Bloating: What to eat and what to avoid

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  • Several foods may cause bloating, but it might not be that easy to pinpoint the culprit.
  • Common causes include carbonated beverages, bread, and dairy products.
  • Cutting out certain foods and replacing them with others could solve the problem.

Bloating is one of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms, and 16% to 31% of the general population report being affected by bloating. 

The causes are many and can vary from medical conditions to food-related causes. Medical conditions include coeliac disease, lactose and gluten intolerance, constipation, gastroparesis (partial paralysis of the stomach muscles), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and dysbiosis of the gut (imbalance of the gastrointestinal bacteria).

Researchers have found the following foods to be potentially problematic and recommend that you avoid them if you struggle with bloating.

1. Legumes (split peas, dry beans, lentils, chickpeas)

Beans and lentils contain oligosaccharides which belong to a group of carbohydrates known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols (FODMAPs).

FODMAPs are digested and fermented in the intestine, which forms gas, resulting in discomfort and bloating in those who struggle with IBS.

Soaking the beans and lentils in water before preparation, or using canned versions has been found to reduce the bloating effect.  

2. Fizzy drinks

Fizzy or carbonated beverages get their fizziness from a gas called carbon dioxide.

When consuming these drinks, some of the gas gets absorbed into the bloodstream and is exhaled, or released through belching.

However, if it gets trapped in the digestive tract, it may result in bloating and discomfort. 

3. Bread

Studies have found that, even if you don't have coeliac disease, you may be gluten sensitive, which can lead to bloating.  

This has been linked to the presence of soluble fibres called fructans in gluten-containing grains like bread.

Gluten is a protein in grains like barley, wheat and rye.

Gluten is often blamed for causing bloating. Improvements when avoiding gluten-containing foods may, however, be due to removing the fructans and not the gluten.

4. Onions

Onions (and garlic) are also high in fructans. Even in small quantities, fructans can cause bloating.

Try flavouring foods with fresh herbs, chives and lemon juice instead of onions.

5. Dairy

Milk and other dairy products are nutritious and an excellent source of protein and calcium, but individuals who are lactose intolerant may experience bloating.

Depending on the severity of your intolerance you may, however, be able to enjoy small amounts of dairy.

In some people, fermented dairy foods like yoghurt and cheese are better tolerated because they contain smaller amounts of lactose.

In recent years, many lactose-free dairy products have come onto the market, making life a lot easier for those who are lactose-intolerant. 

6. Apples

Apples may also cause bloating due to the presence of two types of FODMAPs, sorbitol and fructose.

Fructose is digested and fermented in the intestine and can result in bloating and abdominal discomfort.

Fruits which are better tolerated include those that are lower in sorbitol and fructose such as grapefruit, oranges, blueberries, and strawberries. 

7. Sweeteners

Food manufacturers use sweeteners to replace sugar and reduce the calorie content of foods.

The sweeteners sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol are also part of the FODMAP family (polyols).

When ingested, these compounds reach the intestine unchanged and act as a food source for intestinal bacteria, resulting in bloating.

Erythritol, sucralose, aspartame and stevia are artificial sweeteners which are better tolerated.

8. Foods low in fibre

A low-fibre diet can cause constipation which may worsen the symptoms of bloating because constipation causes food to move more slowly through the gut.

A lack of fibre results in reduced numbers of beneficial bacteria which help to manage bloating.

To increase fibre in your diet, replace white flour products with whole grains. Choose foods containing more than 6g of fibre per 100g.

When dietary changes alone don't resolve the issue, probiotics and ruling out any other underlying medical conditions may help.

In addition, it is important to remember that it may take up to six weeks to see any improvements.

If you struggle to control bloating on your own, it is advisable to consult a registered dietitian for further guidance.

READ | 10 Foods that cause bloating

READ | Digestive health myths busted

READ | 5 Surprising reasons why you might be bloated

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