5 foods that cause bloating – and simple alternatives

Does your stomach sometimes inflate like a balloon? Find out what could be triggering your bloating and how to get rid of that uncomfortable, full feeling.

Your stomach feels as if it’s been inflated by a bicycle pump as your trousers uncomfortably tighten around your waist. But you can’t quite put your finger on the cause. Sound familiar? You’re not alone, as bloating is common and affects around 10-25% people on an occasional to regular basis.

And if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’re probably experiencing it more often, with up to 90% of people with the condition regularly feeling bloated. 

If your stomach feels full or bigger than usual, is making noises, or you have stomach pain or discomfort, or are farting more than usual, these are all signs that you could be bloated. The most common reason is too much gas in your gut due to certain foods that cause bloating, as well as swallowing air when you eat. 

Person dressed in black, clutching a red balloon to their stomach to represent bloating.Credit: Shutterstock/Alona Siniehina

The good news is that there are things you can do to ease it, including choosing gut-healthy foods. If you’re struggling with bloating, it’s best to consult a dietitian before making changes to your diet. 

Advertisement

How does food affect bloating?

The exact connection between intestinal gas and bloating is yet to be fully understood, as many who experience bloating don’t have any more gas in their intestine than others.

But registered dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman – also known as the “bloated belly whisperer” – says: “Bloating is usually a result of a build-up or abnormal handling, by nerves or muscles, of substances passing through the digestive system.” These substances are typically: 

  • gas (either swallowed air or produced by the bacteria in your intestines as part of the food-digestion process) 
  • food 
  • stool produced from eating 

It’s not just about what we eat but the way in which we eat and how much we eat, too. Eating or drinking too fast or talking while you eat may cause you to swallow excess air, which can lead to bloating. “Feeling overly full after a large meal can affect bloating,” adds Freuman. 

Other causes of bloating and when to get medical advice

It’s not just foods that cause bloating; stress, digestive issues or certain medical conditions can also be responsible for it. Freuman says: “Bloating is not one size fits all and there are no single solutions, triggers or causes for all people.” You should also consult your GP if you feel bloated a lot or it doesn’t go away

What foods cause bloating?

Specific foods often contribute to bloating, although foods that cause bloating for one person might not for someone else. 

1. Inulin

Prebiotics are often recommended for gut health, but not everyone finds them beneficial. Inulin, a type of soluble fibre that is usually extracted from chicory root, is a prebiotic often added to processed foods such as cereals and cereal bars.

Chicory flowers and roots.Credit: Shutterstock/Valentyn Volkov

It “can contribute to excess gas in the bowel and, in turn, bloating”, says Freuman. The same kind of fibre is found in Jerusalem artichokes, which is why these vegetables are well-known for causing farting.  

Bear in mind that fibre is an important part of a balanced diet, and most of us don’t get as much fibre as the recommended amount. This can cause problems, too. Cristian Costas Batlle, registered dietitian at City Dietitians, says processed foods that have little fibre can slow down the digestion of food, potentially leading to constipation and resulting in bloating. 

Swap for: unprocessed or minimally-processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, milk, fish, pulses, eggs, nuts and seeds that have no added ingredients. Try switching cereal for unflavoured porridge oats. You can always top with berries to add some flavour.

Advertisement

2. Pulses

Ever eaten a delicious chickpea, lentil or bean curry and felt uncomfortable afterwards? “Some people [particularly those with IBS] may feel bloated after eating these pulses as they can be more gas-producing,” says Costas.

“This is because they contain a group of fermentable sugars – also known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) – which ferment in the colon and can draw more air and water into the bowel.”  

FODMAPs are not completely digested in our intestines, and this is the case for people without IBS, too. The difference is that “people with IBS can also have visceral hypersensitivity. This is a reduced threshold for tolerating pain and discomfort in response to changes in the gut, meaning they may experience more symptoms of bloating”, explains Costas.  

Swap for: fruits and vegetables lower in FODMAPs, such as kiwis, oranges, melon, aubergine, carrots and potatoes. 

3. Onions

Again, onions contain higher amounts of poorly digested FODMAPs, with 60% of participants in a study reporting onion to be the most frequent trigger for their IBS symptoms. Garlic and apples are also higher in fermentable carbohydrates and a common trigger. 

Mixture of red, white, brown and spring onions.Credit: Shutterstock/New Africa

Despite this, Freuman says: “Many healthy foods fall into this category, and it is neither necessary nor advisable to avoid all foods that cause bloating.” Instead, you can try out the Monash University FODMAP Diet app, available on Apple and Android, which shows you how much is a safe amount to eat of foods higher in FODMAPs, as well as low-FODMAP alternatives. 

Swap for: the green parts of spring onions or chives are lower in FODMAPs and make for a good flavour substitute in cooking.  

4. Chewing gum

Minty-fresh flavours might be good for your breath, but is chewing gum doing any favours for your gut? Freuman says: “Chewing gum can cause people to swallow excess air, which can become trapped in your digestive system and cause bloating.” 

