The truth is, bloating is a normal part of life and is often caused by gas buildup from normal, everyday things like eating and drinking. “Gas can accumulate in the intestines when you swallow air while eating, or when the bacteria in the colon breaks down food that wasn't fully digested in the small intestine,” says Jordan Hill, RD, of Top Nutrition Coaching. Another common causes of bloating: constipation. Hormonal fluctuations could also be to blame.
But there are, of course, times when feeling puffy is uncomfortable, and you wish you could figure out how to reduce bloating fast.
Meet the experts: Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, is the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans and host of the FUELED podcast.
Courtney Schuchmann, RD, is a nutritionist at University of Chicago Medicine
Jordan Hill, RD, is a nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching.
Michael D. Brown, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Group.
Sonya Angelone, RD, is a former spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In addition to puffiness in the abdomen, bloating can also appear in your hands, feet, and even your face, adds Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans and host of the FUELED podcast. It also typically goes away within 24 hours.
But if you’re looking for some faster relief from bloating, consider any one of the tips below.
Fill up on probiotics.
Probiotics are important for gut health, and you can get them in both food or supplement form. "Yogurt is one of the easiest ways to get probiotics in your diet," says Courtney Schuchmann, RD, a nutritionist at University of Chicago Medicine. "You can also eat fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut, or things like kombucha and kefir—but be cautious, because those products may also contain a lot of sugar, which can be counterproductive for GI health."
If you opt for probiotic supplements, Kimball recommends the ones you find in the refrigerator since refrigeration may help preserve the live active cultures. Just chat with your doctor before adding any new supplement, including probiotics.
You've probably been told before that you should be drinking more water, but this is especially true if you find yourself bloated all the time.
Drinking water will soften your stools, which makes them easier to pass and quickly reduces bloating in the form of gas and constipation, says Matthew Bechtold, MD, a gastroenterologist at University of Missouri Health Care. Good hydration also increases the mucus secretions in your bowels and your overall bowel motility, so drink up!
Watch your salt intake.
If you're feeling bloated after an especially salty meal, you might be able blame the sodium. However, the effects should be temporary.
That said, Dr. Bechtold recommends choosing fresh meats and produce over the prepackaged ones, experimenting with cooking with flavorful spices in lieu of salt, preparing your own meals at home instead of dining out, and studying food labels closely for sodium content.
And just so you know: The Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (that's just one teaspoon of salt, FYI).
Add more potassium to your diet.
Speaking of how sodium can make you retain water, if you're regretting those French fries you ordered at lunch, try snacking on a potassium-rich banana to relieve bloat ASAP.
"Potassium can help the kidneys get rid of salt, which may help with water retention," says Dr. Bechtold. If bananas aren’t your thing, oranges and strawberries are also good sources of potassium.
Don't skip the skin on fruits.
Put down the fruit peeler. In fruits like apples and pears, the skin is where you find insoluble fiber, a.k.a. the kind that aids digestion by keeping things moving through your bowels. Munching on these fruits with the skin intact can help increase stool bulk and give you more regular bowel movements over time, says Schuchmann.
Be mindful of the bubbly.
I know, it's amazing, but there's a side effect to all that no-cal seltzer sipping—belly bloat.
"Carbonated beverages may add air in the GI tract," says Dr. Bechtold. "The more air that is trapped, the more bloating [you'll have]." Replace some of your sparkling water with the flat bottled or tap kind, and see if there's any improvement. Note that this is more of a long-term fix, though.
That said, Kimball says she drinks a good amount of carbonated water and doesn't feel this effect. So, whether or not it makes you feel bloated may be individual. She recommends paying attention and seeing how it impacts you personally.
Consider an OTC option.
If you're looking for quick relief, Michael D. Brown, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Group, recommends trying simethicone, an over-the-counter medication that is available under brands like Gas-X and Equate. "About 80 to 120 milligrams of a chewed tablet with meals can help,” he says. (Remember, it never hurts to check in with your doctor before trying any new supplement or medication.)
Work up a (light) sweat.
You don't have to go for a five-mile run every day, but fitting in some regular physical activity might keep things moving more smoothly in your tummy.
There are two reasons why a short walk—especially after eating a big meal—can significantly reduce bloating, according to Dr. Bechtold. First, exercise increases the motility of your colon, which reduces the amount of time your stool sits in your belly making gas. Secondly, exercise increases your heart and respiratory rates, which also increases blood flow to the gut; this encourages your bowel muscles to work harder to push stool out. Best of all, you'll notice an improvement right away!
Consider a food log.
Pay attention to when you’re feeling bloated and consider keeping a food log to pinpoint potential culprits, Kimball suggests. You may find you're sensitive to certain foods, like those that contain gluten. "A gluten sensitivity could leave you with that bloated sensation, even if you’re not completely intolerant," says Kimball, adding that gluten is often found in things you may not realize like beer and salad dressing.
Don't overdo it with the broccoli.
You should definitely eat your vegetables, but if you’re going to town on some of your nutritious faves—like broccoli and cauliflower—they could actually be the source of your woes.
These cruciferous veggies are high in a sugar called raffinose, says Dr. Bechtold, which doesn’t break down easily in your GI tract.
Luckily, you don't have to swear off those greens for good. It’s just a matter of finding your threshold: Some people can tolerate one cup of broccoli at a time, others more or less, Schuchmann says. Over time, you won't be in so much discomfort. You may also have better luck eating cooked broccoli versus crunching raw florets. (More on this soon!)
Always look for ways to get your leafy greens.
Since leafy green vegetables, like kale and spinach, are a good source of insoluble fiber, they help your colon produce stool, thereby reducing gas and bloating over time, says Dr. Bechtold.
