On Your Health

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Why Am I So Bloated?

If you woke up feeling like you swallowed a puffer fish this morning, you are not alone. Bloating, specifically the abdominal variety, affects as much as 30 percent of the population according to The Cleveland Clinic and one in five adults according to a March 2022 story in The New York Times.

Before we go much further, let’s clarify our terms. Bloating is the unpleasant feeling of pressure in the stomach/abdomen. Distention is bloating’s BFF – that’s the visible poof you see when your waistline expands to accommodate the bloat. Water retention is when the body hangs on to water. This can be caused by eating too much sodium, hormone fluctuations and air travel. Water retention can also cause bloaty feelings and distention, and it can make your hands, feet, arms and legs swell. For most people, bloating, water retention and distention will subside on their own in a relatively short period of time. 

What can cause bloating and distention? Many things. Here are 13 common culprits.

Constipation. Did you know you can technically be considered constipated even if you’re having regular bowel movements? Fewer than normal bowel movements is just one symptom of constipation. Others include not feeling like you got it all out after a bathroom visit, straining to finish (or begin) a bowel movement or stool that looks like pebbles. Constipation bloats us in two ways. First, there’s extra waste taking up space in your colon. Second, the longer that waste sits there, the more it ferments. Fermenting feces generates gas, which puffs us up.

Carbonation. We love our bubbly water and carbonated sodas, but they can cause you to swallow excess air (carbonation), which can bloat you up. Once the extra air leaves your stomach, you can’t burp it out. After a certain point in the lower bowels, it can be released as flatus, but between the stomach and the release, it’s got no place to go. 

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Generally speaking, most of us don’t have a lot of bacteria in our small intestines. If you’ve had intestinal surgery or irritable bowel syndrome accompanied by diarrhea, a bacterial overgrowth can occur, AKA SIBO. This causes bloating.

Too much sodium. Lots of foods contain much more salt (sodium) than are good for us. The recommendation for adults is to consume fewer than 2,300 milligrams per day.

When you’ve ingested too much sodium, your body holds onto water in order to maintain an optimum ratio of water to sodium. Putting down the saltshaker can help, but oftentimes it’s the sneaky sodium that you can’t even taste that causes the problems. Processed foods are sodium jackpots. In fact, the American Heart Association has identified the ‘Salty Six,’ which are six popular foods that are also top sources of sodium. They are: bread and rolls; fast food sandwiches; canned soup, which can contain as much as 940 milligrams in one serving; cold cuts and cured meat; pizza; and burritos and tacos.  

Fat. Fatty foods like fried chicken, cheese or French fries can take longer to digest because of their fat content. When possible, opt for grilled meats instead of fried, and lightly cooked vegetables instead of onion rings or French fries. Dress your salads in simple vinaigrettes rather than heavy, fatty ranch or other creamy dressings.

Lactose. For people who are lactose intolerant, ice cream cones or milk can be prolific sources of bloat. The degree of your body’s intolerance will determine whether you just feel a bit bloated, or whether you’ll experience abdominal pain, gas and bloating. People who are lactose intolerant cannot efficiently break down lactose. Sneakier sources of lactose are cheese, butter and milk chocolate.

Menstruation. Many women feel bloated before or during their periods. Some 90 percent of menstruating women experience pre-menstrual bloating. It’s believed to be triggered by falling hormone levels in the days before you period. It’s these falling hormone levels that also trigger symptoms like mood changes and headaches.

Celiac disease.  Per the Mayo Clinic: Celiac disease, sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Over time, celiac disease can damage your intestines, preventing the absorption of nutrients.  

Gastroparesis. It’s a condition that causes the stomach to empty s-l-o-w-l-y. This can cause nausea, bloating and in some cases bowel blockage.

High fructose corn syrup. This stuff is in many, many foods. Even foods that don’t taste sweet, like some breads. It’s in sodas, fruit drinks, boxed macaroni and cheese, salad dressings, yogurt, apple sauce, protein bars…even some cocktail nuts. In addition to leading to obesity and insulin resistance, high fructose corn syrup in large quantities can cause gas, abdominal pain and bloating for some people. 

Beans and lentils. Although beans and lentils are extremely health foods, they’re also packed with specific types of sugars, oligosaccharides, that don’t digest easily. Hence the ‘musical fruit’ song. Pro tip: soak beans and lentils prior to cooking. Also, lighter colored lentils are easier to digest.

Wheat/rye/barley. Insoluble fiber doesn’t break down easily during digestion. This is good, because it can add bulk to the stool and clean out your system, but it can also hang out in your gut a little too long, just sitting there fermenting and causing gas. 

Cruciferous vegetables. Although many cruciferous vegetables are nutrient-packed superfoods, they can also be powerful gas producers. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are some of the toughest to digest. Raw vegetables are harder on your system than their cooked versions.

Want to pass on bloating and gas? Try these tactics:

  • Stay hydrated. Water helps almost everything. It will keep your digestive tract flowing and will also help flush out extra sodium.
  • Avoid foods that trigger bloat, such as cruciferous vegetables.
  • Enjoy foods that are known bloat-reducers: oatmeal, quinoa, green tea, pineapple, watermelon, celery, cucumbers, berries and fermented foods are terrific choices.
  • Eat slowly and chew thoroughly.
  • Exercise. Moving your body helps keep your system in tip-top condition.


To learn more about your digestive problems, talk to one of our providers. For more lifestyle and wellness content, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.


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