Bloating after eating can not only ruin your carefully planned outfit of the day, it can also be uncomfortable, sometimes painful and, if the gas you produce is also noisy or odorous, embarrassing! But why does it it happen? Actually, there are many reasons why you might feel bloated after eating – so, here are the most common.
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If you blow up like a balloon after eating, I feel your pain.
Half of the bloating-related posts on this site started because the list of things that makes me bloat is pretty long – it includes chia seeds, aubergine, chickpeas, konjac noodles and going to the gym (that one is particularly frustrating).
The other half came about because friends asked me why they were bloating after lunch or dinners containing other foods. I’ve even written a book on what makes you bloat! So, let’s just say I know my way around the reasons why you might bloat after eating.
And it can begin with what’s in the foods you’re consuming…
Sugars called FODMAPs are an incredibly common cause of bloating – and other symptoms of IBS.
In fact, one UK trial showed that identifying and moderating intake of problematic FODMAPs helped 60 percent of people with IBS, while a New Zealand analysis of eight of the main studies looking at the effects of FODMAP moderation on IBS and found (I quote) ‘up to 86% of patients with IBS find improvement in overall gastrointestinal symptoms as well as individual symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal distention, and flatulence following the diet’.
As such, experts agree there’s a definite link between low FODMAP eating and IBS and bloating.
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccarides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyls (yep, that’s why they use an acronym) – and these are sugars in foods that are likely to create gas when the bacteria in your gut start to digest them. They also cause fluid build up in the small intestine which can increase sensations of bloat.
Most people won’t even notice this – the gas and fluid are produced and passed out without causing any issue except perhaps the odd noticeable fart and a bit of water weight. However, if your gut is more sensitive, the distention that the gas/fluid causes can trigger pain receptors in the gut to fire leading to discomfort, swelling or even pain and stomach cramps.
Foods That Contain FODMAPs
The list of foods that contain the four types of sugar in the FODMAP family is very long and includes (but is not limited to) …
Anything with wheat in – like breads, pasta, cous cous, cakes and biscuits – or even Horlicks!
Milk – and anything that contains it like ice cream, many cheeses and yogurt
Nuts – pistachios and cashews
Vegetables – cauliflower, leeks, onions, garlic, mushrooms
Fruits – apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, prunes and watermelon
Sweeteners – honey, agave nectar, sorbitol and xylitol
The good news is you don’t need to avoid all of those foods, only those containing the specific type of sugar to which you react need to be limited – most people are not triggered by every group, and many foods can still be eaten in limited quantities without triggering symptoms.
Some of the foods we’ve already covered where FODMAPs could the reason behind your bloating are..
Mushrooms – they contain a polyl called mannitol – see more about ways to control mushroom bloating here.
Chickpeas – they contain oligosaccharides – see more about how to remove the main FODMAP in these and limit chickpea bloating here.
Read More About FODMAPs
Because there are so many different foods that contain FODMAPs, identifying your specific triggers and threshold is one reason why following a FODMAP-friendly diet is best done under the supervision of a dietitian.
One of the best resources for understanding the FODMAP diet before you seek professional help is a book called The Complete Low Fodmap Diet by Sue Shepherd and Peter Gibson.
If you prefer to keep things on your smartphone, you can also download the Monash Fodmap app from the app store which helps walk you through the process of eating the low-FODMAP way.
Both of these were created by experts at Australia’s Monash University who were responsible for much of the original research into the role of FODMAPs in gas and bloating.
Fibre is good for us – no doubt. But, increasing your fibre intake too quickly, or consuming too many fibre-rich foods at the same meal, if you’re not used to it, can lead to that bloated feeling after eating even healthy foods.
The reason is those little gut bugs again – they eat fibre and the more you give them to eat the more gas is produced.
If you’ve changed your diet to contain more high fibre foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains like brown rice or wholegrain bread, you might want to just take your intake back a notch for a week.
Once your system has got used to that amount of fibre, then add another fibre source, let your gut settle, and keep repeating the process until you can eat your high fibre diet without generating gas.
