Why Does Bloating Happen?

This article has been written and reviewed by a Registered Dietitian, Samantha Cassetty

Bloating can fall into a few different categories. Some people experience bloating as a result of water retention from a very salty diet. Most Americans overconsume salt but under-consume potassium, which is a mineral found in fruits and veggies that helps counterbalance sodium. If you eat a lot of packaged foods, takeout meals, fast food, or restaurant meals, there’s a good chance you’re consuming too much sodium, so you may be retaining extra fluid and feel bloated.

Constipation is another very common cause of bloating. When you’re constipated, gas can get trapped, making you feel uncomfortable and bloated. Plus, everything that gets backed up can make you feel and look bloated.

 Some people experience a GI imbalance called SIBO in which there are excess bacteria in the small intestine that results in bloating. Another related GI imbalance involves organisms called archaea that produce excess methane. This can cause painful gas, bloating, and constipation. 

Food sensitivities and intolerances are another common cause of bloating. 

Also, how you eat can make bloating worse. When you eat quickly, you swallow more air, which contributes to bloating. And eating a big, rich meal is also associated with bloating. Also, when you drink carbonated drinks, like soda or seltzer, the bubbles can get trapped in your digestive system and make you feel bloated. 

Why do certain foods make us bloat?

Some people lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down certain foods. A very common example is lactose intolerance. When you don’t have the enzyme needed to break down lactose efficiently, you experience digestive symptoms, like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Also, carbohydrates known as FODMAPs aren’t well-digested, so they get fermented, which produces excess gas and bloating. People with IBS are especially vulnerable to bloating when they consume these foods, but some of these carbohydrates can cause bloating in people who don’t have IBS. For instance, sugar alcohols, which are found in sugar-free candies and gum, are hard for most people to digest.

Apart from eating debloating foods, what are some other ways to avoid bloat? 

Some conditions that produce bloating require medical treatment, so it’s important to discuss bloating and changes in your bowel habits with your doctor. 

If you want to experiment with your diet, focus on eating sufficient fiber from whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. 

Our fiber needs range from 25 grams to 38 grams per day, yet only 5 percent of people hit this target. When you boost your fiber intake, be conscious of your water intake. When you increase your fiber without meeting your fluid needs, your constipation might get worse, which means your bloating could also get worse.

Also, try to reduce your intake of processed foods and focus primarily on whole or minimally processed foods. Again, it’s important to eat a range of plant foods, including a half plate of fruits or veggies (or a mix of the two) at all of your meals. This strategy helps you reduce your sodium intake and boost your potassium intake, which can help minimize bloating from water retention. It’s also a good strategy for increasing your fiber intake.

It’s also helpful to limit carbonated beverages. And focus on how you eat. Sit down and chew slowly to reduce 

 Since restricting foods can subject you to nutrient deficiencies and potentially trigger disordered eating habits, I don’t recommend self-experimenting with an elimination diet or a low FODMAP diet. It’s important to talk to a doctor to get properly diagnosed, and then work with a dietitian if certain foods are thought to be the cause of your bloat. Use a journal or the notes on your phone to keep track of your food and symptoms. This can help your healthcare team identify potential triggers.