13 Foods That Cause Bloating and What to Do

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on January 7, 2021
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How often do you hear yourself or loved ones and friends complain about bloating? It is a very common condition. Approximately 16-30% of people say they experience it regularly (1, 2).

Bloating can be alarming, especially when it is very painful. It also causes discomfort and a “stuffed” feeling. It can also make your stomach look swollen and bigger (3). It is very important to know that bloating is different from water retention, although these two terms are often used interchangeably.

Put simply, bloating involves too many solids, liquids, or gas in the stomach and bowels. The cause can be as simple as gas or indigestion (4). In some people, bloating can also be caused by increased sensitivity. They feel as if there is increased pressure in the abdomen, even though there isn’t (5, 6).

Bloating is rarely a cause of concern if it does not get worse with time or relieved within a day or two. While it can also be a symptom of a serious medical condition, it is often associated with food or eating (7).

In this article, we will look at the most common foods and other conditions that cause bloating and the things you can do to prevent this uncomfortable condition.

Which Foods Cause Gas and Bloating?

As mentioned earlier, some people become bloated after eating certain foods. In most cases, it could be because of an allergy or intolerance. The bloating often goes away on its own but may be linked to stomach pain or diarrhea.

Here’s a list of the foods you should be careful about, along with suggestions on what to eat instead.

1. Beans

Did you know that beans are a type of legume? They are not only rich in protein, healthy carbs, and fiber, they are also loaded with several vitamins and minerals (8). However, most beans contain sugars known as alpha-galactosides, which are FODMAPs. The word FODMAPs stands for fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These short-chain carbs escape digestion and undergo fermentation in the colon. As a result, they produce gas.

For healthy individuals, FODMAPs simply provide fuel for the good gut bacteria and should not cause any harm. However, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), another type of gas will be formed during the fermentation process. This will cause severe discomfort, with symptoms like bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and cramps (9).

To help reduce the FODMAPs in beans, soak or sprout them. Change the soaking water several times to be more effective (10). If possible, choose black and pinto beans, which are easier to digest, especially after soaking. You may also replace beans with quinoa or grains.

2. Lentils

Lentils are also legumes. They are also rich in protein, fiber, and healthy carbs. It also loads a lot of minerals, specifically copper, iron, and manganese. Sensitive people who are not used to eating a lot of fiber may complain of bloating after consuming lentils. Like beans, they also contain FODMAPs, which contributes to excessive gas production.

Again, soaking or sprouting will help make them more digestible. Also, light-colored lentils have lower fiber content and may cause less bloating.

3. Wheat

Wheat has become popular and at the same time controversial because of its protein content known as gluten. Despite all the negativity, it remains to be a crowd favorite. It is present in many kinds of bread, pizzas, tortillas, and kinds of pasta, not to mention your favorite baked goods like waffles, pancakes, cakes, and cookies.

For individuals with celiac disease, however, wheat may cause major digestive problems due to gluten sensitivity. Patients often experience gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain (11, 12). Wheat is also rich in FODMAPs.

To avoid these problems, you can buy gluten-free alternatives like pure oats, buckwheat, quinoa, coconut flour, and almond flour.

4. Onions

Who doesn’t eat onions? We consume it all the time in small quantities as part of our salads, side dishes, and cooked meals. These underground bulb vegetables, which have a strong, unique taste are excellent sources of fructans. Fructans are soluble fibers that can cause bloating (13, 14). Also, some individuals are more sensitive or intolerant to other compounds present in onions, especially the raw ones (15).

Cooking can, therefore, reduce bloating and other digestive discomforts. Fresh herbs or spices will also make a good alternative.

5. Cruciferous Vegetables

Among the most popular members of the cruciferous vegetable family are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. They are indeed very healthy, containing several essential nutrients such as fiber, iron, potassium, and vitamins C and K. However, they also contain FODMAPs, which causes bloating in some individuals (16).

As always, cooking will take care of the problem. Make them easier to digest to prevent digestive issues. Also, there are several possible alternatives. Cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, and zucchini are just as healthy and delicious!

6. Barley

For sure, you have once consumed this very popular and nutritious cereal grain! Aside from fiber, it is filled with lots of vitamins and minerals such as manganese, molybdenum, and selenium. However, whole-grain barley can also cause bloating on people who are not used to eating high amounts of fiber. Furthermore, it contains gluten, which is also a problem for gluten-sensitive individuals.

