We spend so much time trying to avoid bloating, but is all bloating bad? Turns out, no. Bloating is completely natural and happens to all of us, including some of the healthiest individuals you may know. If you are bloated it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to reach for the nearest detox or that you’ve gained weight. Bloating is sometimes a sign that you might be experiencing a build-up of gas in your digestive tract (completely normal). It often decreases as you digest your food. Abnormal bloating, however, may be more difficult to get rid of.
Normal Bloating vs. Abnormal Bloating
Not all bloat is created equal—literally. “Bloating after a meal that is relieved in a few hours or following a bowel movement is normal. Bloating that is painful and persistent on a regular basis is something you may want to discuss with your doctor. It could be a sign of a food intolerance or a digestive disorder,” shares Danielle Pashko, holistic nutritionist and founder of Pashko Wellness.
Abnormal bloating can be the body’s reaction to food sensitivities or allergies. “Abdominal bloating can add two to three inches to the waistline. It’s partly caused by chronic retention of gas in the GI tract, particularly in the small intestine, where reactive foods stall. Partially digested dairy products, for example, often ferment in the intestine for more than a day and cause considerable bloating. In addition, gut tissues often swell with fluid and distend the abdomen. This abdominal distension, caused by gas and fluid, can create a “pregnant” or a “beer belly” look. Because the intestines are more than 20 feet in length and compressed into a small area, even moderate increases in gas and fluid retention greatly increase the gut’s volume,” reveals Dr. Elson Haas, author of Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine.
Abnormal Bloating Symptoms
It’s important to listen to your body and not overlook some warning signs that may come along with the bloating you are experiencing. Dr. Jennifer Dour, founder of Garden State Spinal Care L.L.C., advises that you should see a doctor if your bloating is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- extreme abdominal pain in the stomach (may be signs of an ulcer)
- severe pain the lower right quadrant (might be linked to appendicitis)
- bloody stools
- long-term constipation
Now that you know the difference between abnormal and normal bloating, you can start paying closer attention to some of the regular healthy habits that may be causing you to bloat. Below are a few staple, healthy foods that you might be consuming regularly, which can cause bloat. Knowing this information can help you create a balanced meal plan, and not fret when your stomach becomes a little distended.
Many leafy greens are considered to be cruciferous vegetables that are packed with fiber and nutrients. The most popular in this category is kale, which people often consume raw or sauteed. “Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which contains a sugar called raffinose. Raffinose remains undigested until it reaches your gut where bacteria ferment it, which can cause gas and subsequently can cause bloating,” shares Samantha Lynch, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. The cruciferous vegetable family has many health properties and benefits cardiovascular health. So, you shouldn’t avoid it because of the bloating that you may experience. Instead, be mindful of your portions. Plus, opt for steaming or boiling these vegetables to make them softer and easier to digest.
Foods that are packed with fiber, including oatmeal and beans, contain a sugar called oligosaccharide and can be hard to digest. “The human body does not produce enough enzymes to break down the complex sugars contained in legumes. As a result, fermentation occurs, [thus] causing gas and bloating,” explains Pashko. Our bodies do not produce the enzyme needed to break down oligosaccharides completely. So, the large intestines break down the final stages. Lynch adds, “They are finally broken down in the large intestines after traveling through the digestive system by bacteria which produces gas.” Try pre-soaking your beans. Also, be mindful of your proportions when you consume fiber-rich foods.
Coffee causes inflammation of the stomach because it’s highly acidic. It can also contribute to gastritis which is a group of conditions that may cause irritation to the lining of the stomach. Coffee consumption may also cause GERD, a digestive disease in which stomach acid or bile irritates the food pipe lining. For all of these reasons, you may experience bloating when consuming coffee regularly. “Low-acid coffee can help to alleviate symptoms, or even switching to a matcha green tea is a better-caffeinated alternative. Also, be conscious of the cream, milk, or non-dairy creamer that could also be the culprit,” suggests Pashko.
Probiotic supplements can improve the environment in the gut that may cause bloating. However, that may not always be the case. “Some people complain of bloating when starting a probiotic, but that usually subsides after a few days. In the case of individuals with SIBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth), who experience abdominal bloating and distension, discomfort/tightness soon after eating, excess belching, excess flatulence, nausea, or diarrhea, the addition of a probiotic will only make their symptoms worse,” shares Lynch.
People with SIBO should avoid probiotics until they have treated the issue. When you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your small intestine, the bacterias are often of the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species. And, since the majority of probiotic supplements contain lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, it would only make the issue worse. Pashko suggests, “Have your gastroenterologist test you for this condition if are constantly bloated and probiotics offer little or no benefit.”
Carrageenan is a thickening agent found in some nut milks and widely used across the food industry. Many consider it a major digestive irritant that can result in gas, bloating, diarrhea, ulcers, and reflux. “Anyone with digestive problems, like colitis or IBS, may find that they are sensitive to carrageenan,” shares Pashko. It’s important to read labels. This additive is so widely used that you can find it in many items that you use regularly outside of nut milks. These include coffee creamers, condiments, ice cream, and some deli meats.
The idea of eating a piece of fruit after a meal for a dessert is very common but may create some unwanted bloating. Pashko urges that you should always eat fruit alone or before meals. Once you consume a piece a fruit, it tends to ferment and cause gas and bloating. The key is the timing of when you should consume fruit.
In other cases, your body may be reactive to the fructans often found in ripe bananas. Our bodies don’t have the proper enzymes to break down the fructose molecule chains that help to create fructans. “They become malabsorbed in the small intestines where gut bacteria ferment them, leading to gas, bloating, pain, reflux, diarrhea, and/or constipation in some individuals, particularly individuals with IBS,” explains Lynch.
It’s important to understand that you can still enjoy these healthy foods. However, it’s vital to be in tune with your body’s reaction to these foods and how you should best consume them. And remember: not all bloat is bad!