besides wheat, including barley and rye.
- Be cautious with sugar alcohols; these have become popular as calorie-free or low-calorie sweeteners, but may not be worth the digestive disturbances they can create.
- Try a low FODMAP diet, which will automatically eliminate many problematic foods. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common digestive disorder, and while it’s estimated nearly 15% of the population suffers from it, most go undiagnosed. (10) Bloating is the worse symptom of this disease. (11)
- Get in the habit of eating small meals. Overloading the digestive system with too much food at a sitting can be at the root of bloating problems. Split your food up between 4 or 5 small meals instead of 3 larger meals. Chewing food well can also be incredibly helpful; not only does it slow you down and increase the satiation factor, it lightens the workload for your stomach. (12)
- Eat fruits as a snack, rather than with a meal or as a dessert. This can help reduce problems from the fructose these healthy foods contain.
- Pay attention to the way you eat to avoid swallowing air with your food. Most of the time people who are gulping air with their food don’t realize they’re doing it; eating in a hurry and talking while eating are two of the most common causes of swallowing air.
- Try keeping liquids and solids separate: drink fluids before you eat and let some time pass before adding food. Large amounts of liquid taken with food can cause uncomfortable feelings of fullness, and drinking carbonated beverages with meals is a bad idea for anyone prone to bloating.
- Constipation can make bloating worse, and eating high-fiber foods, which is the strategy usually recommended for preventing this problem, may not work well for those who bloat easily. (13) You can try a magnesium supplement, and getting more exercise is also helpful. (14, 15)
- Taking digestive enzymes like Lactase may help with dairy products, and some people find Beano decreases or eliminates gas after eating legumes.
- Adding a probiotic supplement can cultivate the proper amount and balance of friendly bacteria in the gut. Several studies indicate probiotics help reduce gas and bloating. (16, 17)
- A natural remedy that can decrease bloating is peppermint oil; it’s been shown to work as an anti-spasmodic, reducing muscle spasms in the gut during digestion. (18)
If you experience frequent, intense and painful bloating that is accompanied by severe symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, flatulence and nausea, see your doctor.
Summary: Bloating is commonly experienced after eating certain foods, which can differ between individuals; identifying and eliminating these from your diet is the most effective way to reduce or avoid bloating.