9 Foods That Cause Bloating
Imagine you’re getting ready for a much-anticipated first date and then it hits: abdominal bloating. Your stomach feels uncomfortably full. Maybe it even looks swollen.
Not only can bloating sour a big night out, it can also bring you daily discomfort.
If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn about 13 foods that make you bloated, as well as what causes it and how to prevent it.
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What is Bloating?
The first step to preventing the discomfort of bloating is understanding what bloating actually is.
Bloating refers to a feeling of fullness and tightness in your stomach. According to Dr. Linda Lee, M.D., many people confuse the internal feeling of bloating and the external appearance of their stomach sticking out more than usual. Everyone’s stomachs stick out at different points throughout the day. When your digestive system is full of food or stool, it will appear less toned and more full.
That said, there are certain foods that can indicate whether you overeat, or you’re suffering from bloating.
9 Foods That Can Cause Bloating
If you suspect food to be the cause of your uncomfortable bloating symptoms, you’re not alone. Let’s look at some of the top foods that cause excessive gas and bloating.
#1 Processed Foods
Despite being extra tasty, processed food may be the culprit behind abdominal bloating. Processed food tends to have high amounts of salt, fat, and sugar which can contribute to feeling bloated.
#2 Dairy Products
If you’re lactose intolerant, food with a high amount of lactose such as yogurt and milk can cause excessive gas, abdominal pain, and bloating. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to properly break down lactose, which causes these unpleasant symptoms. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, including 80 percent of all African Americans and Native Americans and over 90 percent of all Asian Americans.
#3 Carbonated Drinks
Carbonated drinks like soda and sparkling water can cause you to swallow excess air, a cause of temporary bloating. Once the air travels from the stomach to the small and large intestine, it can no longer exit the body as a burp.
#4 Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include all vegetables in the cabbage family, such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Some of these vegetables have compounds that are difficult to digest. Cook them to make it easier for your body to fully digest them.
#5 Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic contain fructans, a FODMAP carbohydrate (detailed more below) that the body cannot easily digest. When bacteria in the digestive tract feeds on fructan, it creates gas. This gas leads to bloating and discomfort in people with sensitive guts.
Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are a familiar cause of gas and bloating. They contain sugars called alpha-galactosidase that many people struggle to digest. When these sugars aren’t digested properly, gut bacteria feed on them and cause fermentation and gas.
#7 Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are popular, low-calorie sugar substitutes. They can be found in everything from sugar-free soft drinks to gums and low-sugar sweets. Unfortunately, in large amounts, the sugar alcohol that creates the artificial sweetener has a laxative effect that causes bloating, gas, and even diarrhea.
#8 Fermented Foods
The bacteria in fermented food like kimchi or kombucha can lead to belly bloat and an upset stomach, especially if you’re not used to eating them. While they have beneficial effects on the gut microbiota, start with small portions of fermented food a couple of times per week, and increase slowly to avoid upsetting your digestive system.
Beer, and other carbonated alcoholic beverages can cause bloating by introducing air into the digestive system. In large amounts, alcohol can also irritate the upper digestive tract and cause reflux. As always, moderation is key.
Overarching Causes of Bloating
Food can certainly be one major source of bloating. But to rid yourself of the filled-to-the-brim feeling forever, you may want to tackle all of the possible causes.
Organic Causes of Bloating
The two most common organic causes of bloating are:
- Food Intolerance – Intolerances to certain food groups, especially carbohydrates, trigger a chain reaction by causing the undigested carbs to travel to the colon, where the bacteria will ferment them. This fermentation creates gas that stretches and distends the GI tract. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent research estimates that almost 20 percent of the general population suffers from some degree of food intolerance.
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) – The majority of healthy people have a relatively small amount of bacteria within their small intestines. On the other hand, certain people suffer from bacterial overgrowth in their small intestines. People with a history of intestinal surgery or IBS with diarrhea are more likely to have SIBO and, therefore, suffer from bloating.
Functional Causes of Bloating
One of the authors of a new review published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Dr. Brian E. Lacy identifies a number of gut-brain interaction disorders that are associated with both bloating and distention. These disorders include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic Idiopathic Constipation
- Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
- Functional Dyspepsia
- Functional Bloating
Dr. Lacy explains that many patients with these diagnoses also have sensory disorders such as:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic Fatigue
The individuals suffer from visceral sensory disorders that cause them to perceive the sensation of their body overproducing gas. Some of the factors Dr. Lacy believes can contribute to this perception include:
This hyperawareness of abdominal distension and the gastrointestinal tract can lead to symptomatic bloating. The brain-gut neural pathways are incredibly complex, so even seemingly unrelated disorders could contribute to the perception or the experience of bloating.
Other Causes of Bloating
There are a few more causes of bloating to be aware of, including:
- Constipation – The longer your stool remains in your colon, the more bacteria ferments. This fermentation leads to gas that contributes to the feeling of bloating.
- Gut Sensitivity – IBS can cause sensitivity to gas that creates pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
- Gynecological Conditions – Conditions that affect the ovaries or uterus can cause bloating.
- Gastroparesis – One of the organic causes of bloating, gastroparesis delays stomach emptying. This delay can cause bloating, nausea, and blockages. Women and those with diabetes are more likely to experience gastroparesis.
- Abnormal Viscerosomatic Reflex – The viscerosomatic reflex controls the contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm and abdominal wall muscles, which allows gas clearance. An abnormal viscerosomatic reflex can cause the abdomen to protrude due to excess gas.
How to Prevent Bloating
Still not sure how to reduce your own bloating? According to Johns Hopkins Medical Centerchanging your diet is the standard treatment to prevent gas and bloating.
Low FODMAP diets are a popular treatment to reduce IBS symptoms including gas and bloating.
FODMAP stands for “low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” These are food ingredients that are fermentable and gas-producing. By cutting these foods out of your diet and then slowly reintroducing them, you can test if they are contributing to your bloating. Be sure to talk with a dietitian before changing your diet.
Breaking down the FODMAP food groups, there are:
- Oligosaccharides – Oligosaccharides, like fructans, are a carb found in wheat, onions, garlic, legumes, and beans.
- Disaccharides – Disaccharides, like lactose, can be found in milk, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Monosaccharides – Monosaccharides, including fructose, are found in foods like honey, apples, and pears.
- Polyols – Polyols, like sorbitol and mannitol can be found in apricots, nectarines, plums, cauliflower, and as an artificial sweetener in many chewing gums and candies.
Important health note: Remember to always talk to your doctor and dietitian first before you make sudden lifestyle and dietary changes.
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Understanding and managing chronic abdominal bloating and distension. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/digestive-diseases/news/understanding-and-managing-chronic-abdominal-bloating-and-distension/mac-20511032. Published April 17, 2021. Accessed June 14, 2021.
Feel Bloated? 5 Odd Reasons for Your Stomach Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/feel-bloated-5-odd-reasons-stomach-pain/. Published March
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Juliette Steen. 7 Foods That Can Cause Belly Bloat (And What Can Help). Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/05/25/7-foods-that-can-cause-belly-bloat-and-what-can-help_a_22108126/. Published May 5, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2021.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936. Published date unknown. Accessed June 14, 2021.
Alexandria Gomez and Marissa Miller. 12 Foods That Cause Bloating, According To Nutritionists. Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/g19923777/foods-that-might-make-you-bloated/. Published August 5, 2018. Accessed June 14, 2021.