Costas adds: “Most sugar-free gums contain highly fermentable sugars like sorbitol or mannitol as sweeteners. This creates gas in the intestines and can cause bloating and discomfort. Not everyone needs to fully avoid it, but it is worth considering reducing or stopping if it’s a habit.” 

Swap for: a sprig of parsley. This herb even reduces bloating and can help to freshen your breath just as well. 

Man blowing a bubble with pink chewing gum.Credit: Shutterstock/Asier Romero

5. Kale

You might be surprised to see this nutritious leafy green vegetable on the list. However, Freuman says having a lot of it might make you feel overly full due to it being rich in fibre. This can lead to bloating. 

Kale is part of the cruciferous vegetables group and other members, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, can also contribute to bloating due to the sugars they contain. 

Swap for: spinach, courgette, cucumber or asparagus. Or sauté the kale; raw vegetables can be harder to digest than when cooked. 

Do fizzy drinks cause bloating?

Close-up picture of a fizzy drink and ice cubes.Credit: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

Don’t pour your glass of sparkling water away just yet! While many of us associate bubbly fluids with bloat, this is not the case for everyone. Freuman says: “Fizzy drinks may cause bloating if gas in drinks makes you feel overfull, but sometimes they can alleviate bloating by triggering burping, which helps release trapped air from the stomach. 

What other fluids might make you bloat?

Sugary drinks may only cause bloating in people who are unable to properly absorb the sugars (such as sucrose and fructose) that they contain, according to Freuman. Costas adds: “Fruit juices may also play a part in bloating due to releasing a high number of fruit sugars into our digestive system at one time.” 

Meanwhile, “Alcohol may cause bloating in people susceptible to acid reflux,” says Freuman. “Beer is also a source of fermentable carbohydrates and could cause bloating for people who find similar carbs in wheat, onions and garlic to be problematic.”

Cup of peppermint tea on a saucer, with a peppermint leaf beside it.Credit: Shutterstock/Sandy Schulze

Swap for: water or peppermint tea. “Peppermint tea can help reduce bloating from overfullness. However, putting more inside you, even liquids like tea, when you are overfull, could aggravate the problem,” says Freuman. 

Nutrition and gut health writer for Saga Exceptional, Gemma Harris, says: “I find Twinings Bioblends Peppermint, Fennel and Spearmint Tea to be effective in soothing my stomach and helping to relieve bloat. The mix of the three flavours makes it taste nicer than most other peppermint teas I’ve tried.”

Featured product

Twinings Bioblends Peppermint, Fennel and Spearmint Tea

RRP: £4, 50% off, reduced to £2

Twinings Bioblends Peppermint, Fennel and Spearmint Tea

It’s not just about what you drink…

Drinking through a straw causes you to swallow more air, which can contribute to bloating too, says Costas. 

Expert tips for easing bloating

Woman smiling with one hand on her chest and one hand on her stomach.Credit: Shutterstock/Asier Romero

Depending on the cause, different remedies may be needed to get rid of bloating. Here are some simple things you can try to alleviate symptoms. 

  • Take your time to chew your food: “Eating quickly can result in swallowing more air,” says Costas. Experts recommend that you chew each bite of food around 32 times. 
  • Keep portion sizes appropriate: Costas says eating large meals can fill the stomach up too much and contribute to feeling bloated. Take a look at our food groups article, which details how much you should be aiming for. 
  • Increase fibre-rich foods gradually: Costas explains that having fibre in your diet from sources such as chia and pumpkin seeds, nuts, oats, and kiwis with the skin on can improve digestion and reduce bloating. However, too much fibre can cause bloating, so introducing these things slowly will give your gut time to adjust.
  • Drink enough fluids: Costas says: “Staying hydrated can help prevent constipation and help fibre to work better within the gut.” He also suggests making a smoothie using foods containing fibre such as kiwis, grapes, strawberries and carrots. This will both maintain your fluid intake and help food move through your digestive system. If you want to make sure your smoothie is low in FODMAPs, aim to include no more than six seedless grapes or five medium strawberries. 
Advertisement
Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her

Updated:

Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

Previously a freelance journalist, Gemma has written about topics including combatting the spread of health misinformation on social media, how to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet with a stoma and probiotics for gut health. Her work has been published within leading health journals such as Gastrointestinal Nursing and the British Journal of Healthcare Management, as well as multimedia health and lifestyle platforms, including calmmoment.com, StomaTips, Fit&Well, LiveScience and metro.co.uk.

She is the proud owner of two adorable guinea pigs who are far too spoilt and have become her writing companions. When she is not writing, Gemma can be found making a colourful and nutritious meal in the kitchen, walking in nature, at a yoga or spin class, swimming, doing an at-home YouTube workout, snuggling up with a self-help book or meditating. These experiences help to influence and shape the content she creates. And because life is all about balance, Gemma also enjoys having cocktails with friends.

  • instagram
  • linkedin