Nobody likes that puffy-stomach post-meal feeling that happens sometimes even after the healthiest of meals. As we crawl out of our winter hibernation holes and get ready for an active summer, we tapped some of the country’s top functional medicine practitioners to find out exactly what to avoid to stay bloat-free.
1. FODMAP foods:
Everyone knows about the bloating that can come with gluten-filled carbs and pastas but not about a lesser known family of foods called FODMAPS. This strange-sounding acronym stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, a long-winded way of saying: fermentable sugars. These specific types of sugars are not fully digested in your gut and can be excessively fermented by the bacteria of your microbiome. This food fermentation releases hydrogen gas that could lead to distention of the intestines; say hello to bloating, gas and digestive problems at large. If you are eating clean but still have bloating, look out for high FODMAP foods like onions, garlic, apples, asparagus and beans. FODMAP intolerance is typically caused by an underlying gut problem called SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (apparently we love acronyms in health). SIBO is a microbiome problem that we test for at my functional medicine center to see whether it is contributing to gut problems like bloat. For a full list of FODMAP foods, check out my article on the subject.
The No. 1 thing that causes people to bloat is artificial sugars. Chew a couple of pieces of artificially flavored and sweetened gum and—bam! You'll be bloated.
One under-the-radar bloat-food is the food stabilizer carrageenan, which can be found in foods like ice cream, soft-serve, frozen yogurt, and yogurt. Carrageenan is used to create that thick dairy texture, but it can cause gut inflammation, intestinal permeability and bloat. If you know you react to it, seek out fresher, more natural versions of yogurt and ice cream that haven't been chemically stabilized.
Mushrooms contain an indigestible sugar called raffinose that can become fermented in the large intestine, which contributes to gas and bloating.
5. Cruciferous vegetables:
Cruciferous vegetables trigger cleanup in the body, tidying up the intestines and getting rid of toxins. By eating more cruciferous vegetables, you crowd out the bad environmental toxins. You prevent cancer. You dose yourself with sulforaphane, which inhibits phase one and stimulates phase two in the liver. You receive fiber to purify your liver, and vitamin C to counteract free radicals. Kale alone increases your antibody production five times your normal antibody count. But crucifers also contain a starch called raffinose that can be tough to digest, leading to methane gas production in your colon, so start with a small dose and build up over time. Add lemon juice to stimulate digestive enzymes.
Living in San Francisco, I see more brands of kombucha than water when I walk into a grocery store! Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains probiotics and sometimes high levels of sugar depending on the brand. Fermented foods are essential to a healthy gut microbiome, but moderation is key. Though kombucha is usually a healthy addition to your diet, it is possible to drink too much. I have worked with patients who have already removed common foods that can cause bloating like gluten, dairy, and processed foods and still can't button their pants. When I eliminate or limit their kombucha intake to one bottle a day split up into two servings (which is usually the serving size on the label) their bloating disappears!
Approximately 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant. That means they lack enough of the intestinal lactase to break down the lactose sugar in pasteurized milk. This leads to gas, bloating, generalized abdominal pain, and often diarrhea or loose stools. The most affected are Asians and Native Americans.
Dairy products are the No. 1 cause of bloating in my practice. This can be coupled with gas, cramps, and diarrhea. Approximately 70 percent of African Americans, 90 percent of Asian Americans, 50 percent of Mexican Americans, and 75 percent of Native Americans are lactose intolerant. Overall, about 75 percent of the world's population, including 25 percent of those in the United States, lose their lactase enzymes after weaning.
There is no reason for people to push themselves to drink milk. Indeed, milk does not offer any nutrients that cannot be found in a healthier form in other foods. Surprisingly, milk drinking does not even appear to prevent osteoporosis, its major selling point.
8. Whole grains:
While we know that many foods cause belly bloat, one of the biggest culprits is whole grains. The fiber can be tough to digest if there are not enough enzymes and hydrochloric acid to break this down effectively. With bacterial overgrowth, there can be a good deal of bloating with whole grains.
Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut, which can overpower the beneficial bacteria in your system. Ideally, the gut has a ratio of 85 percent good to 15 percent bad bacteria. When this ratio starts to flip, symptoms like bloating and gas arise. Many of our patients find that they are able to eliminate bloating when they remove refined sugar. Over time, sugar can continue to negatively reduce beneficial gut flora and cause more severe digestive issues. If not addressed properly, bacteria imbalances can lead to other forms of gut dysbiosis like candida, SIBO, and intestinal permeability.