While some foods are known to aid in digestion and reduce bloating, others can increase it. In this article, we will be discussing the most common foods that cause bloating so you can avoid them, and what you can do to improve your digestive health.

What is Bloating?

Bloating is a feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen, often accompanied by gas and abdominal pain. 

It occurs when there is an excessive amount of gas or air in the digestive system. 

This can happen for several reasons, including overeating, eating too quickly, consuming certain types of food or drinks that are difficult to digest (such as beans or carbonated beverages), constipation, or underlying medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease.

The symptoms of bloating may vary from person to person but can include abdominal pain, cramps, gas, belching, and even diarrhea or constipation. Bloating can also cause abdominal swelling and make clothes feel tighter than usual.

women with different sized stomachs, bloating concept isolated on white

Common Causes of Bloating

Bloating is a common digestive issue that many people experience on a daily basis. It can be caused by various factors, including eating certain types of food.

Here are the usual reasons for bloating:

1. Digestive Disorders

Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease can cause bloating. These conditions affect the way your body digests food, leading to excessive gas production and abdominal distension.

2. Food Intolerances

Food intolerances such as lactose or gluten intolerance can also lead to bloating. When your body cannot digest certain foods properly, it accumulates gas in your gut that causes bloating.

3. Eating Habits

Eating habits such as eating too fast, chewing gum, or drinking through a straw can also cause bloating by introducing excess air into the digestive system.

4. Hormonal Changes

Hormones play an essential role in regulating bodily functions, including digestion. During the menstrual cycle, there are significant fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels that can lead to bloating.

Estrogen is responsible for promoting water retention in the body. As estrogen levels increase, so does the amount of water retained by cells, leading to bloating and swelling.

Similarly, progesterone also contributes to water retention by relaxing smooth muscles in the body, including those found in the digestive tract.

This relaxation slows down digestion and causes food to remain longer in the intestines than usual. As a result, gas builds up and causes bloating.

5. Medications

Certain medications like antibiotics, laxatives, and painkillers, including opioids, have side effects like altering gut bacteria leading to inflammation and further causing gastrointestinal issues resulting in bloats.

6. Stress 

Stress stimulates the cortisol hormone, which impacts digestion negatively by slowing down metabolism. This further affects gut health, eventually leading to bloating.

Common Foods That Cause Bloating

While there are various factors that can cause bloating, here are some of the foods that can cause or worsen bloating:

1. Beans and Other Legumes

Beans and other legumes are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, they can also cause bloating and gas in some people.

assorted varieties of beans in burlap sacks

This is because legumes contain complex sugars called oligosaccharides that are difficult for our bodies to break down.

When we eat legumes like beans, the oligosaccharides move through our digestive system undigested until they reach our large intestine.

There, bacteria break them down and produce gas as a byproduct. This gas can lead to uncomfortable bloating, cramping, and flatulence.

What to do:

  • Soak Beans Overnight

Soaking beans overnight before cooking them can help break down the complex sugars that cause bloating. Simply place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover them with water. Let them soak for at least 8 hours or overnight before draining off the water and cooking as usual.

  • Cook Beans Thoroughly:

Properly cooking beans is another method to reduce their oligosaccharide content easily and makes them easier to digest. Make sure to cook your beans thoroughly until they are soft and tender. This may take longer than you think – some types of beans can take up to 2 hours!

  • Try Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes such as alpha-galactosidase can help break down the complex sugars in beans and legumes so that they are easier to digest. You can find these supplements at most health food stores or online.

  • Start Slowly

If you’re new to eating beans or have had trouble with bloating in the past, it’s best to start slowly and gradually increase your intake over time. This gives your body time to adjust to the increased fiber content.

2. Dairy Products

One of the main reasons why dairy causes bloating is due to lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products that needs to be broken down by an enzyme called lactase before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. 

assorted dairy products on a whitewashed wood surface

People who lack enough lactase enzyme will not be able to digest lactose properly, leading to undigested lactose reaching their large intestine, where it ferments, producing gas.

Another reason why dairy causes bloating is due to its high-fat content, which slows down stomach emptying causing food to stay for longer periods in your digestive system leading to fermentation and gas production.

What to do:

  • Try alternative types of milk

If you find that regular cow’s milk causes you to bloat, try switching to alternative kinds of milk, such as almond milk or soy milk. These options are lactose-free and may be easier on your digestive system.

3. Carbonated drinks

Carbonated drinks are immensely popular beverages that have been around for centuries. These fizzy drinks come in a variety of flavors and are loved by millions worldwide. 

However, it is no secret that drinking carbonated beverages can cause bloating, and while it may seem like a minor inconvenience, it can actually be quite uncomfortable and even painful.

Carbonated drinks in plastic bottles. multicolored drinks. studio shot

The main reason why carbonated drinks cause bloating is due to the gas they contain. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used to create the bubbles found in these drinks, and when we consume them, we ingest large amounts of this gas along with the liquid. 

The CO2 then travels down into our digestive system, where it reacts with stomach acid to produce more gas.

This excess gas can lead to bloating as it builds up, causing your stomach to fill full as if you’ve eaten a big meal or swallowed too much air. This feeling of fullness can be accompanied by discomfort or pain in some cases.

