Flat Stomach Guide: Bloating Trigger Foods
Ever have to unbutton your pants after a meal? I know I have! Certain meals can make it feel like a balloon is blowing up in your gut. Not only does it not look good, but it’s also so uncomfortable. So what foods can be triggering this bloating?
Bloating can be occasional and temporary if you have a healthy and robust digestive system. If this is you, you may feel slight pressure and puffiness in your abdomen. In contrast, if your digestive system is compromised, you may have more long-lasting and severe bloating. In this situation, your abdomen can physically distend out, giving you the look of being pregnant. The internal pressure can get so intense that it creates pain.
In either case, bloating can be reduced depending on the food you eat. Though of course, it’s best in the long run to see a functional medicine practitioner (like us!) to help you get to the root causes.
So let’s talk about how foods make us bloat, and then dive into which foods may be triggering you.
What Is Happening In Your Gut?
Bloating is simply trapped gas in your intestines. Just swallowing a lot of air, for instance, can cause bloating in anyone. Bacteria in your gut also produce gas. In a process called fermentation, bacteria convert food to energy. The bacteria, in other words, eat the food you eat. As a consequence, gas is produced. We actually pass gas about 14 times per day! (1) However, if that gas doesn’t make its way out, it creates bloating.
Now let’s talk about the foods that cause bloating. Keep in mind, they aren’t necessarily harmful or bad to eat. In fact, some of these foods can be nourishing. Your gut microbes or digestion just might not be able to tolerate them at this time.
Bloating From Food Intolerance Or Sensitivity
Lactose: Lactose is a sugar compound in dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. If you are intolerant to lactose, you don’t have the enzymes to break it down. Therefore, it makes its way intact to your large intestine where all of your bacteria are to eat it (ferment) and release gas. (2,3)
Those with lactose intolerance report bloating, abdominal pain, physical distention of their abdomen, passing gas, and diarrhea. (2) Part of the reason for these symptoms is that the undigested lactose draws water into the intestines, making the gut more swollen and loosening the stool.
Gluten: Gluten is another component of food that causes bloating (2,4). Gluten is a protein in certain grain products, like wheat, barley, and rye. Individuals can react to gluten in various ways. For instance, some have autoimmune Celiac disease, while others can be allergic or sensitive to it. Because this protein can cause a lot of inflammation, it can worsen digestion. As a result, undigested food feeds bacteria.
To illustrate, a study was done of those who felt they were sensitive to gluten but didn’t have Celiac disease or wheat allergy. Participants were given gluten capsules or placebo capsules with rice. Even though the amount of gluten in the caps was the amount found in just 2 slices of bread, those given gluten had significant increases in bloating and gas (and foggy mind!) (5) After 1 week of a gluten-free diet, the gluten capsules doubled their abdominal symptoms.
Additives In Foods That Cause Bloating
Foods with thickeners: Thickeners are added to bind and improve the texture of foods. Many processed foods contain thickeners, but recipes made at home may also call for them. Examples are starches (potato, corn, tapioca, etc), gums (xanthan, locust bean, arabic, etc), and carrageenan. These are commonly added to bread products, sauces, salad dressings, spreads, and plant-based dairy products (6).
These additives can often escape digestion and absorption and make it to your large intestine to be fermented. A study documented significant rises in gas production when people are fed xanthan gum. (7) In addition, a review of carrageenan concluded that evidence points to it triggering intestinal inflammation. (8) While the amounts in the average diet are likely well-tolerated by most, those with IBS or a sensitive gut might notice worsened symptoms upon consumption.
Sugar alcohols: Sugar alcohols are another food additive not digested by your body. (9) You can tell if it’s a sugar alcohol if the ingredient ends in -ol. Some examples are mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These can be found in low-calorie or keto beverages, sweets, and chewing gums.
Just as we like our sweets, our gut bacteria also enjoy them! The bacteria ferment the sugar alcohol, and once again, produce gas in the process. One exception is erythritol, which fortunately gets absorbed before it could reach most bacteria. (10). Additionally, sugar alcohols change the composition of bacteria in the gut. They have therefore been associated with symptoms of IBS. (11)
Prebiotics: Prebiotics are fibers that feed good gut bacteria. Chicory/inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are prebiotics commonly found in small amounts in produce and in large amounts in packaged health foods. Prebiotics are used by food manufacturers to sweeten the product without sugar and to provide health claims. The problem is that even good gut bacteria produce gas!
For those of us that struggle with bloating, feeding even good bacteria is a recipe for discomfort. (12,13) While it is normal for anyone to have a bit of gas when they consume prebiotics, those with gut imbalances are often hypersensitive. They may experience either greater production of gas, or more bloating and pain from it.