3. Resistant Starch
This is a specific type of fibre found in many carby foods and, you’ve guessed it – your gut bacteria love it and, it causes gas production.
Food high in resistant starch can include green bananas, beans and legumes, – but it’s also formed if you cool and then cool foods like rice, potato, oats, quinoa and bread.
As you’ll see in this post on why frozen bread makes you bloat, this can be one reason why you might be able to eat a food just fine one day, but then, find it causes bloating the next.
So, if you’re find with pasta for dinner, but bloat after your pasta salad at lunch the extra resistant starch created by the cooking and cooling involved in the process could be your problem.
Saponins are bitter tasting substances found in the outer coating of plants. Their main role is to make the plant taste bad to insects, but, some people can find that they can’t handle them either – and the result is bloating and gas.
Some of the foods that might trigger this issue that we’ve covered include
Quinoa – if you’ve swapped rice or pasta to this protein-packed healthy grain and are experiencing bloating, saponins might be the reason. Again, you’ll find out how to stop this on our post on why quinoa causes gas.
Chickpeas – one of the highest saponin containing foods – but, there’s an easy way to get rid of them which we cover here.
Other foods that contain saponins include beans – particularly soy beans, legumes, garlic, spinach and oats.
Foods in the nightshade family include eggplant (aubergine), tomatoes, peppers and potatoes and, some people find that foods in this family are bloating triggers.
There’s a few reasons for this…
Nightshades contain ingredients called lectins which many natural therapists believe can upset in the gut in those sensitive to them.
On top of this, foods in the nightshade family contain natural chemicals called glycoalkaloids. Like saponins, these are in the plant to protect them against attack by insects and most people can consume normal amounts of them without an side effects. However, some people find that even normal quantities of glycoalkaloids can irritate a sensitive digestive system.
One of the easiest ways to stop nightshades causing bloat, is to remove their skins as this is where most of the irritating substances are found.
Find out more about how to reduce bloat from aubergine in our post on why eggplant causes gas
6. Food Intolerances
Gas and feeling bloating after eating can be a common side effect of food intolerance.
A food intolerance is a negative reaction to a particular food – it’s different from a food allergy, as in allergy the body actually switches on the immune system to attack a food – and the response usually happens within minutes of consuming it.
In intolerance, reactions can be much slower – sometimes not manifesting until 72 hours after you’ve eaten the food (which is one reason why they can be hard to spot) – and, while allergies will be triggered by the tiniest amount of a substance, intolerances tend to not occur unless you reach a set tolerance threshold, so, even if you’re lactose intolerant, you might be able to eat one scoop of ice cream but two will lead to problems.
Intolerances to a food can occur at any age, and exactly why they develop isn’t known but common cause of intolerances is low levels of the enzymes needed to digest a food.
Theoretically you can become intolerant to any food, and intolerances can cause all sorts of symptoms, not just digestive ones. Cravings can be a common sign of food intolerance.
But saying that, some of the most common intolerances that manifest with bloating as a major symptoms include…
- lactose (the sugar in milk),
- gluten (a protein in wheat, barley and rye),
- A1 protein in milk (which is why swapping to A2 milk, or trying a lactose free milk like Remilk might help fight bloating),
- FODMAPs (as we discussed above)
- Yeast which you’ll find in beer, Nooch, miso and spreads like Marmite or Vegemite.
The best way to diagnose a food intolerance is to keep a detailed food and symptom diary to try and pinpoint patterns that lead you to food causing your problems.
Check our guide as to what should go into a food and symptom diary here.
And you’ll find some templates to help you complete yours here…
7. Acidity and Irritation
Producing inadequate amounts of stomach acid can lead to gas and bloating, but so can producing too much. If something causes your stomach to produce higher levels of acid than normal – or irritates your gut in another way as it passes through it, bloating and gas can be the result.
Some common foods that might do this include spicy dishes like curry or hot salsas – and also coffee.
If that sentence filled you with horror, check out our guide to why coffee might make cause gas for some specific ideas on how to fix it without giving up your morning saviour.
