We all have those days when we feel uncomfortably full. After all, bloating, to some extent, is normal — and there are countless reasons why we may feel more inflated sometimes, many of which are not diet-related.
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"Bloat is associated with stress, fluid retention, dysfunctional gastric motility, gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), intestinal parasites or bacterial overgrowth, hormonal imbalances and some medications," Meredith Rofheart, RD, a registered dietitian at the private practice Culina Health, says. "Bloat can also be a symptom of other GI issues like gas and constipation."
Of course, the foods we eat can have a significant effect on bloating too. "There are many foods that are more fermentable, which means gas-causing," explains Erin Judge, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of Gutivate, a virtual practice for digestive disorders. "The increase in gas production with these foods can contribute to bloat."
Certain foods, including foods with FODMAPs (types of carbohydrates) like garlic and onion, are more likely to bring on bloat in people who are sensitive to them.
"Bloating and a rise in intestinal gas is a normal phenomenon after consuming fermentable foods," says Kate Scarlata, MPH, RDN, dietitian and author of The Low-FODMAP Diet Step-by-Step. "Experiencing some bloating often reveals we are feeding our gut microbes, which in turn, provide a wide range of health benefits such as creating vitamins and keeping our immune system in check."
How we eat can contribute to the sensation of bloating as well. "Over-consuming fiber and fat can delay stomach emptying, creating a full stomach and bloated feeling," Scarlata says. "Using straws can pull extra air into the digestive tract, stretching the gut. Eating foods in a hurry can also reduce the time you chew, which can impair digestion."
However, when the bloating never goes away, continuously worsens or is accompanied by pain or changes in bowel habits, further investigation from a health care provider is warranted.
For run-of-the-mill bloat, simple swaps like increasing your water intake and incorporating ginger into meals may help. Just know that no single food is a sure cure for abdominal distention. And because the cause of bloating is often multifactorial, don't bank on cucumbers alone curing your GI symptoms.
The good news: There's little harm in trying out these natural belly remedies. Read on for the 15 best foods for bloating.
"Bloating is the sensation of abdominal fullness while abdominal distention refers to the actual growth of the abdomen,” Scarlata notes. The two terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably.
Ginger can stimulate motility in the GI tract and, by extension, relieve constipation and associated abdominal distention, per a May 2018 study published in Scientific Reports. The randomized control trial found that ginger capsules significantly reduced abdominal distention in people who had just undergone C-sections when compared to a placebo.
Also nice: The plant is an established antiemetic, meaning it can help prevent nausea and vomiting, per the University of Michigan Health. Try grating fresh ginger into a cup of tea, sucking on a ginger capsule or noshing on crystallized ginger for belly relief.
Peppermint contains an organic compound called l-menthol that has been shown to reduce gastric and colonic spasms, relaxing the muscles of the GI tract and potentially soothing abdominal pain and bloating, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).
"I often recommend enteric-coated peppermint oil tablets for my patients with a sensitive gut," Scarlata says. "Be sure to choose a product that is enteric-coated, meaning it has a special coating that allows the peppermint to get into the small intestine, as this will help reduce the potential side effect of peppermint increasing stomach acid reflux."
If you aren't prone to acid reflux, try sipping on a cup of peppermint tea the next time your tummy feels too full.
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking enough water is essential for preventing bloating. "Proper hydration can help decrease bloat by supporting the digestive system and keeping things moving," Judge explains. "One big reason for bloat is poor movement, either of the food itself or of gas produced during the process."
Be sure to space your fluids out over the course of the day. While hydration can help prevent bloat, downing large amounts of water at once can exacerbate the issue. It's also helpful to limit carbonated sips like seltzer or club soda, which can introduce more gas into the GI tract and contribute to bloating.
Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain that aids in protein digestion. The compound has been used for hundreds of years to treat indigestion and inflammation in Central and South America, per Mount Sinai. It's also purported to be effective in wound and burn care, per MSKCC.
When it comes to bromelain's effects on digestive disorders, research is lacking, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. While a bromelain supplement may interact with some medications, there's little to no harm in snacking on a refreshing bowl of pineapple the next time you're feeling bloated.
Prunes are number one when it comes to going number two, Rofheart says.
"The dried fruit holds two important keys to stimulating bowel movements: fiber and sorbitol. The insoluble fiber in prunes adds bulk during digestion and aids in stool passing through the digestive system faster, while sorbitol is a natural laxative."
Much like pineapple, papaya possesses an enzyme called papain that helps break down proteins during digestion. Most of the research has studied papain for wound healing purposes, according to the Cleveland Clinic, so the jury is still out on whether the fruit improves bloat.
Fortunately, papaya is a low FODMAP-friendly source of fiber that may promote regularity — and potentially reduce bloat as a result.
Remember how we said hydration is key for banishing bloat? Enjoying water-rich vegetables like cucumbers, which are more than 95 percent water by weight, can help maximize our fluid intake and provide the hydration we need to get back to our baseline when bloated.
“What causes bloat for some may not cause bloat for others,” Rofheart says. “Determining which foods do and don’t contribute to your individual symptoms is important. It can be helpful to keep track of when you have bloat to find the food culprits and start to make better choices for your body.”
This tropical fruit is rich in potassium, a key electrolyte that promotes sodium excretion from the body, per the Office of Dietary Supplements. Sodium retention causes the body to hold onto water, which can contribute to bloating. A potassium-rich diet may therefore help reduce bloating that's related to water retention.