Salty foods: Say what!? I bet you weren’t expecting to see this ingredient pop up. Indeed, studies show that a high sodium diet can cause as much bloating as a high fiber diet (14) The salt in these studies is chiefly from chips, snacks, processed foods, canned food, and restaurant meals. In addition to the bloating that comes from water retention, salt changes your gut’s bacterial composition. (15) Similar to sugar alcohols, the change in bacterial populations can make you more likely to bloat.
Specific Fibers That Cause Bloating
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that human enzymes have a hard time breaking down. There are two forms: soluble and insoluble. While both can be fermented by bacteria, most types of soluble fiber can produce much more gas than insoluble. (16)
Cruciferous veggies: This class of vegetables is highly concentrated in fermentable soluble fibers, especially raffinose. Examples are kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and special compounds that aid the body in detoxing, However, they’re also rich in bloat-causing raffinose, so you have to be careful to keep your intake to the level that your gut can handle. (17)
Beans: Beans also contain raffinose and are notorious for producing gas (anyone else singing the ‘wonderful fruit’ tune in their head? Hehe). Not surprisingly, one study found that half of the participants who ate beans experienced troublesome gas. (18) Though it’s worth mentioning that they also found an adaptation effect. Over 8 weeks, the number of people experiencing bloating dropped below 10%.
Another study looked at the effect of bloating on people that consumed whole chickpea beans verses the raffinose fiber directly. Bloating increased for both groups as compared to the control group that consumed neither. (19) So whether beans are in their whole food form or part of a processed food product, they may be the cause of your discomfort.
Properties Of Foods That Cause Bloating
Fermented foods: Previously we talked about foods fermented by bacteria in your digestive system. But what about eating foods that are already fermented? These foods are great for digestive health. (20) Two issues can arise with consuming them, however. One is that foods that are fermented tend to be on the bloating list: cabbage (cruciferous veggie), yogurt or kefir (lactose), tofu or natto (bean), and kombucha (carbonated, below). The other is the presence of histamine and fermentation by-products, which may upset the gut in sensitive individuals. Nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, you just have to try it out and see what works for you!
Carbonated beverages: Lastly, carbonated beverages is #10 of the foods that contribute to bloating. They are pumped full of carbon dioxide to produce the fun fizzle in your glass. Those gas bubbles can get trapped in your digestive system. (21) Even drinking just over 1 cup of carbonated drinks can cause belly discomfort. (22) At least bloating from these drinks is very temporary compared to the other foods.
Summary: Pay attention to see if these foods may be triggering you: dairy, wheat/gluten, food additives, sugar alcohols, prebiotic fibers, super salty foods, cruciferous veggies, beans, fermented foods, and carbonated beverages. If so, see a nutritionist to figure out why, and what you can do about it!
What are the main foods that cause you to bloat? Comment below!
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- Gas (Flatulence) by Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/gas-flatulence-a-to-z
- Bloating and functional gastro-intestinal disorders: where are we and where are we going? 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25339827/
- Lactose Intolerance in Adults: Biological Mechanism and Dietary Management. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26393648/
- Gluten Sensitivity. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26605537/
- Small Amounts of Gluten in Subjects With Suspected Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over Trial. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25701700/
- Characteristics of lactose-free frozen yogurt with κ-carrageenan and corn starch as stabilizers. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24467586/
- The effect of feeding xanthan gum on colonic function in man: correlation with in vitro determinants of bacterial breakdown. 1993. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8329363/
- The Role of Carrageenan in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and Allergic Reactions: Where Do We Stand? 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11675262/
- Food Additives, Gut Microbiota, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Hidden Track. 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33260947/
- Sugar Alcohols: Chemistry, Production, Health Concerns and Nutritional Importance. 2017. https://www.ijaar.org/articles/Volume3-Number2/Sciences-Technology-Engineering/ijaar-ste-v3n2-feb17-p2.pdf
- Gastrointestinal effects of low-digestible carbohydrates. 2009. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19234944/
- Effect of a prebiotic mixture on intestinal comfort and general wellbeing in health. 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18377682/
- Gastrointestinal Tolerance of Chicory Inulin Products. 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20497775/
- Effects of the DASH Diet and Sodium Intake on Bloating: Results From the DASH–Sodium Trial. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31206400/
- Sodium, hypertension, and the gut: does the gut microbiota go salty? 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31585045/
- Dietary fiber in irritable bowel syndrome (Review). 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28731144/
- In vitro fermentation of raffinose to unravel its potential as prebiotic ingredient. 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002364382030311X
- Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. 2011. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22104320/
- Gastrointestinal Tolerance to Daily Canned Chickpea Intake. 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26067078/
- Evaluation of antimicrobial properties and their substances against pathogenic bacteria in-vitro by probiotic Lactobacilli strains isolated from commercial yoghurt. 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352939318300605
- Gas, Bloating, and Belching: Approach to Evaluation and Management. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30811160/
- Carbonated beverages and gastrointestinal system: Between myth and reality. 2009. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19502016/