Sometimes though it’s not something in the food that’s triggering your symptoms – but something about how you’re eating it, or how your body is handling it. These are more likely to be the reason why you bloat after every meal than a specific item in a specific food.
8. Eating Too Quickly
Eating too fast is a common trigger for bloating after you eat.
There’s two reasons why this happens – the first is that if you eat quickly you tend to swallow air along with your food, and, a stomach full of air is a stomach full of bloat!
But, if you eat quickly you also swallow food in larger chunks and that can mean it takes longer to digest than normal – and the longer food hangs around the gut, the more time those gut bugs have to feast on it – and, the more gas that then produces.
If you can’t see a clear pattern to the type of foods that make you bloat, then try taking more time over your meals as it may simply be how you’re eating that’s triggering your problems.
Chewing better is also one way to help stop chia seeds making you bloat – to find out some of the others, check out our post on chia seeds and bloating.
Do You Swallow Air When You Exercise?
One thing that keeping a food and symptom diary can show you is patterns as to exactly when your problems occur that actually have nothing to do with what you’ve eaten.
For example, you might notice that your bloating actually happens on days when you workout at lunchtime, but there’s no clear pattern relating to the food you eat – and in that case, it might be your gym visit that’s triggering your bloat and not your sandwich!
To find out more about why exercise can make you bloat, check out this post.
Phytates are antioxidant compounds found in the seeds of plants. They’re actually pretty good for us, but, some people do find them hard to digest – phytates are the main reason why beans, pulses and legumes can lead to bloating.
Soaking beans, or buying them canned can help reduce this reaction.
A Note on Nuts
You might see some nuts in health food stores called activated nuts. These are soaked to remove the phytates – but, as we told you in our piece on whether activated nuts are worth buying, when people were given soaked nuts – and non-soaked nuts, their digestive symptoms didn’t actually change!
10. Consuming Fizzy Drinks
The clue is in the name – fizzy. Drinks that contain gas lead to gas getting into your stomach – and just like when you swallow it, this can build up for a while before you have time to pass it out.
If you get bloated after every meal – and, every meal also contains fizzy drinks, try cutting those out before you mess with some of the healthier items in your diet.
Chewing gum can also cause gas to build up in the stomach.
11. Low Enzyme Levels
We mentioned that specific missing enzymes can be a cause of some food intolerances but, the fact is we need enzymes to digest everything we eat.
The enzyme amylase breaks down carbohydrate into sugars
The enzyme protease coverts protein into amino acids
And the enzyme lipase turns fat into fatty acids and glycerol
You also need a healthy production of stomach acid to digest things properly.
And, as we get older, or, in times of stress, the production of digestive and stomach acids can slow down. And if that happens, food can take longer to digest than normal – and, you’ve guessed it, this lets the gut bugs do their thing for longer – and gas and bloating is the result.
Signs that low enzyme levels might be behind your gas or bloating include if you’re bloating after every meal that you eat – no matter what specific foods are in them – and you might find your bloating is accompanied by loose or foul smelling stools, burping or indigestion and, weight loss.
You can buy enzyme supplements to help support your own enzyme production or drink apple cider vinegar before meals to support acid production – but, it’s a good idea to get things checked out with a professional before trying to treat yourself just in case something else is going on.
A nutritionist, dietitian or naturopathic doctor can also help advice on on the best use of enzyme replacements and acid generators for your particular issue.
When To Ask Your Doctor About Bloating
The fact is that bloating every so often after you eat is normal and happens to everyone at some point – but, if you’re finding that it’s happening regularly and leading to problems that interfere with your life like loose stools, pain and cramping, you should really speak to someone about what’s going on – especially if you find it hard to identify a clear trigger or are cutting more and more things out of your diet to try and fix it.
It’s also essential that you get bloating checked out if it doesn’t come and go. If you constantly have the feeling that you are bloated, especially if it comes with a loss of appetite or weight loss, then please just go and get things checked as bloating can be a sign of some other concerns.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.