The good news is that if you cannot tolerate whole-grain barley, try the refined versions. Pearl and scotch barley are tolerated better. Other grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, oats, and brown rice are perfect alternatives too!

7. Rye

Rye is yet another cereal grain related to wheat. It is also very nutritious and is rich in fiber, B vitamins, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. However, it also contains gluten, which some people may be sensitive or intolerant to.

For sure you have heard of other grains and pseudocereals. Go try oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice if you are worried about bloating.

8. Dairy Products

Dairy products like milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese are excellent sources of protein and calcium. Unfortunately, approximately 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. They cannot break down lactose, the sugar present in milk (17, 18). In these people, dairy can cause major digestive problems such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and cramping.

If you are lactose intolerant, you may better handle cream and butter or fermented dairy such as yogurt (19). Lactose-free milk is also available or try almond, coconut, rice, and soy milk.

9. Apples

Who doesn’t like apples? It is one of the most consumed fruits in the world. They are rich in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, which are known to offer a wide range of health benefits (20, 21). However, apples may also cause bloating and other digestive problems for some individuals. The main culprits, again, are fructose, which is a FODMAP, and high fiber content.

To prevent these digestive issues, cook your apples! They are simpler to digest than fresh ones. Or might as well try other fruits such as bananas, grapefruit, oranges, or berries.

10. Garlic

Garlic is yet another popular herb for food flavoring. It is also an excellent health remedy! However, like onions, it contains fructans, which are FODMAPs known to cause bloating (22). Allergy or intolerance to other compounds present in garlic is also fairly common, with symptoms like gas and belching (23).

But cooking can help resolve these problems! You may also try using other spices and herbs in your cooking like parsley, basil, thyme, and chives.

11. Sugar Alcohols

Are you familiar with sugar alcohols? These are commonly used in sugar-free foods and chewing gums. You are probably more aware of the terms xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. Does it ring a bell now? However, these sugars in your favorite gums are also FODMAPs, which may cause digestive issues as soon as they reach the large intestine unchanged and the gut bacteria feed on them. Excessive amounts of sugar alcohols can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.

If possible, look for products that contain erythritol instead. This is also sugar alcohol but is easier to digest compared to the ones mentioned above. Stevia is a healthy alternative though.

12. Beer

You have probably heard of the term beer belly? Most of the time it refers to increased belly size or fat, but it could also mean bloating after drinking beer.

As we all know, beer is a carbonated drink made from sources of fermentable carbs such as wheat, rice, maize, and of course, barley, along with some water and yeast. Therefore, it also contains gas, specifically carbon dioxide. Fermentable carbs and gas are two of the most popular causes of bloating. The grains used to brew beers also often have gluten.

Water remains to be the best beverage, but if you are looking for a good alcohol alternative, check out wines and spirits!

13. Other Carbonated Beverages

Did you know that your favorite soda can cause you bloating? It contains high amounts of carbon dioxide, which is a gas. When you drink a carbonated beverage, you’ll end up consuming large amounts of this. Some get trapped in the gut, causing you to feel uncomfortably full and cramping.

It is still best to drink just plain water. If you really want something more tasteful, try tea, coffee, or fruit-infused water.

Other Causes of Bloating

Aside from foods, which are often related to excessive gas formation, there are several other possible causes of abdominal bloating. Bloating that follows a predictable pattern is usually nothing to fret about. However, when the pattern changes or the episodes become worse than normal, you may want to consider the following conditions:

1. Indigestion

Indigestion, which is sometimes referred to as dyspepsia, causes discomfort or pain in the stomach. It is usually caused by eating too much, excessive alcohol drinking, a minor stomach infection, or medications like ibuprofen.

Frequent indigestion that does not appear to be associated with food or other apparent causes could mean something more serious. Possible causes include ulcers, liver failure, or cancer.

2. Constipation

Another common cause of bloating is constipation. Did you know that you can still be constipated even if you have regular bowel movements? Other symptoms include straining, rocks or pebbles shaped stool, and not feeling empty after defecating.

Constipation certainly contributes to bloating and abdominal pain. The longer your stool sits in your colon, the more time bacteria can ferment what is in your food. You will get more gas, and you’ll feel more bloated.

3. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Your stomach and intestines are home to several kinds of bacteria, most of which help in food digestion. Disturbing the balance of these bacteria may cause the growth of harmful microorganisms. This is known as SIBO.

