- You may be bloated if you have an intolerance to certain foods, if you’ve eaten too much fiber, or if you consume artificial sweeteners or sugary alcohol.
- If you smoke, chew gum, or eat or drink too fast, you may swallow air which could also make you bloated.
- Some underlying health conditions that can also cause bloating are Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Chron’s disease.
If your stomach has ever felt so swollen that you have to unbutton your pants, or if you’ve felt like you have gas trapped in your belly that simply can’t be released, you’ve experienced bloating.
While bloating is uncomfortable, most of the time it’s caused by something relatively harmless. You can relieve bloating with dietary changes or over-the-counter remedies, says Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
Bloating is usually caused by excess abdominal gas, Farhadi says. You can sometimes relieve it with belching or flatulence, but there are other times where it feels trapped. Here are 5 possible causes of bloating and how to get rid of it.
1. Intolerance to certain foods
One of the most common culprits of bloating is lactose intolerance. According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 65% of people worldwide are not able to fully digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found primarily in milk and dairy products like cheese.
People with lactose intolerance lack an enzyme called lactase, which helps break down and digest lactose. Bacteria in your gut then eat the undigested food and produce gas as a byproduct, causing bloating, Farhadi says.
It’s not just lactose intolerance that causes bloating. For example, there are other sugar intolerances where people lack the enzymes to fully digest maltose (malt sugar) or sucrose (regular table sugar), Farhadi says.
How to treat it
If you’re lactose intolerant, you have the option of taking Lactaid or a similar over-the-counter product that contains the enzyme necessary to break down lactose, which will help you digest dairy products. However, according to Mayo Clinic, this isn’t foolproof for everyone with lactose intolerance.
Moreover, if it’s some other intolerance causing bloating, you should speak with a physician about trying an elimination diet. Before scheduling a visit, keep a food diary for at least a few days and pay attention to what foods may be triggering your symptoms. You can then discuss how to go about eliminating these foods from your diet in a healthy way where you don’t risk any nutritional deficiencies.
2. Eating too much fiber
Although we are always being told to eat more fiber, eating too much fiber — especially if you’ve only recently added it to your diet — can cause bloating, Farhadi says.
Some examples of foods that are high in fiber that might be the culprit of your bloating include:
- Whole wheat products
- ½ cup of whole wheat pasta has about 6 grams of fiber or 24% of your daily value (DV)
- ½ cup of black beans has 4.94 grams of fiber, 18% DV
- ½ cup of kidney beans has 8 grams of fiber, 28% DV
- ½ cup of pinto beans has 5 grams of fiber, 18% DV
- Lentils: ¼ cup of lentils has 15 grams of fiber, 60% DV
- Peas: ⅔ cup of peas has 4 grams of fiber, 16% DV
- Broccoli: 100 grams of broccoli has 3.5 grams of fiber, 14% DV
- Brussels sprouts: 1 cup of brussels sprouts has 2.98 grams of fiber, 12% DV
- Apples: 1 small apple has about 4.93 grams of fiber, 20% DV
By its very nature, fiber is not digestible by the human intestine, Farhadi says. The benefit to this is that fiber-rich foods move through your digestive tract more slowly and don’t spike blood sugar levels. Consuming high-fiber foods also comes with other benefits like alleviating constipation and lowering cholesterol.
However, the downside is that the undigested fiber is a buffet for your gut bacteria, which can produce gas. And if there is excess fiber, there can be excess gas. That’s why beans, which are very fiber-rich, are notorious for causing flatulence.
How to treat it
If you experience excess bloating shortly after you eat high-fiber foods, you might need to limit the amount you’re consuming, Farhadi says. The recommended daily intake of fiber is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women.
If your doctor has recommended adding more fiber to your diet, make sure you start slow and gradually build up how much you consume. This will help your gut and gut bacteria get used to the new fiber and may prevent bloating.
If you’re already past the point of no return, Farhadi says you can try over-the-counter products that will relieve gas and bloating such as Gas-X or Gaviscon. Gas-X works by breaking down excess gas bubbles and Gaviscon works by creating a protective layer in the stomach and also neutralizing stomach acids.
Alternatively, you could try taking Beano before you eat, which has enzymes that can help you break down hard-to-digest foods and possibly prevent gas before it starts.
3. Swallowing air
Swallowing air is a natural part of eating and drinking. But Farhadi says there are some circumstances where people can swallow excessive air, which leads to gas and bloating. The technical name for this is aerophagia.
Some common causes of aerophagia include:
- Eating or drinking too fast
- Chewing gum
- Hyperventilating, like from an anxiety or panic attack
- Ill-fitting dentures
How to treat it
Be mindful when you are eating and drinking. Eating slowly is key, and can help you gulp down less air in the process. You may also want to cut back on smoking and chewing gum. If you wear dentures and think that could be the problem, consult your dentist or prosthodontist.
If anxiety could be the reason for your aerophagia, check out our guide on how to deal with anxiety. And remember that during an attack, steady, slow, deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth can not only prevent aerophagie but also help resolve the attack.
4. Consuming artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
While the FDA has approved a variety of artificial sweeteners for safe consumption, Farhadi says that artificial sweeteners can cause bloating and gas because they are not easily digested.
Some of the most popular artificial sweeteners are Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame (Equal), and Saccharin (Sweet’N Low). On top of these being available in packets to be added to whatever food or drink you’d like, they are often in diet products such as diet soda.
Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sugar alternatives that can also cause bloating. Common examples of these are sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, which are often found in sugar-free gum and candy.
Sugar alcohol and artificial sweeteners are examples of FODMAPs, which are foods and ingredients that are hard to digest and thereby cause GI symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea, according to Harvard Medical School.
How to treat it
If artificial sweeteners cause bloating or gas, the best way to treat this is to cut artificial sweeteners out of your diet or limit them. If you put artificial sweetener packets in your coffee or other beverages, try using regular sugar instead, or a flavored creamer that isn’t sugar free (because these contain artificial sweeteners) to give it some more flavoring.
When it comes to diet soda or other diet products, check the label. It’s likely they contain some kind of artificial sweetener. If you aren’t totally sure that the artificial sweeteners are the cause of your bloating, you can try giving it up for a few days and see if you notice a difference. You can also use the aforementioned OTC gas-relievers.
5. Underlying health conditions
It’s possible that your bloating goes beyond a dietary issue. There are several health conditions that can cause a range of GI symptoms including bloating. Some examples are:
- Celiac disease
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Certain types of cancer
How to treat it
Just because you’re experiencing bloating, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have one of these health conditions. But if you are persistently experiencing bloating as well as other symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, or nausea, it’s worth a visit to your doctor.
Your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history, lifestyle, and diet, and may run some tests to get a better idea of your possible condition. Then, they can give you a specialized treatment plan that might include both medications and lifestyle changes.
The bottom line
Regardless of the cause of your bloating, it is possible to find relief. As discussed, over the counter gas medications can help, but Farhadi says what’s most important is getting to the root of the problem and determining what exactly is causing the bloating and discomfort.
“Work on the source rather than just putting a bandaid on the symptom,” says Farhadi.