You can change your outfit 20 times, but there's not much you can do to look and feel better once bloating hits. Thankfully, you can prevent a bloated belly by steering clear of certain foods in your everyday diet. Here are nine bloat-triggering foods, beverages and ingredients to cut down on — or avoid altogether — so you can feel your best.
1. Sugar Alcohols
While watching your waistline, you may reach for sugar-free foods. Many of these products contain sugar alcohols, like sorbitol or xylitol, which are low-cal but may cause gas and bloating, especially when eaten excessively. Sugar alcohols are FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, per the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Foods on the FODMAP list can be tummy troublemakers. "I don't usually recommend food with sugar alcohols," Dana Essner, NDP, a board-certified family nurse practitioner, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "From a health perspective, better snacks include nuts and seeds, a small piece of 75 percent dark chocolate, fresh fruit or vegetables and peanut butter."
Beans, chickpeas and lentils are excellent sources of protein and minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc. Not to mention, they're a key factor in some great chili recipes! But these little powerhouses are also high in fiber and contain oligosaccharides (a FODMAP compound), natural sugars that can't be digested, according to the U.S. Dry Beans Council (USDBC). They can not only cause your tummy to inflate, but may also cause flatulence. Research suggests eating beans just a couple of times a week may lessen gas and bloating. You should also rinse beans under hot water to soften them and then use fresh water for cooking.
Read more: The Side Effects of Beans
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies — like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli — are rich in vitamins and minerals and full of cancer-fighting phytonutrients. But these foods also contain raffinose, an indigestible complex sugar that makes your body release gas and causes bloating, per Harvard Health Publishing. To fit in these health-boosters without the unwanted effects, Essner recommends starting with smaller portions and working your way up. "You can also steam, sauté, roast or add them to soup to break down the sugar," she says. "The powerful benefits of cruciferous vegetables far outweigh the bloating issues you may experience. If all else fails, take simethicone, like Gas-X."
Read more: Does Drinking Water Reduce Bloating?
4. Foods with Fructose or Sucralose
If you choose fruits, drinks or processed food containing fructose, or "diet" treats sweetened with sucralose, you may be setting yourself up for belly bloat. Fructose, a simple sugar, often challenges your gut's absorption ability. And about 85 percent of consumed sucralose (like Splenda) — a zero-calorie artificial sweetener — isn't absorbed at all, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation. To sidestep this effect, become a staunch label sleuth. Fructose is found in juices, apples, grapes, watermelon, asparagus, peas and zucchini as well as many processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, molasses, maple-flavored syrup, palm or coconut sugar or sorghum. And sucralose may be lurking in foods you wouldn't even expect, like cereal, bread, gum, dairy products and condiments.
Read more: How to Read a Nutrition Label
5. Soy Proteins
Soybeans are the only vegetable food that contains all eight essential amino acids and are a good source of vitamins, but they also contain galacto-oligosaccharides, a FODMAP compound, per Harvard Health Publishing. This kind of carb can cause a bloated tummy and abdominal pain. You may have to give up things like soy milk, tofu and certain yogurts if you realize you have an intolerance. But if you're still soy-persistent, "Try reaching for fermented soy, like miso, natto and tempeh," Essner suggests. "Due to the fermenting process, these products generally don't cause GI distress. Soy protein isolates (SPIs) are pretty much pure protein and also don't cause bloating. SPIs are generally found in protein powders and protein bars."
Read more: Is Soy Milk Good or Bad For You?
While it's hard to think of having a bowl of cereal without milk or skipping ice cream at a picnic, know that dairy can cause gastrointestinal distress for some people. Dairy products like cow's milk and cottage cheese contain lactose, another FODMAP compound. "Lactose is a form of sugar, and for people who are sensitive or intolerant, it can cause a host of stomach issues, including bloating," explains Jenny Champion, RD, CPT, creator of the 7-Day Cleanse. "If your body isn't able to break down lactose, it'll ferment in your colon and you'll notice gas, bloating and stomach pain whenever you consume it. Almond or hemp milk might be good substitutes if you're a chronically bloated milk drinker." And if you're feeling daring, try some avocado ice cream!
7. Carbonated Drinks
Soda and sparkling water are drinks of choice for many, but they're also top contributors to belly swell. The fizz in these drinks can bubble up in your digestive tract, and because of all that excess gastric air, belching, bloating and gas will occur, per the American College of Gastroenterology. And because a lot of these drinks contain artificial sweeteners, your belly is hit with a double whammy. For a flavorsome way to hydrate without the bubbles, Champion says, "Water with lemon or water with frozen berries or cucumber is really refreshing with zero carbonation." You can also experiment with your own combinations, like mint or ginger with pineapple or other fruit, or freezing bits of fruit and herbs or spices in ice cube trays to drop into a tall glass of H2O.
Bread, pasta, bagels, cereal — you love eating them, but you hate how you feel after a carb-fest. It turns out, you have good reason to be so torn: These foods can bloat your midsection, and the reason is two-fold. People can have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is exactly that — a sensitivity to the protein found in gluten that can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea, as well as other symptoms associated with celiac disease, according to Beyond Celiac. But wheat, rye and barley also contain fructans, a FODMAP compound, which again, cause gas and bloating, and people with a fructan intolerance may be affected just the same. The good news is that it's suggested not to eliminate gluten and fructans altogether, per The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. You should avoid them for a couple weeks, then slowly reintroduce the foods that you love to determine your individual intolerance.
You might be all about the IPAs and Cosmos, but consuming alcohol has the potential to wreak havoc on your digestive system. Alcohol acts as an irritant and increases digestive juices, slowing down the digestive process, according to Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. "In most cases, though, it might not be the actual alcohol that's the problem, but more so the barley in beer or the sugary or carbonated drinks your vodka is typically mixed with that causes bloating," Champion says. "Stay away from beer and choose drinks that don't need a mixer; wine and martinis are two great options." Natural ingredients like mint, basil and ginger also make great mixers.
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "The Low FODMAP Diet Approach: What are FODMAPs?"
- Dana Essner, DNP, APN, FNP-BC, CPN
- U.S. Dry Beans Council: "Bean Facts"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Gas (Flatulence)"
- International Food Information Council Foundation: "Everything You Need to Know About Sucralose"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Try a FODMAPs Diet to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome"
- Jenny Champion, MS, RD, CPT
- American College of Gastroenterology: "Belching, Bloating, and Flatulence"
- Beyond Celiac: "Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms"
- The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: "Should You Avoid Eating Fructans?"
- Alcohol Research: Current Reviews: "Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation"
- Diet vs Disease: 8 IBS Symptoms You Need to Know About"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "The Beginner's Guide to Cruciferous Vegetables"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fructose Intolerance: Which Foods to Avoid?"
- American Family Physician: "Soy: A Complete Source of Protein"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What’s Causing That Belly Bloat?"
- Current Gastroenterology Reports: "Dietary Fructose Intolerance, Fructan Intolerance and FODMAPs"