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Bloating is a build-up of gas in the digestive system, which can make your stomach bulge. Bloating is uncomfortable and painful; it’s that bowling-ball-in-the-stomach feeling.
Sometimes bloating feels like intense pain that you can’t shake. If you experience bloating, whether it’s on a daily basis or from time to time, avoid these seven foods that have been shown to increase, or even cause, bloating.
Keep in mind that one of the most fascinating things about humans is that you are unique. Everyone’s physiology reacts differently to different foods. So while the following seven foods are common aggravators, they are not foods every person must avoid. Pay attention to how you feel after eating the described foods. Finding what works best for your body will make all the difference!
Breads, pastas, and pastries—the list of foods that commonly contain gluten goes on. They are widely consumed in the standard American diet. But what is gluten? Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat. It has a thick, elastic property that is similar to glue—hence, the name gluten. Gluten can cause bloating for people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, but it also can cause bloating in people with issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Gluten, because of its “sticky” texture, tends to bind to the small intestinal wall, which leads to inflammation. Be aware that eating gluten-free foods that are highly processed can also trigger bloating. If you suspect you are intolerant to gluten, make an appointment with your doctor.
What to eat instead: Substitute your favorite gluten-filled foods with a gluten-free alternative. If you like toast, slice a sweet potato and use that as your vessel for your toast toppings. If you love pasta, noodles spiralized from veggies like zucchini or butternut squash are an option for you.
It’s common to have some type of digestive disturbance when consuming dairy. Most people have been told that the sugar in dairy products, lactose, is to blame; this symptom is commonly known as “lactose intolerance.” However, studies have shown that one of the proteins in milk, casein, can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms. It is difficult for the body to break down and delays the steady move of waste matter through the intestinal tract.
If you’re feeling bloated, steer clear of dairy products to see if they might be the culprit. Give yourself seven days without it, then eat a piece of cheese or drink some milk. If you notice any bloating, it is likely that dairy that does not agree with your body.
What to eat instead: There are a wide variety of dairy-free alternatives to try. Homemade nut and seed milks, almond milk cheese, and coconut milk yogurt are great dairy-free options.
3. Processed Foods
Processed foods should really be called food-like products. The majority of processed food is void of real nutrients and lacks freshness. Sodium is typically added to processed foods to preserve the quality while it sits on the shelf. Sodium can cause water retention. Consuming too many processed foods, especially if you’re bloated, will cause you to become even more so.
What to eat instead: Focus on eating foods in their natural state to prevent bloating or to avoid making your bloating worse. Water-rich foods like celery, cucumber, apples, lettuce, and berries are great options.
4. Beans and Legumes
Beans have gotten a reputation for being the “musical fruit” for a reason. Beans and legumes are a high-FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) food. FODMAP foods are a group of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars), such as those that are found in beans and legumes like chickpeas, soybeans, black beans, and peanuts. When you eat these foods, the sugars can ferment in the colon and cause gas and bloating.
What to eat instead: Canned beans are a definite belly bloater due to the added sodium for preservation. If you aren’t ready to give up beans or legumes in your diet, make them from scratch and soak them before cooking to improve digestibility.
5. Carbonated Beverages
Have you ever burped or felt that air bubble in your chest after drinking something bubbly? Soda, champagne, kombucha, and sparking water all contain carbonation. The carbonation gives drinks that light, bubbly texture that many people love. Because of the carbonation, you end up swallowing air when you drink these beverages and that air gets in your intestinal tract. This excess air in your intestinal tract can cause bloating and belching, too.
What to eat instead: Opt for filtered water with a squeeze of lemon or lime for a refreshing beverage.
6. Sugar Alcohols
With all the hype about low-sugar diets in recent years, sugar alcohols used as alternative sweeteners have become popular. Sugar alcohols commonly end with the suffix -ol; xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol are examples of sugar alcohols. These are typically found in processed foods marketed as “healthy” like granola bars, yogurts, and cereals. Gum and mints typically contain them as well. Research has shown that consuming sugar alcohols is related to symptoms of IBS, excessive gas, and bloating. It’s also shown that consuming sugar alcohols in excess can cause diarrhea. Sugar alcohols can create major havoc on the digestive system. If you’re bloated, sugar alcohols will likely exacerbate your symptoms.
What to eat instead: Because of the digestive disturbances that sugar alcohols can cause, it’s best to stick to natural sweeteners like raw honey or pure maple syrup.
7. Raw Cruciferous Vegetables
Notice the word “raw” in front of cruciferous vegetables. Veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts have been shown to cause bloating in certain individuals. The reason eating these veggies raw can cause bloating is because they are high in fiber. This high-fiber content can be difficult for the digestive system to process if your body isn’t used to consuming a lot of fiber.
What to eat instead: These veggies are an important part of a healthy diet, so enjoy them lightly steamed or roasted. You can also eat them in smaller amounts to reduce the digestive discomfort.
Not every one of the foods mentioned above will cause bloating in every individual. What’s important is to be aware of how your stomach feels after you eat. Try to deconstruct your symptoms. If you feel bloated when you wake up, it’s likely something you ate the day before didn’t agree with you or hasn’t fully digested. If you feel bloated shortly after eating, what on your plate or in your glass could have caused that? Awareness is key to discovering what foods work best for your unique body.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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