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Bloating 101: Why You Feel Bloated

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Bloating, gassiness, and abdominal discomfort aren’t limited to the occasional holiday feast. One in 10 Americans say they suffer from bloating regularly, even when they haven’t eaten a large meal. In some cases, bloating can become severe enough that it causes distention, or a perceptible swelling of the abdomen. Bloating and gas are usually tied to what and how you eat, so a few simple changes may help.

Keep Bloating at Bay

Here are three common causes of bloating, and how you can avoid them.

  1. Overeating is probably the most common cause of bloating. Smaller portions should ease the pain.
  2. Eating rich and fatty food can make you feel uncomfortably stuffed. Fat takes longer to digest than protein or carbohydrates, so it keeps the stomach full longer. Avoid bloating by limiting fats in your everyday diet.
  3. Eating too fast adds to the risk of bloating after a meal. The remedy is simple -‑ eat more slowly. Satiety signals can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain and dampen appetite. Many weight loss experts believe that eating slowly helps prevent overeating.

Reducing Gassiness

The second most common cause of temporary bloating is gas in the abdomen. About half of gas in the digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is produced by bacteria in the gut that help digest food. If the gastrointestinal tract does not move it through efficiently, gas builds up in the intestines, causing bloating and discomfort.

If you frequently experience bloating caused by gas, avoid these habits that increase how much air you swallow.

  • drinking through a straw
  • chewing gum
  • guzzling carbonated beverages
  • sucking on hard candy.

Some people swallow more air when they’re nervous. It’s possible that practicing ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, may help reduce excess gas and bloating.

Avoid Bloat-Inducing Foods

Difficult-to-digest foods can cause gassiness and bloating. These are some familiar culprits.

  1. Beans and lentils contain indigestible sugars called oligosaccharides. These sugars must be broken down by bacteria in the intestines.
  2. Fruits and vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, prunes, apricots. These contain sugars and starches that may cause gassiness and bloating.
  3. Sweeteners can also cause gas and bloating. Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener, can’t be digested. Fructose, a natural sugar added to many processed foods, is difficult for many people to digest. To avoid bloating, be aware of these sweeteners in the foods you eat and limit the amount you consume.
  4. Dairy products can be a source of intestinal distress and bloating if you have trouble digesting lactose, or milk sugar.
  5. Whole grains, recommended for their many health benefits, can sometimes cause bloating and gas problems. One reason whole grains are so healthy is their high fiber content. But fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate. Abruptly increasing the amount of fiber you eat can cause gas, bloating, and constipation. Nutritionists recommend slowly increasing the fiber in your diet to allow your body time to adjust. At the same time, drink plenty of water with high-fiber foods, says nutritionist Joanne L. Slavin, PhD, RD, professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota. “All fiber absorbs water,” she explains. Drinking liquids helps fiber move through the digestive system and prevents bloating and constipation.

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