A Harvard Gastroenterologist: Foods To Avoid For Bloating

A Harvard Gastroenterologist: Foods To Avoid For Bloating

Do you have an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and gassiness after eating a meal? Do you have a bloated tummy that pushes against your clothes, making you feel miserable? If so, you are not alone.

One international study found that 1 in 10 people experience bloating after eating a meal, typically in the form of gassiness or feelings of fullness in the abdomen. Besides bloating, participants in the 2021 study said they also experienced constipation and diarrhea.

What causes bloating and how to prevent it are two questions people often ask Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical Center.

There’s no simple answer to those questions because there are so many potential reasons why bloating occurs, Dr. Wolf wrote in an article for NBC’s Make It.

However, the most common reason why abdominal bloating occurs is due to foods that the gut has trouble absorbing, Dr. Wolf said. These foods stay in the intestinal track longer and begin to ferment and cause gas.

If you have problems with bloating, gas, and filling up too quickly, Dr. Wolf recommends avoiding the following foods to reduce the uncomfortable feeling after eating a meal:

1. High-Fructose Foods

Dr. Wolf writes that about 50 percent of the population has trouble digesting or absorbing fructose, a type of sugar found naturally in many plants. Foods high in fructose can cause bloating and gas, primarily because cells in the intestine have difficulty absorbing the sugar. Some foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup that can cause gastrointestinal distress include:

  • Candy
  • Packaged bread and baked goods
  • Packaged fruit
  • Yogurt and other sweetened dairy products
  • Sauces such as ketchup
  • Soft drinks and juice

Instead of these foods, Dr. Wolf suggests opting for whole foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Since carbonation in soft drinks and juices can cause bloating, flat water (ordinary tap water or bottled drinking water) or vegetable juices are preferable.

2. High-Fructose Fruits

Fruits are good sources of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber and some contain fructose. Dr. Wolf recommends either avoiding or eating the following sweet fruits in moderation:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Grapefruit
  • Nectarine
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Ripe bananas
  • Watermelon

Dr. Wolf said she doesn’t avoid fruit altogether. She instead eats blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, pineapples, mandarin oranges, lemons or firm, slightly unripe bananas.

3. Grains

Grains are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. In fact, some of our most favorite foods, such as breakfast cereals, oatmeal, and pasta are made from grains. But, some grains contain gluten, a protein naturally found in wheat, barley, and rye. Dr. Wolf recommends eating rice, quinoa, oats, and other gluten-free products instead.

4. Vegetables

Vegetables have earned the reputation of superfoods because they are packed with vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. However, vegetables containing sugars, like fructans and galactans, can cause bloating and gassiness. According to Dr. Wolf, the vegetables most likely to cause gut problems include:

  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fennel
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Shallots
  • Snow peas

Dr. Wolf suggests eating vegetables with less sugar, such as avocados, bean sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, green beans, and lettuce.

5. Milk and other dairy products

Dairy products provide calcium, protein, vitamin D, potassium for bone support, and a number of other health benefits. However, they can also cause discomfort for people who can’t tolerate lactose, a natural sugar found in milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products. Researchers say that 68 percent of the human population are lactose intolerant and the condition becomes even more common as we age.

Complications with lactose intolerance does not mean that people should avoid dairy foods. Dr. Wolf recommends eating lactose-free dairy products.
When it comes to cheeses, Dr. Wolf wrote that people can more likely tolerate hard or aged cheeses, such as parmesan, Brie, mozzarella, Swiss and goat, than soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, and feta cheese.

6. Beans

Beans are good sources of fiber, protein and carbohydrates, and they make you feel fuller longer. But, certain beans contain raffinose, a type of sugar that the body has trouble digesting. As a result, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and soy beans are most likely to give you gas. Dr. Wolf recommends eating black-eyed peas, green beans, and mung beans instead.

7. Sugar substitutes

Dr. Wolf says to avoid sugar alcohols, which are sweeteners that can be used as sugar substitutes. Sugar alcohols (which end in -ol) can cause gas and bloating because the body cannot break them down. Examples of sugar alcohols (which end in -ol) include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and erythritol. Dr. Wolf suggests using stevia and monk fruit extract as alternatives because they are healthier and less likely to cause gas or bloating.

How To Avoid Post-Meal Bloating

Dr. Wolf provides four tips to take to prevent bloating and gas after eating meals:

1. Avoid swallowing air. Swallowing air can cause bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. So, Dr. Wolf says: 

  • Eat slowly
  • Carefully chew small bites of food
  • Do not lie back while eating
  • Avoid talking while chewing food or drinking liquids

2. Drink plenty of flat water. Avoid carbonated beverages.

3. Take a 10-to-15-minute walk after eating. One study found that a short walk helps to speed up the time it takes for food to move from the stomach and into the small intestine.

4. Massage your abdomen to move gas and stool. If your whole abdomen is bloated, massage from the right hip up your right side, across your upper abdomen, and down your left side to your pelvis. If only your lower abdomen is bloated, massage from your right side to your left side and down.

Chronic or severe issues with bloating and abdominal pain could indicate a serious problem caused by more than just eating certain foods. Dr. Wolf says her tips are based on her medical experience and research. But, she recommends having a consultation with your doctor if you have chronic or severe issues with bloating.

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