You just ate a few slices of pizza from your favorite pizza place and now your belly feels swollen. What gives? Does greasy food really cause bloating? From a salad to a sandwich, turns out that the list of foods that can cause this effect is long and surprising.
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Foods That Cause Bloating
"Any food can cause bloating if the stomach is emptying poorly, [given] that the food ferments there," explains Patricia Raymond, MD, gastroenterologist with Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach.
If your food stays in your tummy too long, bacteria starts to break it down, which produces gases. The gases make your stomach feel swollen, causing a bit of discomfort and a "stuffed feeling."
So does this mean your double cheeseburger with fries causes bloating? It can, but not because of the grease. "Generally [greasy foods] don't cause bloating," says Dr. Raymond. "Although increased fat in meals slows gastric emptying."
Over 35 percent of adults consume fast food on a daily basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Usually rich and fatty, those chicken nuggets and fries can really make you feel bloated.
According to the American Journal of Physiology, fatty foods stimulate the release of cholecystokinin, or CKK, from your small intestine. And as the Endocrine Society explains, CKK delays gastric emptying, meaning food sticks around longer in your belly than it's supposed to.
Does Cheese Cause Bloating?
If you feel gassy and bloated after eating dairy products like cheese, you may be lactose intolerant. People who are lactose intolerant lack the necessary enzymes to break down lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in all dairy products, including ice cream, butter and yogurt.
The inability to break down lactose can cause gas to form in the gastrointestinal tract and trigger bloating. The American Gastroenterological Association suggests opting for lactose-free or non-dairy alternatives. Lactase tablets like Lactaid can also give your body a hand at digesting these foods.
If you feel bloated after a meat and cheese platter, and you're not lactose intolerant, something else may be the issue. Digestive diseases affect between 60 and 70 million Americans each year, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, so it's important to see a gastroenterologist if you are concerned.
Read more: Causes of Upper Abdominal Bloating
Do Pretzels Give You Gas?
According to Dr. Raymond, pretzels can indeed cause gas. "Pretzels are boiled in bicarbonate [baking soda] to give them that sheen," says Dr. Raymond. "The bicarbonate reacts with acid to form carbon dioxide." When pretzels come in contact with the acid in your stomach, a chemical reaction happens. Carbon dioxide, which is the fizz that bubbles up in soda, bubbles up in your digestive system and, voila, gas is formed.
The same thing can happen when you eat bagels, which also use baking soda to help them rise and shine.
Gastroparesis: A More Serious Cause of Gas
From dietary choices to lifestyle habits, bloating can have a wide range of causes. But if your bloating is because your stomach can't get rid of food quick enough, you could have gastroparesis, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
However, the disease is not common, affecting about 50 out of 100,000 people each year. More commonly, symptoms similar to gastroparesis occur in 25 percent of U.S. adults, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Gastroparesis literally translates to "stomach paralysis" and is a digestive disorder in which your stomach can't empty itself normally. Diabetes, infections, hypothyroidism, eating disorders and other diseases are common causes of the condition.
If you are diagnosed with gastroparesis, you'll have to be extra careful about your diet. Since fatty foods already take time to digest, most treatment plans recommend low-fat meals.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Gastroparesis”
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: “Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013-2016”
- American College of Gastroenterology: “Gastroparesis”
- American Gastroenterological Association: “Lactose Intolerance”
- American Journal of Physiology: “Cholecystokinin Receptors”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States"
- Endocrine Society's Hormone Health Network: "What Is Cholecystokinin?"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.