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Foods That Cause Bloating Are a Sign of a Larger Issue

Eating Certain Foods May Trigger Excessive Bloating, But Your Gut Health Is the Root Cause

Some bloating during or after eating is completely normal (1) (2). The kind of bloating worth worrying about occurs very often, irritates you, or disrupts your daily life [3) (4) (5). That sort of bloating may occur in up to 18% of Americans, and women (whose more pronounced hormonal fluctuations could play a role) are about twice as likely to report bloating as men [6]. So, if you’re often bloated, especially after eating certain foods, like fruits, grains, and vegetables, you’re definitely not alone. 

Foods That Cause Bloating

So, why are almost a fifth of us getting bloated after eating certain foods? Is it the foods themselves, or is something else going on with the gut? Turns out, it’s likely a combo of both. 

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off certain foods for the rest of your days for fear of bloating. There are scientifically supported methods to heal an injured gut and rebalance the microbiome so that you can handle most foods that come your way, and enjoy a healthy, varied diet. 

Let’s dive into foods that often cause bloating and how a little dietary experimentation and strategic supplements might improve your tolerance.

What Are Some Foods That Cause Bloating?

Certain fruits, grains, and vegetables—so-called roughage—are more likely to cause bloating, thanks to the dietary fiber they contain. It’s worth pointing out that carbonated beverages and chewing gum can also cause bloating, thanks to the excess air they bring into your gut. And some people’s digestive systems are sensitive to artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, like sorbitol and mannitol, that may contribute to bloating. That said, we’ll primarily focus on whole foods here.

All dietary fiber is made of non-digestible carbs in the plants we eat. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble, fermentable or not, and more or less viscous (or gel-like in liquid) (7) (8) (9) (10). Typically, bacteria in the colon can more easily ferment (break down) soluble fiber, which is more viscous than insoluble fiber. Some fibers also contain prebiotics, which both feed gut bacteria and help them produce gut-supportive short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) (11)

In general, fiber can be great for gut health [12]. High-quality research has shown that adequate fiber intake may reduce the risk of GI cancer [12] and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [12, 13) (14) (15), improve constipation [16, 17) and IBD symptoms [18], increase levels of beneficial bacteria and their healthy byproducts [18, 19), and decrease inflammation in the gut [18]. However, eating too much fiber can result in negative effects like bloating, even in healthy people (20). And it can be especially troublesome if you have digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), IBD, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (21) (22)

So, what are some ways that fibrous foods might cause you to bloat? 

  • Suddenly eating lots of high-fiber foods when you and your gut bacteria are not used to it may essentially shock your gut and cause bloating [16) (20) (23) (24) (25).
  • For people with IBS, IBD, or SIBO, foods with prebiotic fibers that feed gut bacteria can produce too much intestinal gas and cause bloating (26).
  • Having trouble digesting carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) in certain foods can cause bloating (27).

Here’s a short list of foods that commonly cause bloating: 

  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Whole grains
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Watermelon
  • Avocados

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you’ll notice that all of these foods can be classified as fruits, vegetables, or grains that are higher in dietary fiber. If you find you’re bloating to an excessive degree after eating these foods, you may have eaten too much at once or have a gut imbalance that’s amplifying an otherwise normal response to dietary fiber, prebiotics, or FODMAPs. 

Most people don’t have automatic bloating if all they eat is animal proteins like eggs, meat, and fish, or healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil. That said, if you do have bloating after consuming these foods in the absence of fibrous foods, that’s definitely a sign to take a look at your gut health and see what could be triggering your symptoms. 

Key Takeaway: Bloating is often triggered by foods that contain dietary fiber, which can cause anyone’s gut to expand. When your gut has either too much bacteria or an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, excess fermentation translates to bloating, excess gas, belching, and other uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Fibrous foods can be especially problematic if you eat a lot all at once when you’re not used to it, or if you have IBS, IBD, or SIBO. These gut disorders can make you more susceptible to FODMAPs and prebiotic fibers that may contribute to excessive bacterial fermentation and gas in the gut.

Why Your Gut Health May Be Causing You to Bloat

A number of gut-specific problems could be culprits behind your abdominal bloating. Several common root causes include: 

  • IBS and related hypersensitivity to gas-induced intestinal expansion [4, 28)
  • SIBO [4, 29) (30) (28)
  • Lactose intolerance [4]
  • EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) [4) (31) (32) (28)
  • Gluten or wheat intolerance (33) (34)

You can also have a combination of these root causes, each of which can disrupt your microbiome and damage your intestines. When your gut health is compromised, even healthy foods like fruits and vegetables can trigger bloating and other symptoms, which are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and needs to be addressed. 

An experienced functional medicine practitioner can help you evaluate which root cause or combination of them applies to your bloating and narrow down what to tackle first. 

At the Ruscio Institute of Functional Health, this is our bread and butter (food pun intended?). Everyday, we help our patients evaluate, repair, and optimize their gut health in an approachable, affordable way. If you’re looking for a healthcare partner to help you achieve your gut health goals, reach out to us today

Key Takeaway: Your gut health has a lot to do with whether you bloat after eating certain foods. To reduce bloating and improve your gut health in the long term, we want to figure out which gut issue or combination of them is at the root of your symptoms, and work to correct it.

Flipping the Script: Improve Your Gut Health So You Can Handle More Foods

A common first step to better gut health is to remove certain trigger foods from your diet for a time. If bloating is your main concern, trigger foods to focus on include high-FODMAP foods, which can be problematic for many. 