There's also a compound in kiwis called actinidin that might serve as a digestive aid, though human studies are lacking, per February 2013 research published in Advances in Food & Nutrition Research. But unlike ripe bananas, kiwis are low in FODMAPs, meaning they're more likely to be well tolerated even among people with IBS.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and kefir are packed with beneficial microbes that support digestion. The probiotics found in some yogurts, for example, have been shown to help improve IBS symptoms as well as diarrhea in some people, per Harvard Health Publishing.
It's important to note that dairy tolerance is completely individual and some people may experience bloating as a result of eating dairy. But even if you deal with an intolerance to most milk-based products, yogurt might sit well with you.
"The live microbes in yogurt consume some of the lactose, making the end product more tolerable for some people who experience lactose intolerance," Scarlata explains.
Snack on plain Greek yogurt rich in calcium and protein, then top it with high-fiber foods like a spoonful of peanut butter and fresh berries for a balanced bite.
Essential oil derived from fennel seeds can help reduce IBS symptoms like flatulence and GI spasms, according to a June 2016 study in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases.
Just beware that the form of fennel you consume can make all the difference. "Fennel essential oil has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms, but fennel tea contains fructans, a common IBS trigger," Scarlata notes. If you know you're sensitive to FODMAPs, consider asking your health care provider about supplemental fennel for bloating.
"High in the fiber beta-glucan, oatmeal for breakfast can be an effective choice to keep bloat at bay first thing in the day," Rofheart says.
A serving of oats (½ cup) can be well-tolerated among people with IBS, according to Monash University. Certified gluten-free oats are also A-OK for those with celiac disease.
Much like cucumber, celery is an ultra-hydrating vegetable (it's 95 percent water) that acts as a diuretic and serves up gut-friendly fiber that may reduce bloating associated with constipation. One cup of chopped celery provides nearly 2 grams of fiber, per the USDA.
Not only does avocado serve up soluble fiber, but it's also a good source of magnesium. "Magnesium plays an important role in activating enzymes responsible for digestion," Rofheart tells LIVESTRONG.com. "It helps neutralize stomach acid, relaxes the muscles of the intestines and draws water into the intestines, all of which allow stool to easily move through the digestive tract and helps you stay regular."
If bloat is occurring as a result of a system backup, opt for magnesium-rich foods like avocado (pumpkin seeds and spinach are other stellar sources) or talk to your health care provider about the right form of magnesium supplement for you.
There's a lot to love about the active compound in turmeric, called curcumin. "Curcumin is the most active curcuminoid pigment [in turmeric] and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-modulating effects," Scarlata says.
The only problem? The amount of curcumin in turmeric, the spice, is minimal. Not to mention the bioavailability of curcumin is low, meaning we'd need to consume a lot of turmeric to obtain the associated health benefits.
"I recommend a discussion with the health care provider to assess if curcumin supplements may be a good complementary therapy, particularly in inflammatory bowel disease where there is some evidence of health benefits," Scarlata explains.
Dandelion may act as a natural diuretic, meaning it could potentially help reduce water retention contributing to abdominal distention. However, research on the plant's diuretic effects is lacking. Also important: Natural diuretics, either as herbs or supplements, may interfere with other medications, per the Mayo Clinic.
Instead, go ahead and sauté some dandelion greens at home for a nourishing dinner side. Just know that you may want to steer clear of the plant (including derivative products like dandelion tea) if you are sensitive to FODMAPs. Dandelion contains fructans that may trigger GI symptoms for some people, per Monash University.
General Anti-Bloating Tips
Need more bloat-busting tips? Try these tricks from the experts to banish belly discomfort.
- Because digestion begins in the mouth, it's important to eat slowly and chew food well.
- Limit carbonated beverages and straw usage as both introduce extra air in the gut.
- "You may find yourself bloated if you consume foods containing added sweeteners like sugar alcohols, so keep an eye out for them on food labels," Rofheart says. Pro tip: Sugar alcohols usually end in "ol," such as sorbitol and erythritol.
- Kick your chewing gum habit. This can also produce excess gas in the gut.
- "Move your body — walking briskly can help stimulate intestinal movements, releasing trapped gas," Scarlata says.
- Avoid overdoing it on highly fermentable foods like garlic, onions and raw cruciferous vegetables.
- In general, cooked vegetables are more digestible than raw, says Rofheart. Steam, sauté, or roast your veggies instead of eating them raw to decrease your chances of bloat.
- Aim to eat until you're about 85 percent full instead of overly stuffed.
- Ask your health care provider if enteric-coated peppermint capsules may be right for you.
- Prioritize plants. "Eating a wide range of plant foods has been shown to diversify the type of microbes in the gut, a sign of a more healthful gut and gut microbiome," Scarlata explains. "Aim for 30 different plants per week."
- Surgery: “Heated Fennel Therapy Promotes the Recovery of Gastrointestinal Function in Patients After Complex Abdominal Surgery: A Single-Center Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial in China”
- Mount Sinai: “Celery Seed”
- University of Michigan Health: “Ginger for Morning Sickness”
- Scientific Reports: “A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial on the Efficacy of Ginger in the Prevention of Abdominal Distention in Post Cesarean Section Patients”
- Advances in Food & Nutrition Research: “Kiwifruit Proteins and Enzymes: Actinidin and Other Significant Proteins”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Papain; Urea Topical Ointment”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Your Complete Guide to Choosing a Yogurt to Meet Your Needs”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Potassium: Health Professional Fact Sheet”
- The Cleveland Clinic: “Dehydrated? These 7 Foods Will Satisfy Your Thirst and Hunger”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Celery”
- Monash University: “Research Diet Updates”
- Monash University: “FODMAPs and Irritable Bowel Syndrome”