While we all know that fast food, salty foods, soda, and sugar can cause bloating, among other digestive issues, most of us could never suspect that seemingly healthy foods like spinach, mushrooms, and apples, too, could trigger the same issue. Below, we list 16 such healthy foods and drinks and explain why they may make your stomach appear bigger than it is.
If you suspect that you are sensitive to any of these foods and drinks, eat twice as little of them or eliminate them from your diet for a few days and see how you feel, and then reintroduce them for another few days. If the bloating goes away when you eliminated the food and then returns, it means that food is causing the bloating and you are sensitive to that food, so you shouldn't eat too much of it too often.
1. Apples and Pears
Apples and pears are the ultimate to-go snack for many people. Not only are these fruit juicy, delicious, and easy to consume, they're also packed with vitamins and other nutrients, such as pectin, a type of soluble fiber that is known to promote digestive health and lower the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. That being said, both fruits are a common offender when it comes to bloating and gas because they contain fructose - a type of sugar in fruits that many people find difficult to digest - so it's best to limit your intake of the fruit if (and only if) that is the case for you.
Watermelons are among the most hydrating foods in existence, and they are often believed to be natural diuretics, which is why many individuals with bloating and swelling issues indulge in the pink fruit. What most people fail to take into account that the main sugar in this fruit is fructose, a common irritant to those who are sensitive to it, and these people will develop bloating when they eat too much watermelon.
The reason why most people develop bloating when drinking soda isn't the sugar content of the drink, but rather the carbonated bubbles. Fizzy drinks contain carbon dioxide - a gas - that gives the bubbly drink a fun mouthfeel. This gas is infused into the drink under high pressure, and when you open up a bottle or can of soda, sparkling water, or any other fizzy drink, the gas escapes from the liquid into the air.
That's all fine when the gas has somewhere to go, but in your digestive system, it has nowhere to escape and so it accumulates, causing bloating. Avoid any kind of carbonated beverages if you want to keep your belly flat throughout the day.
4. Spinach and Other Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach, are also some of the healthiest foods you could eat, and they're famously known for their high fiber content, antioxidants, and vitamins. Unfortunately, though, by far not everyone can tolerate these otherwise beneficial veggies since most of them contain raffinose - a complex sugar variety that cannot be digested by humans but can be metabolized by the gut bacteria that live in the lower intestine, and these bacteria produce three gases: methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.
Those gases, in turn, contribute to the bloating and flatulence a person with a sensitive belly will experience. When it comes to spinach, however, it doesn't contain raffinose. Instead, it has oligosaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates that can likewise cause bloating. However, with spinach, there is also a solution - cooking the green can reduce the number of oligosaccharides in it, rendering the super healthy green safe for sensitive bellies.
Speaking of carbohydrates that cause stomach issues, our favorite barbecue companion, corn, likewise contains quite a lot of them. Similarly to cruciferous vegetables, these carbs are difficult to digest for our body, and so our gut microbiome steps in to do so, and the resulting byproducts, i.e. gases, will expand your intestines and make your belly appear bigger than it really is.
Dairy is one of those more obvious suspects when it comes to digestive problems because approximately 65% of the world's populations have some form of lactose intolerance. In addition, there are people who cannot digest other sugars in milk products, as well as those allergic to milk, so it's hardly surprising that dairy is a common cause of bloating.
What you may have not known, however, is that you can become sensitive to dairy at any age, and many do lose their ability to digest lactose even in their 40s and beyond. Thus, if you feel that your midsection expands after you eat pizza or drink a latte, you might want to dial down on the dairy and consider milk substitutes.
Following from the previous point, if the first plant alternative you run to is soy, don't be surprised if it, too, causes some discomfort in your belly, especially if you start eating and drinking a lot of soy products right away. The same goes for those who are trying to substitute part of their protein intake with legumes - beans, peas, lentils, and the like.