These veggies are also low in calories, so they’re pretty versatile. You can eat them raw in salads or incorporate them into your soups, stews, eggs, smoothies, sandwiches, and tacos without adding a lot of calories to your meal.
Aim for a few small meals each day.
If you’re waiting several hours between meals, you’ll end up ravenous when it’s time to eat again—and that might result in overeating.
Dr. Bechtold explains that overeating causes the stomach to both look and feel larger than normal (hello, food baby!), but eating several small meals over the course of the day can prevent that awkward distended belly.
Cut back on certain types of dairy.
Kefir, yogurts, or an aged cheese can be good for your GI system, says Kimball. (Remember probiotics?) However, the lactose is higher in straight-up milk and ice cream (which also contains potential other bloat-inducers like sugar or sugar substitutes), she notes. "For those sensitive to lactose, you might try experimenting with cutting back on milk and ice cream," she says.
Choose grilled, broiled, or baked chicken over fried.
Obviously fried chicken is delicious, but it should be more of an exception, not a rule: Fried food is tougher on your stomach and may be to blame for gas and bloating.
“Fried versions of food typically absorb more of the fat [they’re cooked with],” says Schuchmann. “That can cause GI distress.” As often as possible, she suggests opting for meat and seafood that’s grilled, broiled, or baked rather than fried. Your stomach will thank you in the long run.
Fried foods also tend to be higher in salt and carbs which could be a double whammy for bloating, says Kimball.
Go ahead, drink your coffee.
Coffee drinkers, rejoice! Black coffee can keep your bowel movements regular, according to Schuchmann. The connection is mostly anecdotal at this point, but lots of people feel the urge to run to the bathroom pretty soon after their morning cup of joe. So, if it works for you, stick with it and down a cup whenever you're bloated. (Just be sure you don’t overdo it on sugar-laden milk or creamers, which might negate some of the GI benefits.)
If you’re not a coffee fan, Schuchmann says herbal teas are a good way to get the all-important hydration your colon needs to keep things moving.
Pay attention to artificial sweeteners.
Stevia and monk fruit are typically going to be very mild for people and aren't likely to cause GI issues, says Kimball.
However: Certain artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol, maltitol, and lactitol—could be making you bloated, she says.
These chemicals are found in sugar-free snacks, like candies and gums, as well as in many of the dressings, beverages, and condiments. They’re also hard for your stomach to properly digest, so they create gas and GI problems (like bloating!).
Go easy on processed foods.
Processed foods are quick and easy when you're pressed for time, but they're not doing you any favors in the bloat department. "Processed foods are usually high in sodium, which causes water retention and thus bloating or a bloated feeling," says Sonya Angelone, RD, a former spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you love having something crunchy to munch on, try keeping healthy, non-bloating snacks handy, like carrot sticks or unsalted almonds.
Increase your ginger intake.
Ginger can help increase motility in your GI system, Angelone says. "It helps food pass more quickly through the digestive tract," she explains. "This decreases the amount of time food stays in the gut, so it is less likely to undergo fermentation, which leads to gas and bloating."
You can try adding ginger to your tea or sprinkling it over foods for a kick of flavor. This is another long-term strategy that'll pay dividends over time.
Cook your veggies.
Raw vegetables are delicious and all, but they can contribute to bloating. If you're feeling bloated all the time, "eat vegetables cooked, especially cruciferous vegetables," like the broccoli and cauliflower mentioned earlier, Angelone says. "The cooking helps break down or soften the fibers so they are easier to digest." Not a quick fix, but you will find yourself dealing with puffiness much less often.
Limit happy hour(s).
Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits in disrupting the balance of our gut microbiome, says Kimball. Also alcohol is fermented, and that fermentation can cause gas and bloating in your belly, Angelone says. When you throw carbonated drinks into the mix, like beer or a fizzy cocktail, it can be even worse. So cut back on drinking to reduce bloat over time.
Sip mint or chamomile tea.
Both mint and chamomile teas are known for relaxing your GI tract, Angelone says. Make it a point to sip one in the morning to stop bloat before it even starts, or try having one when you're already feeling bloated to help de-puff.
Eat an early dinner.
After you eat, your GI tract works hard to break it all down, so your body can use the food you ingested. But digestion slows down when you go to sleep, Angelone says, and eating late can increase the odds that you'll be bloated. "Eating earlier while you are still up and about helps food digest better," she says.
Get plenty of prebiotics.
Asparagus contains prebiotics, which feed good bacteria, Angelone says. As a result, you have good digestion, lowering the odds that you'll have bloat.
Try adding asparagus to your weekly grocery list and eat it as a dinner or lunchtime side dish to keep puffiness at bay.
Other prebiotic foods include oats, garlic, and onions, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Try digestive enzymes.
Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes called bromelain and papain, both of which help banish bloat by breaking down protein and easing digestion, Angelone says.
You can simply eat the fruit sliced up as a snack, or add it to dishes for an extra burst of flavor.
You can also take these enzymes as a supplement, Kimball says, though it's best to always discuss new supplements with your doctor first. Pairing digestive enzymes with foods that might otherwise leave you feeling bloated could also be worth trying, she adds.
Try a low-FODMAP diet.
Dr. Brown says that the only diet proven to minimize bloat is a modified or low-FODMAP diet, which is used to manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). The eating plan helps you learn which foods may trigger a flare-up by systematically eliminating and slowly adding them back into your diet. The low-FODMAP diet is effective for reducing digestive symptoms of IBS, including constipation and bloating, studies have shown.
If this is something you are interested in trying, Dr. Brown says it is best done with the help of a registered dietitian.
You Might Also Like