- Foods that cause bloating include beans, carbonated beverages, onions, dairy, sweeteners, and cruciferous vegetables.
- Beans cause bloating because they contain two types of fibre that are hard to digest, called galacto-oligosaccharides and resistant starch.
- Carbonated beverages may also cause bloating because they contain carbon dioxide gas, which can expand in your belly.
- This article was medically reviewed by Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica, California.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Everyone experiences bloating from time to time: that uncomfortably full feeling and swollen, distended belly. This is a result of excess gas trapped in the gut. While there can be various causes of bloating, sometimes finding relief is as easy as making some simple changes to your diet. There are plenty of foods that can cause bloating, depending on the individual. We spoke to a registered dietician who is an expert on bloating to find out why certain foods can cause bloating, and what we can replace them with to feel better.
Beans are one of the most notorious culprits for bloating and gas because they contain two types of fibre that are very hard for us to digest, says Tamara Duker Freuman, a New York City-based registered dietitian and author of “The Bloated Belly Whisperer.”
These two types of fibre are:
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Resistant starch
Both of these are types of complex carbohydrates that humans lack enzymes to digest, Freuman says.
While these are objectively healthy, as they can relieve and prevent constipation, they cause a lot of gas and bloating. Since we can’t digest this fibre, when it reaches our colon, gut bacteria feeds on it, thereby fermenting it and causing gas.
This is because bacteria in the gut have enzymes that are able to break the bonds of carbohydrates and turn them into smaller units of carbohydrates. Energy is released in the process, and one of the byproducts of bacterial fermentation is hydrogen gas.
Healthy replacements for beans
Before nixing beans altogether, Freuman says try taking the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which you can find in Beano, before eating. This enzyme can help you digest the fibre better before it gets to the colon.
If that doesn’t work, you can still get protein from other plan-based sources that are easier to digest, like:
- Soybeans (edamame)
2. Carbonated beverages
Carbonated beverages contain carbon dioxide gas. That’s what makes them fizzy. But when you drink a carbonated beverage, the gas can expand in your belly, causing bloat, says Freuman.This can especially be the case in people with IBS, functional dyspepsia, or hypersensitive stomachs.
However, everybody is different, and carbonated beverages don’t cause bloating for everyone. In fact, Freuman says carbonated beverages such as seltzer actually help some of her patients who have bloating because it can induce belching which can relieve some of the built-up gas.
Beer falls under this category, too. While beer isn’t as fizzy as soda, it still is carbonated, says Freuman. This means that it contains that carbon dioxide gas that can expand in your stomach and cause bloating.
Another factor is the sheer volume beer that people tend to consume if they want to feel the alcohol. Beer has a low alcohol content, which means you’re going to need to drink more in volume if you’re looking to catch a buzz. This can lead to you feeling full and bloated.
Alcohol, in general, is a GI irritant, says Freuman. You may experience an upset stomach regardless of what you drink if you have a sensitive stomach.
Healthy replacements for carbonated beverages
There are plenty of non-carbonated beverages out there to choose from, and of course, water is always a great option for staying hydrated. If you’d like a beverage that isn’t carbonated and also serves as a remedy for tummy troubles, you can try:
- Peppermint tea (hot or iced)
- Ginger tea (hot or iced)
We aren’t saying alcohol is necessarily healthy, but if you are looking for alcohol that is more easily digestible, Freuman says some of her patients report being better able to tolerate vodka and experience less GI symptoms with that.
Onions can cause bloating for two reasons. First, if you’re prone to acid reflux, onions can contribute to this, because they have a compound that relaxes the tension of the muscle separating the stomach from the esophagus. This makes reflux more likely, Freuman says. This can cause a bloated feeling in the upper belly.
Alternatively, the problem could be a type of carbohydrate called fructans that are in onions. Similarly to the problem with beans, the body has trouble digesting this carbohydrate, and the bacteria in the gut ends up feeding on it, causing a buildup of gas in the colon.
Healthy replacements for onions
If you’re looking for something with a similar flavour profile to onions that will cause less gas, Freuman recommends:
- Green onions/scallions
Dairy contains lactose and about 65% of people worldwide are not able to fully digest lactose. If you are sensitive to lactose, your body may lack an enzyme called lactase which is necessary to break down and digest lactose, says Freuman. Again, this leaves undigested food in your gut for bacteria to feast on, causing gas and bloating. People with lactose intolerance may also experience diarrhoea and nausea after consuming dairy.
However, it’s possible that lactose isn’t the problem, and it’s actually the fat in dairy products that’s the issue. For example, if you don’t experience bloating after eating dairy products like parmesan cheese on your pasta, but you do after eating ice cream, that could be a sign that you’re more sensitive to fats. In this case, take a look at how you feel after eating other non-dairy fatty foods and assess. You might find that you’re actually sensitive to many foods high in fat.
Healthy replacements for dairy
Whether you’re looking for alternatives for milk or cheeses, there is a wide variety of dairy-free products.
- Oat milk
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Soy milk
- Lactose-free dairy milk
- Hard cheese such as parmesan, cheddar, or swiss, because they are lower in lactose compared to other soft cheeses. These cheeses may be tolerable for some people who are sensitive to lactose, but not all.
5. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include all vegetables in the cabbage family. But some of the vegetables in this category are more likely to cause bloating than others. This is because there are natural compounds in them that the body has trouble digesting. For example, brussels sprouts have the same gassy carbohydrate that beans do: galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Not all cruciferous vegetables have GOS, but many still have other hard-to-digest compounds.
Cruciferous vegetables that you should avoid include:
- Brussels sprouts
Healthy replacements for cruciferous vegetables
As with the beans, Freuman says you can try to take Beano before eating meals with these high gas foods to see if that alleviates the problem. Also, you can simply reduce your portion size of the problem vegetable. If you’d like some less gassy, but still nutrient-rich options from the cruciferous vegetable family you can eat:
- Bok choy
- Cabbage (in moderation)
Certain sweeteners like sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol which are found in sugar-free snacks can cause bloating and possibly even have a laxative effect. Again, this has to do with the fact that they are hard to digest, leading to bacteria in the intestine feeding on it and fermenting it, causing gas.
Artificial sweeteners can cause bloating in excess, but Freuman says if you only have a packet or less, you should be fine.
Additionally, people who are sensitive to fructose might find honey and agave nectar to cause problems, Freuman says. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 40% of people in the Western Hemisphere have some degree of fructose malabsorption, where the intestine doesn’t properly digest the fructose, which can result in bloating and other GI symptoms. Another more rare possibility is hereditary fructose intolerance, which is a genetic disorder where the liver can’t break down fructose.
Healthy replacements for sweeteners
If you must add sweetener to your coffee or whatever else it is you want to sweeten up, options that won’t cause as much bloating are:
- Stevia, since it is not a fermentable carbohydrate, gas is not produced as a byproduct of consuming it, Freuman says
- Table sugar (while not necessarily health in large amounts, it’s easily digestible)
The bottom line
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to prevent bloating, Freuman says. What causes one person to bloat won’t always make another person bloat. You have to look at the whole person and the whole diet. It’s all about figuring out what your triggers are, getting to know your body, and making changes based on your individualized needs.