The holidays mean two things: feasting on delicious meals and battling some serious bloat. (Talk about cramping your eating game.) You usually feel bloated when gas builds up in your stomach or intestines, so it’s all connected to the way your body breaks down food. Overeating is the number one culprit, but foods that are hard to digest (like ones that are fatty or high in fiber) or ones that create bubbles in your intestines (like that diet soda you just can’t quit) tend to bring it on too. Bloating can also occur when your body retains too much water, usually thanks to high-sodium grub.
Whatever the trigger, puffing up is more than just annoying; it can slow you down and drain your energy. But it’s also easy to avoid if you stick to the right foods.
Beer is full of bubbles, which will leave you with a bloated belly. (It’s also worse than other carbonated beverages.) Research has shown that alcohol can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which can leave you feeling inflated.
2. Frozen Dinners
Veggies are full of fiber, which means they can be difficult to digest and tend to produce gas in your GI tract. Cruciferous veggies (like kale and broccoli) contain raffinose, a sugar that produces extra gas as it breaks down and can make you feel like you’re carting around some extra fluff.1
But veggies also bring a ton of nutritional benefits to the table, so there’s no reason to swear off them completely. If you’re prone to bloating, cook your vegetables—the heat will help break down some of the fibers so your body doesn’t have to.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Role of Food in Pathogenesis and Management. Hayes P, Fraher M, Quigley E. Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2014 Mar; 10(3): 164–174.
If you’re lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy (many of us are to some degree), you may notice that milk products cause you to feel bloated. When milk gets broken down, it releases gas, which can lead to that uncomfortably full feeling. There’s an easy way to figure out if milk and cheese are the culprits behind your bloat: Try an elimination diet and see if you feel better eating dairy-free.
5. Diet Soda
Besides the bubbles, diet sodas are laced with artificial sweeteners that your body doesn’t know how to digest. Research has found these sweeteners disrupt the microbiota (your body’s natural balance of gut bacteria), which can lead to a bigger belly, both short and long term.1
- Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D. Nature, 2014, Sep.;514(7521):1476-4687.
They don’t call beans the musical fruit for nothing. Legumes require a big effort to break down. As your body works overtime digesting the sugar and fiber, it produces more gas in your gut, which can leave you with a bad case of bloat. But that shouldn’t be a reason to completely cut the superfood out of your diet. After all, it’s a great source of protein, iron, and folate. If you’re having a big meal, which can already lead to swelling, it’s probably best to steer clear of things like beans and edamame.
Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy causes most people to swallow more often—and part of what you’re swallowing is air. All of that extra air can back up in your digestive tract and leave you feeling bloated. Sugar-free gum is a particularly bad offender. Like diet soda, most sugar-free gum contains artificial sweeteners that are difficult for your body to break down and can cause you to feel gassy.
Potassium acts to reverse to the gut-busting effects of sodium. Reaching for a potassium-packed fruit, like a banana, can regulate your body’s sodium levels and banish that salt-induced bloat.
Fennel seeds are your friend when it comes to digestion. In addition to being a diuretic—meaning they cause you to pee and flush out excess water weight—they also have a compound that may quiet digestive issues.1
If you’re not into the idea of brewing a cup of fennel tea, you can easily sneak it into just about any meat or pasta dish as a stomach-soothing spice.
- Comparing the Effects of Echinophora-platyloba, Fennel and Placebo on Pre-menstrual Syndrome. Delaram M, Kheiri S, Hodjati M. Journal of Reproduction and Infertility. 2011 Jul-Sep; 12(3): 221-226.
Bloating can also be caused by water retention, which your body does when it’s in fear of dehydration. Ironically, the way to flush the excess water is by drinking more and eating water-filled foods. Watermelon is not only flush with the stuff (duh), it’s also a great source of potassium.
Peppermint is a great stomach soother, and studies have shown that peppermint oil can help fight cramping and gas.1
So next time you eat food that you know makes you gassy, try sipping on a cup of peppermint tea afterward.
- Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Khanna R, MacDonald JK, Levesque BG. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 2015, Mar.;48(6):1539-2031.
Cucumbers are your belly’s best friend when it comes to bloating. These watery veggies contain quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory and may reduce the swell.1
- The effect of quercetin supplementation on selected markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Askari G, Ghiasvand R, Feizi A, et al. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 2012 Jul; 17(7): 637-641.
Papayas are packed with an enzyme called papain, which has been shown to put a stop to tummy troubles.1
Papain can help break down proteins in your GI tract, making it easier to stomach food that’s tough to digest.
- Papaya preparation (Caricol®) in digestive disorders. Muss C, Mosgoeller W, Endler T. Neuro endocrinology letters, 2013, Jun.;34(1):0172-780X.
Ginger has long been praised for its belly benefits.1
Both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it’s been shown to fight everything from aging to the big bad bloat. Sip a cup of ginger tea or chew on some raw ginger post-feast.
- Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. Mashhadi N, Ghiasvand R, Askari G, et al. International Journal of preventive Medicine. 2013 Apr; 4(Suppl 1): S36-S42.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/