“I look six months pregnant” is a complaint I have heard multiple times over the years.
“How do I get rid of it?” is a question or plea I have also heard multiple times.
Although it is more often than not women who report feelings of bloating it can also happen to men (myself included).
Most of the time bloating is painless and just makes us feel uncomfortable and makes putting on jeans or a dress a challenge.
Occasionally though being bloated can also be painful and leave your stomach feeling very sensitive.
There are a few reasons what we eat causes bloating.
When we consume certain foods, which contain short-chain carbohydrates it can cause a cascade of reactions which in turn ends in a bloated belly.
Short-chained carbohydrates which cause bloating as well as other symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are known by the acronym FODMAPS:
Fermentable Oligo-Di-Mono-saccharides and Polyols
It is important to note that because you bloat does not mean you have IBS
FODMAPS are found in any food that contains a form of carbohydrate including sugar and fibre including the majority of vegetables, legumes, lentils, fruit and dairy products
Two things to remember about FODMAPs and bloating / IBS
1. Some of these foods are higher in FODMAPs than others meaning there are often better alternatives.
2. Not all FODMAPs will cause you an issue. For some people one or two foods may trigger bloating whilst for others they simple have to look at vegetable and they expand ten-fold.
So why do FODMAPs cause bloat?
These short-chain carbohydrates in the foods are small in size making them hard to break down or absorbed by the small intestine.
This leads to additional water being drawn into the intestine via osmosis.
The added water creates distension and enlarges the intestines.
The FODMAPs make their way through the small intestine to the large intestine, where they are greeted by very hungry gut bacteria.
Our gut bacteria feast on fibre and FODMAPs for energy causing fermentation.
The fermentation process generates gases including hydrogen, carbon dioxide and…methane.
The combination of increased water in the small intestine and gases being produced in the large intestine stretches the intestinal wall, stimulating nerves in the gut.
It’s the expansion of the gut which triggers bloating, which can be painful and uncomfortable.
Another reason someone may feel bloated is constipation. This could be down to a number of things including the types of food you eat, hydration levels, fibre intake etc…
8 Foods that cause bloating
The list of foods which could make you bloat is extensive, so I have in places amalgamated food groups more likely to make you bloat.
I have also included low-FODMAP alternatives to each food which may help reduce bloating and certain IBS symptoms.
“Beans, beans they’re good for your heart, the more you eat the more you…”
Beans are quite well known for their gas producing properties.
Beans are packed full of protein and fibre which contains galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) which are poorly aborbed by the small intensine. This means they’re great for your healthy gut bacteria but gas is almost certain.
Some beans including kidney, baked and borlotti beans are higher in GOS meaning they are more likely to cause you to bloat.
Alternatives include soaking beans, rinsing the can water thoroughly or cooking them for a longer time can reduce bloating.
You can also use chickpeas, quinoa or canned lentils.
2. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are rich in mannitol (a Polyol) which is slowly digested in the small intestine. This leads to extra water in the intestines as well as the possibility of gas production if any is fermented by the gut bacteria.
Alternatives include spinach, courgette and green beans
3. Alliums (Onion, garlic, leek)
It may not be a word you are familiar with but the alliums are the family onion, garlic and leeks are part of.
All three of these are high in fructans which are similar in the effects as cruciferous vegetables.
Onions and garlic are some of the most commonly complained about foods in my experience with those who have IBS. They can cause bloating as well as diarrohea.
The issues with onion and garlic tend to be that they are under cooked and overeaten.
Alternatives to onion include chives and the green tips of spring onion. Pickled onions are also lower in FODMAPs which reduce bloat.
Alternatives for garlic include using garlic infused olive oil or the pickled “lazy garlic” you find in shops.
4. Apples and Pears
No cockney rhyming going on here, apples and pears are two of the most commonly cited fruits which can cause bloating. They are high in sorbitol and mannitol, both types of Polyol.
Other fruits which can cause issues include stone fruits like peaches and nectarines as well as watermelon.
Alternative fruits which are less likely to trigger bloat or IBS include strawberries, oranges, kiwi, banana and cantaloupe melon.
5. Wheat – bread, pasta and muesli
I hate to be a party pooper but sadly, as many know, wheat-based foods like bread, muesli and pasta can cause bloat.
Although for years people had their pitch forks at the ready blaming gluten (and still do) it is the fructans in wheat that draws water in to your intestines causing you to puff up like a blowfish.
Alternatives that may reduce bloat include gluten free products, spelt dough bread, oats or corn-based cereals.
The worlds new favourite villain, dairy. For many milk won’t cause an issue at all as long as you don’t drink a stupid amount of it. For others, who lack the enzyme lactase (needed to breakdown lactose in to glucose and galactose sugar molecules) is a totally different story.
If you have a lactase deficiency then the lactose will pass undigested through the small intestine to the large intestine.
On it’s travels it will draw water in to the gut before bacteria ferments it creating gases.
This is why dairy for many causes bloating, gas and diarrhoea.
If you like dairy but don’t tolerate it too well I suggest you try yourself with lactase enzymes.
Some dairy products are higher than others in lactose with milk, yogurt, cream and ice cream being high whilst many cheeses are low.
Alternatives to dairy include non-dairy substitutes like soy and almond.
7. Protein bars
Protein bars have been on the market for years but in recent times have become even more popular. Many will see them as a “guilt free” sweet treat. As much as they can top up protein needs and give you a sweet hit, I would be cautious with them if you bloat or have IBS.
They contain polyols which are used as a substitute for carbohydrates and sugars in it. This is why they can maintain the chewy texture without the calories.
The polyols create a double whammy of increased water and gas production and often lead to bloat and in many cases diarrhoea.
Although I have no alternatives for this as such I would recommend reducing the number of polyol rich foods that you eat.
8. Low-Calorie Ice cream
Sadly for me, this is the main contributor to my ever increasing belly…it also bloats me too.
Like the protein bars they are rich in polyols, sugar alternatives to give texture and sweetness. Add to the fact they also contain lactose and you have a serious bloat party on your hands.
Hopefully this has provided more insight in to bloating and given you some ideas of how to reduce it.
If you have IBS and want professional help, it is an area of experience of which I am qualified to work in, having helped many people manage their symptoms over the last 2-3 years.
For more information please do not hesitate to get in contact with me.
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