If you’re feeling puffy, swollen, or uncomfortably full in your midsection, you may be suffering from a case of unwanted bloat. Not only is regular bloating physically uncomfortable, but it can also indicate some digestive issues.
“A distended belly is typically the first indication of bloating. Gas typically accompanies bloating, too,” Dr. Lori Shemek, nutritionist, psychologist, and author of FATflammation, tells Aaptiv. Certain foods may be to blame.
“There are foods that cause bloating, such as broccoli or cauliflower, lactose (milk sugar), beans, and other high-fiber foods,” she says. If you regularly suffer from a bloated tummy, take a look at your diet. To get you started, here are some easy food swaps to reduce bloat and ease discomfort.
Trade in carbonated and sugary beverages for water.
Carbonated beverages, including soda and seltzer water, carry air pockets that can build up in your stomach. Some fruit juices such as pineapple, orange, and tomato are high in acid, which can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and result in swelling and bloating. So, water is your best bet when it comes to quenching your thirst. “Drinking enough water is key to helping reduce bloat,” Dr. Shemek says. “Cells hold on to water when it is lacking in the body, creating the bloating effect not just in the tummy but in the fingers and ankles as well.” Drinking eight ounces of water eight times a day can help restore your body’s sodium balance and normalize the digestive tract, which will reduce bloat.
In addition, it may be a good idea to skip the glass of ice-cold water in the morning. “Your digestive system likes to be warm,” says Robyn Youkilis, certified health coach and author of Thin from Within. “Think of it like a fire you want to keep steadily burning as you eat. A big glass of ice water can ‘put out’ that fire.” So, choose cool or room temperature H2O over the icy stuff, especially at the beginning of the day. Youkilis also suggests adding lemon or ginger to your water to help heat up the digestive system.
Pay attention to various forms of sugar.
Just about everything we eat daily contains sugar. “Sugar alcohols like xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol have FODMAP properties and can lead to bloating,” says Lindsey Bristol, M.S., R.D., author of The Sexy Abs Diet. The body has a hard time digesting these artificial sweeteners, which can lead to a bloated stomach. Instead, explore healthier food swaps to reduce bloat, such as stevia, agave, or natural honey, and limit them as much as possible.
Watch out for hidden sources of sugar in your regular diet, too. Processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, protein bars, and condiments, including ketchup, tomato sauce, and marinades can contain sugar in other forms. Read labels (look out for words ending in -ose) and opt for cleaner versions of products that have minimal sugar and additives. Eat whole foods as much as possible.
Natural sugar from fruit can cause bloating, too.
The fiber and fructose found in fruit often cause bloating and discomfort in the belly. “Fruit is now bred to be larger and sweeter than previous generations of fruit,” Dr. Shemek says. “This all means we are ingesting far more fructose than our bodies are equipped to digest given the amount of fruit individuals are eating.” Certain fruits are more sugary than others. As you can, trade in high-fructose fruits such as bananas, mangoes, and pineapple for fruits with lower sugar content such as blueberries, blackberries, kiwi, and strawberries. And, while fruit is delicious and full of important vitamins, minerals, and fiber, be sure to watch your portion sizes.
Swap dairy for non-dairy alternatives.
“Many people can’t properly digest dairy. If you find that you’re sensitive to yogurt or cheese, try swapping cow’s milk products for goat or sheep milk. These alternatives are less processed and easier to digest than traditional cow’s dairy,” Youkilis says. Other popular swaps include unsweetened cashew milk, organic soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk. By reducing intake of dairy products, your body will naturally reduce bloat, gas, and abdominal distention.
Identify which vegetables and spices cause bloating.
We’d never recommend cutting vegetables from your diet, but it’s important to know which ones typically result in symptoms of bloat. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and carrots have been known to induce gas because of their high sugar and starch contents. So, enjoy these with caution—or on a day you don’t need to squeeze into your skinniest jeans.
Certain cruciferous greens and high-fiber vegetables can also leave you feeling puffy. For example, broccoli and kale are high in fiber, making it difficult for the body to break them down. Try sautéing greens and other vegetables in olive or coconut oil instead of eating them raw to reduce bloating.
Pay attention to the vegetables you use in cooking, too. “Sulfurous vegetables like onions and garlic cause bloating because they contain fructooligosaccharides that naturally occur in plants like onions, garlic, and asparagus,” Bristol adds. If you regularly feel bloated after consuming these flavorful vegetables, Bristol recommends “cooking with spices and onion-flavored oils to keep the flavor but decrease the bloat.”
Watch your wheat intake.
In many cases, bloating from wheat products is often linked to a food sensitivity or an allergy to wheat- and gluten-rich foods. “This food sensitivity or allergy is vastly different than Celiac disease—an abnormal immune system reaction to gluten,” Dr. Shemek says. “People who are allergic or sensitive to wheat are often fine with other grains. We are not eating the same wheat grain our grandparents did.” Today, grains have been hybridized and genetically modified to achieve larger crops, which has had a negative effect on our bodies, especially our digestive health.
Replace wheat options with ancient grains such as einkorn, which includes minimal gluten and contains digestible protein for those who have sensitivities. Other great options include quinoa, millet, and amaranth. In addition, swap wheat-based pasta with zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice, and replace bread with romaine lettuce or collard greens.
Swap unhealthy fats to reduce bloat.
Including too much fat in your diet will likely result in a full feeling, increased bloat, and digestive disturbance. Balancing healthy and unhealthy fats will help eliminate some of these symptoms. “Healthy fat turns on the hormone leptin, which helps signal to your body when your stomach is full. It also dials down the hunger hormone ghrelin so that you feel as if you are satiated,” Dr. Shemek says.
Keep in mind that although healthy fats are good for you, they can cause discomfort and expansion of the stomach as well. For instance, peanut butter can be hard to digest and can cause the abdominals to feel tight and distended, which may be linked to a food intolerance or an unknown peanut allergy. Experiment with other nut spreads such as cashew or almond butter as an alternative to reduce bloat.
Avocados are another popular healthy fat but should be proportioned wisely. They contain salicylates, which cause gas, bloating, and stomach pain, so eating too much could result in adverse effects. Try swapping avocado with hummus or edamame for a healthy alternative.
If you regularly suffer from bloat, take a look at your diet first. Even some of the healthiest foods can leave our digestive systems in a bit of distress. Try these easy foods swaps to reduce bloat next time your system is feeling a bit under pressure.
Along with diet, don’t forget about your fitness routine. A yoga class or stretch may also help rid bloat and promote digestion, and Aaptiv has classes in both categories.