Another contributing factor is the sugar content in many carbonated beverages. Sugar can contribute to bloating by causing fermentation in our gut which produces more gas as well.

What to do:

Limiting your consumption is the simplest way to prevent bloating from carbonated drinks. Try cutting down on how much soda or sparkling water you drink each day and see if that makes a difference. Even reducing your intake slightly can significantly impact your digestive system.

But ultimately, you should aim at eliminating soda from your diet because, besides bloating, it can contribute to other health issues like obesity, which can give rise to other problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

4. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and collard greens. These veggies contain high amounts of fiber and other complex carbohydrates that can be difficult for some people to digest.

Assortment of different cruciferous vegetables on the wooden background

When we eat cruciferous vegetables, the body breaks down the fiber into short-chain fatty acids during fermentation by the gut bacteria. This process may result in the emission of gas, leading to bloating.

Additionally, cruciferous vegetables contain a group of compounds called glucosinolates that are converted into sulfurous compounds when they are broken down during digestion. 

These compounds also contribute to bloating as they produce gases like hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for producing foul-smelling flatulence.

What to do:

  • Cook the vegetables

Cooking cruciferous veggies can help break down the complex sugars that cause bloating. Boiling or steaming them before consumption is an effective way of reducing their gas-producing properties.

  • Start with small portions

If you’re not used to eating large amounts of cruciferous veggies, it’s best to start with smaller portions until your body gets accustomed to them.

  • Chew thoroughly

Chewing your food well helps break down the fibers in cruciferous veggies and aids digestion.

  • Increase water intake

Drinking plenty of water can help flush out excess gas from your system and prevent constipation.

  • Avoid raw consumption

Eating raw cruciferous veggies can be tough on your digestive system, so try cooking them first before adding them to salads or other dishes.

5. Fried Foods

When we eat fried foods, our bodies must work harder to digest them. This is because the high-fat content in these foods slows down digestion, which means food stays in the stomach longer than it should. This can lead to an increase in gas production, which causes bloating.

Homemade deep fried hush puppy corn fritters

Moreover, fried foods often contain unhealthy fats that can give rise to inflammation in the body. This can, as a result, pave the way for most chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

What to do:

Avoid fried foods and if you must take them, do it in moderation and ensure they are prepared with healthy oil that can stand high temperatures, such as coconut oil.

Other than that, consider avoiding deep-fried foods in general. Go for stir-frying, steaming, boiling, grilling, or roasting methods of cooking.

6. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are commonly used in sugar-free products as a substitute for natural sugars. While these sweeteners have been marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar due to their low-calorie count, they come with several side effects that can negatively impact your health, with a common one being bloating.

Woman adding artificial sweetener to coffee

The artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol or xylitol found in low-calorie products may not be absorbed fully by our bodies; hence they ferment within our gut microbiome, causing major symptoms such as flatulence, and abdominal pain, among others.

What to do:

Switch to natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey. You can also go sugar-free altogether, so try and see what works best for you.

7. Wheat-based Products

Wheat-based products are a staple in many people’s diets, but they can also be the culprit behind uncomfortable bloating.

Variety of breads on an old wooden table

Here are some reasons why wheat-based products can cause bloating:

Gluten intolerance: 

Wheat contains gluten, a protein that some people have difficulty digesting. This condition is known as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

When these individuals consume wheat-based products, it triggers an immune response that damages the lining of their small intestine, leading to bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other digestive problems.

FODMAPs:

Wheat also contains fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs), which are types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by some people’s intestines. These FODMAPs can ferment in the gut and produce gas, leading to bloating and discomfort.

What to do:

  • Choose alternative grains

There are many alternative grains available that don’t contain gluten or wheat, such as quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and millet. 

You can use these in place of wheat-based products like bread, pasta, and cereals.

  • Check food labels

Many packaged foods contain hidden sources of wheat flour or gluten, which could trigger bloating for sensitive people. So ensure you read the labels carefully and avoid any product with wheat.

Additional Tips to Prevent Bloating:

In addition to avoiding foods that cause bloating, here are additional tips that can help:

  • Avoid eating too quickly: Eating too quickly can cause air to enter your stomach, which can lead to bloating. Take your time while eating and chew your food properly.
  • Drink plenty of water: Drinking enough water helps flush out excess sodium from the body, reducing water retention that causes bloating.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise not only helps improve digestion but also reduces stress levels which contribute to bloating.
  • Try probiotics: Probiotics help promote healthy gut bacteria by adding beneficial strains that aid digestion and reduce inflammation.
  • Consider medication: In cases where lifestyle changes do not help with chronic or severe symptoms, it may be necessary to consult a physician for further evaluation and treatment.

Final Thoughts

While you can experience bloating due to various factors, there are known foods that cause bloating that you should watch out for, including high-fat meals, beans, cruciferous vegetables, dairy products, carbonated drinks, and artificial sweeteners. 

With that being said, it’s good to remember that some of these foods like beans and cruciferous vegetables are actually healthy and good for you.

In this case, you need to master the best preparation methods to reduce your bloating risk as much as possible. Also, try pairing them with other non-bloating foods for best results.

Additionally, staying hydrated and engaging in regular exercise can also aid in digestion and prevent bloating. 

If you continue to experience persistent bloating after making dietary changes or have any other concerning symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhea, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment recommendations.

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