Ask Gerda: What Makes You Bloated?

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Gerda Endemann, our Senior Director of Science and Research, has a BS in Nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from MIT and a passion for cherry picking in our wellness shop. She spends a lot of time interpreting research – both established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for that. (You too. Send us your own questions to Gerda: [email protected].)

Dear Goop, I sometimes get bloated after a meal but I can’t figure out if it’s because of a particular meal or something else. What are some of the reasons for gas? – Hannah A.

Hello Hannah. The main cause of bloating is gas. The gas can come from carbonated drinks or from swallowing air if you are eating too quickly. One school of thought says that chewing each bite 30 times is key to health. Not a bad idea: it would slow you down, aid digestion, and potentially prevent air swallowing. (My third grade teacher followed this theory, so there wasn’t much time to play during the lunch break. California only.)

However, in many cases it is certain foods that cause gas. Beans are an obvious offender, but there are other foods that cause gas in some people and not in others. And that depends on your digestive enzymes and the bacteria in your gut.

It is the intestinal bacteria that produce gas – methane and hydrogen – from our leftover food. Regardless of what foods we fail to digest and ingest in the small intestine, they end up in the large intestine where bacteria use them and produce gas. This is what happens with lactose intolerance, when there isn’t enough of the enzyme that digests lactose, the sugar in milk. Are you bloated after eating yogurt, ice cream, or cream cheese? This can come and go: Stress and illness can cause temporary lactose intolerance.

Now there is evidence that sugar affects some people in the same way. There can be fructose, the fruit sugar. Are you responding to sources of fructose like apple juice, high fructose corn syrup, pears, cherries, peaches, and watermelons?

The list of gas-emitting foods is dauntingly long. You may have heard of the term FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). It refers to anything bacteria can use. This includes the sugars mentioned above: sucrose, fructose, and lactose. And it contains fibers that we don’t digest, like inulin, which bacteria use. Sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol are also FODMAPs. You can find them in sugar-free and low-calorie gum, peppermint, and cough suppressants.

Harvard Health Publishing has a helpful list of foods high in FODMAP. Common ones are rye, wheat, onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, and beans. It’s a bit confusing because eating vegetables, which provide nourishing fiber to our gut bacteria, generally aid gut health. Diet is about moderation for us and our bacteria and about respecting our needs as individuals. And when your microbiome is out of balance, healthy foods that feed bacteria can make your symptoms worse.

If temporarily eliminating foods high in FODMAP turns out to be helpful, you may want to reintroduce foods one at a time to find out who are the culprits. It is best to work with a nutritionist, as proper elimination diet can be challenging (Someone on our editorial team is doing this now in Brigid Titgemeier’s My Food Is Health program, and we will share more with Titgemeier on this topic soon.)

Another approach is to take supplements that contain digestive enzymes. Debloat + capsules contain seventeen digestive enzymes along with turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and licorice. This special licorice root extract, GutGard, has been clinically studied and has been shown to aid intestinal health and digestion. *

A good probiotic can make a huge difference in digestive health. This one has twenty-four strains of helpful bacteria. *

Finally, if you’re trying to cut out FODMAPs and it seems like you can’t eat anything, treat yourself to a coconut milk latte with saffron.

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For more information on fiber, food, and gas, see this article. More information on elimination diets and detox can be found here.

(Of course, as always, ask your doctor about conditions like chronic gas.)

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor should it be used as a substitute for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article contains the advice of doctors or health care providers, the views expressed are the views of the expert quoted and do not necessarily reflect the views of goop.

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