So far in this series on bloating, we’ve talked about the ways in which how you eat and your lifestyle can affect whether or not you bloat. I deliberately dealt with these before getting to the subject of today’s post which is what foods may be causing you to bloat. This is because some foods which commonly cause bloating in susceptible people are otherwise very nutritious, and it’s never a good idea to remove healthy foods from your diet without good reason, so I do like to consider other factors first. If you do find that there are some otherwise healthy foods which you have to remove from your diet to avoid bloating, it is a good idea to periodically try eating these again to see if you are able to tolerate them at a later date.
It’s important for me to point out that in order to enjoy good gut health in the broadest sense, it’s not good to follow a restricted diet long-term without a plan for being able to reintroduce foods at a later date. By “restricted diet”, I don’t mean a diet without processed foods, but a diet without whole foods that are otherwise healthy but which cause you a problem in the short-term. The more varied your diet is, the greater the diversity of your gut microbiome, and a diverse microbiome is good for your health in multiple ways. I say this because sometimes when people come to see me, they are already following a restrictive diet which they began in the hope that it would improve their digestive symptoms. Often it’s not enough on it’s own, and without understanding some of the underlying factors which may be going on the diet can become more and more restrictive with only a partial improvement in symptoms. Always consult a health professional if your symptoms persist.
That said, let’s have a look at some foods which may influence whether you bloat or not!
Some of the foods that most often cause bloating are high in compounds called FODMAPs. FODMAPs stands for Fermantable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – a bit of a mouthful! These are a group of short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols which are found naturally in foods or in additives. Some people do not absorb them well in the small intestine. They ferment and produce a lot of gas. When they reach the large intestine they attract water through osmosis, and this can cause pain, discomfort and bloating as well as constipation or diarrhoea.
- Fructose, from fruits and honey
- Fructans, which are high in garlic, the onion family, wheat and fruit
- Galactans, found in foods such as legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas)
- Polyols, found in sweeteners containing mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and in stone fruits such as apricots, avocado, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums, as well as avocados
- Lactose in dairy; worldwide it is thought to be more common to be lactose-intolerant than lactose-tolerant
Many foods which are well known for causing bloating (such as beans, cauliflower, dairy and onions) are high in FODMAPS.
It’s important to realise that not all high FODMAP foods have the same effect on every individual. Some people may be able to tolerate fructose better than lactose, whereas others have a particular problem tolerating polyols.
Sometimes in an attempt to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms, people adopt a low FODMAP diet. This involves avoiding all foods high in FODMAPS to allow symptoms to subside and the gut to recover. A low FODMAP diet is a clinically recognised therapy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and for some people with inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) whose disease is well-controlled but whose symptoms continue.
The most important thing to note about the low FODMAP diet is that it actually consists of 2 phases. There is an elimination phase lasting a maximum of 6-8 weeks, and then a reintroduction phase. The elimination phase (avoiding all high FODMAP foods) is not meant to be continued long-term! This is because:
- Not all high FODMAP foods have the same effect on different individuals. Some people may be able to tolerate fructose better than lactose, whereas others have a particular problem tolerating polyols. Thus there is usually no need to eliminate ALL high FODMAP foods permanently.
- It can be stressful to maintain a restricted diet long-term, especially when eating out or with others.
- Some (although not all) high FODMAP foods are otherwise good for the good bacteria in the gut and for other aspects of our health. Eliminating them unnecessarily long-term could contribute to further health problems in the future.
The reintroduction phase of the low FODMAP diet involves eating small amounts of foods from the different FODMAP groups in turn to see how you tolerate them. There is a set way to do this so that you can pinpoint which foods you do and don’t react to. It’s very easy to get confused, so I do recommend doing this under the guidance of a practitioner.
For further reading on this subject I recommend The Complete Low FODMAP Diet by Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson.
Other dietary approaches
A Google search is likely to reveal a number of other diets that aim to reduce with bloating and/or deal with some of the underlying causes. Examples include the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and the GAPS diet. I do recommend that you consult with a nutritional therapist before embarking on any restricted diet – it may not be right for you and even if it is, it is wise to work with someone experienced who can ensure that you meet your nutritional needs if you are on a restricted diet.
Other potentially bloating foods
Any foods that you have an insensitivity to, low FODMAP or not, can cause a range of symptoms which can include bloating. If you know you are intolerant to a certain food, avoid it! However, if you seem to be intolerant to a wide range of foods then it is likely that you could benefit from working on your gut health, so if this is you, please get in touch.
High amounts of salt in the diet will draw water into the intestines by osmosis. This can cause bloating and discomfort. If you eat a whole food, unprocessed diet you will automatically eat less salt.
It shouldn’t come as surprise to learn that carbonated drinks can make bloating much worse. Where do you think all those bubbles go to?!
Gluten deserves a special mention. Many people realise that they bloat if they eat pasta or bread and suspect that gluten is the problem. Gluten can trigger intestinal permeability and therefore intestinal and systemic inflammation, not just in coeliacs but in a number of people who have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, so it is possible that avoiding gluten could reduce your bloating. Try avoiding wheat, rye and barley for a month and see. However, it may not be gluten that is the problem with wheat. Gluten is a protein, but some of the carbohydrates in wheat (fructans) are a high FODMAP, so it could either be the protein or the carbohydrate in wheat that is problematic. Whichever it is, doing a trial of avoiding wheat might be informative.
Foods that may help
Which foods help your bloating depends a little on the underlying cause. If for example, you feel bloated due to constipation, then eating foods high in fibre and with a high water content may help. A high salt diet can increase the tendency to bloating by drawing water into the intestines; in this case, foods high in potassium may help. Here are some suggestions you may want to try.
- Herbal teas such as peppermint, chamomile and ginger are carminatives, which means that they soothe the gut wall, regulate gut contractions and reduce gas. Fresh ginger can also be sliced and steeped in hot water to make a soothing infusion.
- The herb fennel is traditionally used in many cultures to reduce gas and bloating.
- Foods high in potassium include bananas and kiwis can help balance sodium levels.
- Celery is another food high in potassium, and it also contains insoluble fibre to support healthy bowel movements.
- Papaya and pineapple both contain enzymes which can aid digestion.
Why not try keeping a food diary to see if you can spot a pattern to which foods cause you to bloat? If you would like more help to figure this out, why not book an appointment with me and we can do some detective work together?
Next time I’ll be exploring how the gut microbiome can influence bloating.