SIBO causes frequent diarrhea, bloating, and problems related to food digestion and nutrient absorption. For some people, this may lead to unintentional weight loss or osteoporosis.

4. Fluid Retention

Do you like eating salty foods? Do you have food intolerances? How about changes in hormone levels? All of these can cause a person’s body to retain more fluids than they should. Some women experience bloating immediately before having their periods or during pregnancy.

However, chronic bloating caused by fluid retention can have a more serious case. Diabetes and kidney failure are two of the most commonly known culprits. If the bloating does not go away, talk to a doctor immediately.

5. Chronic GUT Disorders

Chronic gut disorders like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also cause frequent bloating. With Crohn’s disease, there is inflammation of the digestive tract. IBS, on the other hand, is often diagnosed when chronic gut symptoms have no obvious cause. Both conditions cause gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

6. Gastroparesis

This condition delays stomach emptying, which may cause bloating, nausea, and even bowel obstruction. This is 4 times more common in women than in men and as many as 40% of diabetic patients will also have it.

7. Gynecological Problems

A problem in the ovary or uterus may also cause a problem. Women with endometriosis, which occurs when the lining of the womb attaches to the stomach or intestines, may experience cause cramping and bloating. Referred pain from the pelvis also resembles bloating.

Treatments and Home Remedies

Bloating can be safely treated at home. You can do the following:

  • Take an over the counter drug, which includes antacids or bismuth salicylate
  • Take a laxative to relieve constipation
  • Warm compress by applying a heating pad to the stomach
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take peppermint

Keeping a food journal to monitor bloating can also be very helpful. This can help identify food intolerances and make healthy lifestyle changes. Most people find that simply avoiding certain foods can prevent bloating and other gastrointestinal health problems.

As mentioned earlier, though rare, bloating can be a sign of something more serious. If you experience intense pain, fever, vomiting lasting longer than 24 hours or even after keeping any food down, bloody stools, and rapid swelling of the stomach or anywhere else in the body, see a doctor immediately.

Can You Prevent Bloating?

Aside from changing your diet and cutting out FODMAP foods, you can take digestive enzyme supplements. There are over the counter products that can help with bloating. The most effective ones include lactase and beano. Lactase can help break down lactose, while the beano contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which helps break down indigestible carbs. Most of the time, these supplements can offer fast relief.

Probiotics are helpful too! As mentioned repeatedly, gas produced by the gut bacteria is a major contributor to bloating. There are several kinds of bacteria in the gut, and they may vary between people. It seems logical that the number and type of bacteria are associated with gas production.

Several studies showed that certain probiotic supplements can help decrease gas production and bloating (22, 23). But unlike digestive enzyme supplements, probiotics can take some time to start working though, so you have to be patient.

Herbal teas can also help prevent and relieve bloating (24). In traditional medicine, peppermint is widely known for helping soothe digestive problems. Its cool and refreshing flavor makes it a favorite of many (25, 26). Studies suggest that the flavonoids present in peppermint can help inhibit the activity of mast cells. These immune system cells are abundant in the gut and may contribute to bloating (26, 27). There is also evidence showing that peppermint can help relax the gut to help relieve intestinal spasms, as well as the accompanying pain and bloating (26).

Chamomile is also popular for the treatment of gas, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and even ulcers (28, 29). It prevents infections brought about by Helicobacter pylori, which often cause stomach ulcers and bloating (29, 30).

In the long run, the key to preventing bloating is understanding its causes. If mild constipation is the problem, a fiber-rich diet, water, and exercise are the most suitable actions. However, these steps aren’t expected to always work for chronic constipation, IBS, or gastroparesis, which require medical intervention.

Key Takeaway

Abdominal bloating can be disconcerting and painful. If you have problems with bloating, then chances are that food in your diet is the culprit. For most people, this can be treated at home and will be something simple. However, if the symptom worsens or persists, see a doctor immediately.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18477677/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17931344

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1681432/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25339827/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437337/

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23917444

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16143143

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10479216

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20659225

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12498630

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24440147

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19394538

(13) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924224407002282

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10395608

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24250308

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20659225

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24443063

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10812376

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11157352

(20) https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/2/5/408/4557935

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC442131/

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23981066/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10811333

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19857249

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27757180

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16767798

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26755686

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26483209

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21132119

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16628544


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