Ask Gerda: What Makes You Bloated?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)
Dear goop, I become bloated sometimes after eating but can’t figure out whether it’s due to a particular food or something else. What are some of the reasons for bloating? —Hannah A.
Hi, Hannah. The major reason for bloating is gas. The gas could come from carbonated drinks or from swallowing air if you eat too fast. One school of thought says that chewing each bite thirty times is the key to health. Not a bad idea: It would slow you down, aid with digestion, and perhaps prevent swallowing air. (My third-grade teacher subscribed to this theory, so there wasn’t much time left at lunch recess for playing. Only in California.)
But in a lot of cases, it’s certain foods that cause gas. Beans are obvious offenders, but there are other foods that cause gas in some people and not in others. And that depends on your digestive enzymes and on the bacteria in your gut.
It’s the gut bacteria that produce gas—methane and hydrogen—from our leftover foods. Whatever foods we don’t digest and absorb in the small intestine travel on down to the large intestine, where bacteria use them and produce gas. This is what happens in lactose intolerance, when there’s not enough of the enzyme that digests lactose, the sugar in milk. Are you bloated after eating yogurt, ice cream, or fresh cheeses? This can come and go: Stress and illness can cause temporary lactose intolerance.
Now there’s evidence that sugar affects some people the same way. As can fructose, the fruit sugar. Do you react to sources of fructose, like apple juice, high-fructose corn syrup, pears, cherries, peaches, and watermelon?
The list of gas-causing foods is discouragingly long. You may have heard the term FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). It refers to anything bacteria can use. This includes the sugars mentioned above: sucrose, fructose, and lactose. And it includes fibers that we don’t digest, such as inulin, that bacteria do use. Sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol are also FODMAPs. You will find them in sugar-free and low-calorie gums, mints, and cough medicines.
Harvard Health Publishing has a helpful list of foods that are high in FODMAPs. Common ones include rye, wheat, onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, and beans. It’s a bit confusing because in general eating vegetables that provide our gut bacteria with nourishing fibers supports the health of the gut. But nutrition is all about moderation, for us and our bacteria, and respecting our needs as individuals. And if your microbiome is out of balance, healthy foods that feed bacteria could be exacerbating your symptoms.
If temporarily eliminating foods that are high in FODMAPs turns out to be helpful, then you may wish to reintroduce foods one at a time to figure out which are the offenders. It’s best to work with a dietitian for this, because doing an elimination diet correctly can be challenging (Someone on our editorial team is doing this now in Brigid Titgemeier’s My Food Is Health program, and we’ll be sharing more on the topic with Titgemeier soon.)
Another approach is to take supplements containing digestive enzymes. Debloat+ capsules contain seventeen digestive enzymes together with turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, and licorice. This particular licorice root extract, GutGard, has been studied clinically and shown to support gut health and digestion.*
A good probiotic can make a big difference in digestive health. This one has twenty-four strains of helpful bacteria.*
And finally, if you’re trying to cut out FODMAPs and it seems like there’s nothing you can eat, treat yourself to a coconut milk latte with saffron.
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(Of course, as always, consult your doctor about any medical condition, such as chronic bloating.)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.