Bloating is often an indicator that your gut is unhappy and there are several reasons as to why this could be happening. It is widely thought that certain foods can make you feel bloated, with common culprits being wheat and dairy. However, there are some surprising foods that are making you bloated that you might not even realise are causing havoc with your gut. We asked nutritionist Alix Woods, from supplement brand sense*, to tell us what they are, why they cause bloating and how you can help minimise symptoms.
The surprising foods that are making you bloated
What is bloating?
Bloating is a feeling of extreme fullness in the stomach. It’s uncomfortable, can make us gassy, and can make your stomach feel like it’s stretched. While some people have medical issues that cause bloating, for the majority of people it’s usually tied to what you eat. You’ve probably felt bloated after a period of excess (everyone can relate to that post-Christmas dinner feeling, right?!) or after eating extremely rich food, but it can also be linked to specific foods too.
What foods commonly cause bloating?
The foods that commonly cause bloating include dairy, wheat and things like beans, sprouts and fizzy drinks. But did you know that there are some other not so obvious foods that might be causing your bloating?
How can a tiny piece of gum cause bloating? Well, often a lot of excess air is swallowed when chewing, and the trapped air causes the stomach to bloat. Gum also contains carbohydrate sugars, like sorbitol, which are more difficult to digest. These sugars cause gut fermentation leading to digestive discomfort and symptoms like bloating, cramping and even pain.
You may think your favourite canned soups are a good, healthy food choice to have on standby, but often they are laden with salt. As a result, the kidneys struggle to clear it, which causes water retention and bloating in the stomach. Choose cans with less salt or better still make your own.
Popcorn is championed for its health benefits despite its ability to cause bloating. Even a serving of 3-4 handfuls only delivers the same amount of carbohydrates as a single slice of bread. Despite its low carb value, it still takes up quite a bit of volume in the stomach and this often leads to bloating, but it’s usually just temporary.
Adding dairy can trigger bloating if you’re sensitive to lactose, but black coffee can cause bloating troubles too. Coffee itself is quite acidic, so if you have a sensitive stomach, it can act as an irritant and cause swelling. To avoid this, keep your dose of coffee small and monitor how you feel when you drink it.
Apples and pears
Both apples and pears are ideal for snacking and are packed with fibre. However, this fibre may be troublesome for sensitive tummies. If you find that this is the case, minimise your portion size and slowly increase it as your tolerance rises. And always ensure fruits are washed before eating, to avoid pesticides that kill gut flora and cause bloating.
Mushrooms contain polyols – AKA sugar alcohols that are very large and therefore difficult for the small intestine to digest. This may lead to bloating and tummy upsets for some people. Try switching mushrooms for aubergines, or if mushrooms are the stars of the show in a vegetarian dish you could try substituting for tofu or tempeh.
Dried fruit can be a great source of nutrients and fibre; however, it can cause bloating for those who suffer from fructose malabsorption. This occurs when the body has difficulty absorbing natural sugars. Dried fruit is also often preserved with sulphur dioxide which can cause immediate stomach discomfort and bloating, so watch out for that too.
How can you stop bloating?
Well, the obvious answer is to cut down on all the food mentioned above. You don’t have to cut it out completely if, like me, you’re not ready to face your mornings without coffee, but cut down a little and keep a close eye on how you’re feeling. If you think you’ve found the culprit, keep playing with how much you eat and see it helps.
There are some other practical things you can do to reduce bloating, including slowing down when you eat, sit down to eat and trying not to swallow too much air when eating (so eat with your mouth closed and stop talking so much during mealtimes).
But if you find that you’re always feeling bloated, or that you’re still struggling with symptoms even when you think you’ve cut down on trigger foods, it’s worth a trip to your GP so you can get to the bottom of it and find out how to manage your symptoms as bloating can also be a sign of IBS, coeliac disease, or other food intolerances.