A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Diet and bloating – there’s a connection

If your favorite pair of pants seems snug now and then, bloating could be the cause. Bloating can happen for different reasons and while some reasons are more serious than others, that full feeling usually doesn’t last long.

Changing your diet is one way to get rid of bloating. Doctors say making dietary changes can ease bloating within a few days.

What causes bloating?

Illustration - Puffer fish in a sea of little fish - Bloating

Bloating is either spontaneous or caused from another disease or problem, including infection or mal-digestion.

Bloating is either spontaneous or caused from another disease or problem, including infection or mal-digestion.

“Any infection in the digestion tract can give you bloating, including a virus,” said Dr. Christopher Rall, a gastroenterologist at Marshfield Clinic. “It can also include giardiasis, which is a parasite you can get from drinking contaminated water.”

People who have surgery in their digestive tract can have bloating, but the most common cause of bloating is from the foods we eat.

Foods that create bloating vs. foods that make it subside

Foods that cause the most bloating have lactose in them. This can affect people who have difficulty digesting lactose, or are lactose intolerant. Foods with lactose include milk, custard, ice cream, yogurt and soft cheeses.

Your doctor can test you to see if you are lactose intolerant.

The second most common foods that trigger bloating contain fructose or fruit sugar.

“The main source for this is what people know as high fructose corn syrup,” Dr. Rall said. “So the same thing that happens with lactose can happen with fructose.”

Some foods with a lot of fructose besides foods with high fructose corn syrup include concentrated fruit sources, large servings of fruit, dried fruit and fruit juice.

Other foods that cause bloating include beans and legumes, and green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts and asparagus. These cause more gas production and make you more bloated.

Conditions that cause bloating

Diseases that destroy the intestine lining and cause bloating also come from food.

For example, celiac disease, when one is unable to break down wheat or becomes wheat-sensitive. If a person has celiac disease, eating food with gluten can cause bloating. Doctors can do a biopsy or blood test to see if someone has celiac disease.

Foods you can eat to help ease bloating include bananas and berries, vegetables like carrots, green beans, spinach and sweet potato, gluten-free breads and cereals, lactose-free milk, soy milk and hard cheeses, and sweeteners not ending in “-ol” or sugar.

Other ways to treat bloating

Be aware of how much air you’re breathing in at one time.

“If someone is nervous, they may talk a lot or eat their food very fast and suck down a lot of air,” Dr. Rall said. “If you take 100 people who have bloating or gas problems and chemically test their gas, it’s usually all air. So it helps to not suck down all of that air.”

One myth is drinking more water can help reduce bloating. Dr. Rall says it doesn’t necessarily help bloating, but it is always good to be well-hydrated.

Do probiotics reduce bloating? Some probiotics produce lactase bacteria that break down milk sugar, but it’s not always a top choice, said Dr. Rall.

“The bacteria can break down some parts of food, but there are no trials that prove this,” Dr. Rall said. “They’re not FDA-approved. If my patients do want to take a probiotic, I recommend the ones that have been around a while.”

If you are dealing with bloating and the problem doesn’t go away, talk to your doctor or schedule an appointment to see if there is a more serious problem.

“If it bothers you once in a while, I try to give a medicine that has a short duration of action,” said Dr. Rall. “However, if it’s a chronic ongoing problem, talk to your doctor to find out what’s wrong, and if they need a longer acting medicine.”

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