Whenever you eliminate foods, it’s important to keep it temporary (rather than permanently cutting them from your diet), so you don’t go too long with a narrow array of nutrients. Our goal is to heal your gut so you can eat a wide variety of healthy whole foods and remain symptom-free most of the time. The two main approaches I recommend to patients with bloating are a low-FODMAP diet and probiotics. 

Low-FODMAP Diet

Temporarily removing high-FODMAP foods from the diet is a safe and effective option for reducing bloating and gas (28) (35) (36). Even though it requires you to let go of some common staple foods for a while, a low-FODMAP diet includes a wide array of delicious and nutritious options to fill your plate. You can eat fresh meats, many healthy whole grains, tasty roots and greens, a variety of fruits and berries, and even some legumes and dairy products that don’t have lactose.
Before you despair about all you’ll be missing, you can download this useful app from Monash University, the FODMAP diet pioneers in Melbourne, Australia. Their app lets you see that some generally high-FODMAP foods can actually be fine on a low-FODMAP diet in smaller amounts. For example, broccoli is a high-FODMAP food not included in a generalized low-FODMAP diet. But Monash has figured out that if you keep your broccoli to 2.65 ounces per meal (which might be more than you think), it doesn’t act like a high-FODMAP food.

Foods that cause bloating

Try a low FODMAP diet for 3–4 weeks to reduce bloating. If you notice improvements in your gut symptoms, keep going with the diet and reintroduce higher-FODMAP foods one at a time after you feel you’ve reached the maximum improvement in your gut. If you don’t notice any improvements after a month, it’s ok to stop the diet. But something else may be going on and worth checking into with a trusted clinician. 

If you find the diet is helpful, but things worsen when you reintroduce more FODMAPs, you can safely stick with the diet for up to a year (37), periodically reintroducing trigger foods as your gut improves. 

In addition to its benefits for bloating, studies also show that a low-FODMAP diet can both reduce SIBO (38) and improve gut dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria in the large intestine (39). To boot, a low-FODMAP diet can improve leaky gut (40) (41), reduce inflammation (39) (42), and even reduce histamine levels in the gut (43) (44). Each of these can disrupt the gut enough to contribute to bloating, which underscores how helpful a low-FODMAP diet can be.

Key Takeaway: Solid science has found that a low-FODMAP diet can effectively improve your gut health and relieve bloating in the process. Try eating low-FODMAP for 3–4 weeks and reassess your symptoms. As you feel better, you can experiment with higher-FODMAP foods and personalize your diet to keep bloating at bay.

As you experiment with a low-FODMAP diet, a multi-species probiotic can give you extra support, which I’ll discuss in detail next. 

Probiotics

Another tool you can use to improve bloating is probiotics (45) (46). Studies have shown time and again that probiotics are a safe, effective, and low-cost therapy that improves an array of gut symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, and more (47) (48) (49) (50) (51) (52) (53)

Once you’ve adjusted to a low-FODMAP diet for a couple of weeks, if you’re still bloating, I recommend introducing the triple-therapy approach to probiotic therapy that we use in the clinic. In essence, it’s a three-pronged approach to probiotics that consists of a multi-species blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii, and soil-based (typically Bacillus) species.

You can buy each type of probiotic separately or try our blend of all three for convenience, and take them for 2–3 months to assess their effects on your bloating. This approach has worked well for the majority of my patients, even if they attempted probiotics before and didn’t have success.

Key Takeaway: Probiotics can be effective for reducing persistent bloating. We’ve had the best results in the clinic with our triple-therapy approach, which includes a LactoBifido blend, S. boulardii, and a soil-based probiotic. If you’re also trying a low-FODMAP diet, remember to give your body at least a couple of weeks to adjust to the new diet before adding in probiotics.

Hormone-Balancing Adaptogens

Remember earlier when I said women are about twice as likely to have bloating than men [6]? Among several possible reasons for this is fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle (54)

Often, menstruating people will notice more bloating and other digestive issues in the week preceding their period (the luteal phase). But a general hormone imbalance can drive digestive symptoms that exceed those that typically come with a normal menstrual cycle. 

The good news is that you can do many things to encourage hormone balance, including adjusting your diet and taking probiotics. But if the needle on your bloating doesn’t move with diet and probiotics, it’s worth trying science-backed hormone balancers to see if your hormones might be at play. In many women, hormone-balancing supplements can rebalance hormone levels and bring the magnitude of bloating to reflect just the natural, healthy fluctuations in their cycle. 

Key Takeaway: If you’re a menstruating person experiencing digestive issues like bloating, and you implement a low-FODMAP diet and probiotics without good results, it’s possible your reproductive hormones are off-kilter. Consider trying hormone balancing supplements (ideally, with support from your healthcare provider) to balance your hormones, and see if that does the trick.

You Don’t Have to Avoid Bloat-Causing Foods Forever 

While some foods definitely trigger bloating in certain individuals, those who regularly experience bloating will likely benefit from taking a closer look at their gut health and making changes that can improve their overall digestion. 

There are many ways you can take control of your digestive health to improve your tolerance to foods that cause bloating, including a low-FODMAP diet, probiotics, and supplements for hormone balancing. While you may have to remove some foods from your diet for a time to get your gut health back on track, the goal is always to reintroduce as many foods as possible for a healthy and enjoyable diet. 

For more information on the low-FODMAP diet, probiotics, and how to heal your gut, check out my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You or visit my YouTube channel.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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