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How Can I Feel Less Bloated After I Eat?

May 10 2021
4 min read
view from over a woman's shoulder of her eating a salad

Q: Every meal seems to end with me feeling like a balloon. How do I beat that bloated feeling?

A: It largely comes down to the choices you make during your meal, not after it. If your problem is just a feeling of excessive fullness, we recommend smaller meals; eating more mindfully can help with this.

But if you experience bloating with gassiness within two to three hours after you eat, the problem could be related to the type of foods you are eating, especially those containing fermentable carbohydrates.

Fermentable carbohydrates refer to starches and sugars that are not completely digested in the small intestine. They travel to the large intestine where intestinal bacteria use them as a food source. This process is called fermentation — and it causes gas.

Eating some fermentable carbohydrates is a good thing. Not only do some of the foods that contain them — such as beans and dairy products — contain important nutrients, but the process of feeding the bacteria in the large intestine helps keep the colon and the whole body healthy. Absorbing less of the carbs we eat or absorbing them more slowly can also help control blood sugar levels and may help us feel fuller longer. Of course, all of these benefits can lose some luster when the gas that is produced as a result is excessive and uncomfortable.

Scientists have come up with an acronym to label these foods: FODMAP, which stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols, the technical terms for the fermentable carbohydrates.

FODMAPs include:

  • Breads, cereals and pastas made from wheat and rye
  • Beans and legumes
  • Milk and other foods containing lactose
  • Sweeteners like honey and agave syrup that are high in fructose
  • Sugar alcohol sweeteners like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol
  • Specific fruits and vegetables

Learn more by referencing this comprehensive list of FODMAP foods from the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

Research has shown that eating fermentable carbohydrates sparingly can help alleviate symptoms of gas and bloating. The first and simplest approach is to scan the list of foods to determine how many of them you eat regularly. You can safely cut out lactose-containing dairy foods and the sweeteners listed to see if you notice a decrease in your bloating. If dairy foods are the culprit, try lactose-free versions. If sweeteners are the problem, they can be safely eliminated forever.

If this doesn’t bring you relief, you may need to consider working with a nutritionist or dietitian. He or she will likely ask you to follow a low FODMAP diet, a more structured elimination diet to figure out which specific foods make you feel bloated. This process can require a somewhat complicated roadmap as you eliminate and then reintroduce foods in a logical order. The experienced eye of a professional makes it a lot easier. You’ll also get additional strategies for improving the health of your intestinal tract, such as incorporating probiotics and eating more foods that fight inflammation.

Remember that most FODMAP foods are quite healthy and delicious. Eliminating all of them means reducing the food sources of the beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract and can have negative effects over time. In the short run, however, it may help you find some relief.

It’s important to keep in mind that bloating and other digestive symptoms may be signs of something more serious. If the bloating persists or is accompanied by pain or changes in bowel habits, be sure to talk to your health care provider.