While legumes have many notable health benefits and everyone should eat them, some people shouldn't overload their diet with legumes to prevent bloating. Like spinach, legumes contain oligosaccharides, which cannot be digested by our intestines and will cause a puffy belly in some people. If that is the case for you, increase your intake of legumes very gradually, make sure to cook them through well, and eat them together with vegetables to reduce the risk of bloating.
8. Dried Fruits
Like watermelons, apples, and pears, certain dried fruit naturally contain a lot of fructose, a common irritant for sensitive stomachs. If you find that eating dried fruit alone makes you bloated, dietitians recommend mixing them up with fiber-rich foods, such as nuts and grains, especially oatmeal, to reduce the unpleasant symptoms. You can also opt for dried fruit varieties that contain less fructose, such as cranberries, raspberries, prunes, and apricots, to name a few.
Yogurt is filled with probiotics, so it must be great at reducing bloating, right? Well, not entirely, as what most people called yogurt is the sweetened, fruity kind, which is super high in sugar and will further exacerbate or even cause bloating by itself. The only yogurt variety that's actually beneficial for your gut health is plain white yogurt.
There is a common misconception that mushrooms aren't actually digested when you eat them and that they simply pass through your intestines. What people who say this actually mean is that the chitin in the mushrooms isn't digested, which is true, but chitin is only one of the many substances mushrooms contain. In reality, mushrooms are rich in beneficial vitamins and minerals, and eating them is both a delicious and nutritious choice. That being said, mushrooms do also have polyols, a type of sugar alcohol that accounts for both the bloating and laxative effect of mushrooms.
While you may think that popcorn is a snack food that's unhealthy and shouldn't be on this list, many nutrition experts actually recommend eating plain, slightly salted popcorn in-between meals. This is because popcorn is quite high in fiber, which is something most of us need more of, and in addition, popcorn takes up a lot of space in the stomach and so it makes us fuller faster - a feature those of you who are trying to lose weight will surely appreciate. That said, the same high volume may also make your stomach a bit bigger if you indulge in it too much. Moderation is key.
12. Sugar-Free Gum
The issue with sugar-free gum is that it uses artificial sweeteners to offer a pleasant sweet taste without the added calories. These artificial sweeteners are a very common source of irritation of the digestive system and could cause all sorts of issues, including bloating, pain, and flatulence. If you have a sensitive stomach, try to exclude gum from your diet altogether or try to minimize your intake.
13. Protein Bars
The public's addiction to protein bars is somewhat justified, as these to-go snacks are essentially a type of candy you let yourself eat under the premise that it's 'healthier' than a chocolate bar or cookie. That may be true, but protein bars are loaded with sugar and contain hydrolyzed soy protein powder, too, both of which can make your belly upset and contribute to an already-struggling digestive system. Eating some nuts, low-fructose dried fruit is a much better choice.
It's difficult to find a savory dish that doesn't contain onions, which is quite understandable given that the vegetable does impart a lot of flavor in any dish. However, if you're including onions in many dishes and can't figure out what's causing your bloating issues, you just found the offender.
Surprisingly enough, the chemical that makes your stomach bloat up after eating onions is a group of carbohydrates, namely fructans. These chemicals are naturally present in onions and are impossible to digest for many, and so they, like most items on this list, contribute to the creation of gases in the stomach, which, in turn, make you feel puffy.
15. Whole Grain Bread
Even more surprisingly, the same class of carbs that contribute to bloating in onions also causes the same issue when eating whole-grain foods, such as bread. Not all grains contain fructans, but wheat, rye, and barley - three common grains in bread, do. In fact, many people think they have gluten sensitivity and avoid gluten to reduce their digestive issues, but in reality, they are sensitive to fructans. Other foods high in fructans include artichokes, garlic, and pistachios.
The final feature on this list belongs to a drink that experienced an upsurge in consumers as more and more people try to find an alternative to soda. Kombucha is a fermented drink that contains a lot of antioxidants and probiotics and has an array of health benefits associated with it. However, this admittedly-delicious drink can also sensitize many people's stomachs and causes bloating because it's so fizzy and fermented. If you intend to start drinking kombucha, start with a small amount, and build up to avoid these unpleasant symptoms.