Bloating is when your belly feels swollen after eating ().
It is usually caused by excess gas production or disturbances in the movement of the muscles of the digestive system (2).
Bloating can often cause pain, discomfort and a "stuffed" feeling. It can also make your stomach look bigger ().
"Bloating" is not the same as water retention, but the two terms are often used interchangeably. Put simply, bloating involves excessive amounts of solids, liquids or gas in your digestive system.
However, in some people, bloating is caused mostly by increased sensitivity. It just feels as if there is increased pressure in the abdomen, even though there isn't (, ).
About 16–30% of people report that they regularly experience bloating, so this is very common (2, , ).
Although bloating is sometimes caused by serious medical conditions, it is most often caused by the diet and some foods or ingredients you are intolerant to.
Here are 11 proven ways to reduce or eliminate bloating.
Being stuffed can feel like being bloated, but the problem is that you simply ate too much.
If you're eating big meals and tend to feel uncomfortable afterward, then try smaller portions. Add another daily meal if necessary.
A subset of people who experience bloating don't really have an enlarged stomach or increased pressure in the abdomen. The issue is mostly sensory (, ).
A person with a tendency to be bloated will experience discomfort from a smaller amount of food than a person who rarely feels bloated.
For this reason, simply eating smaller meals can be incredibly useful.
Chewing your food better can have a two-fold effect. It reduces the amount of air you swallow with the food (a cause of bloating), and it also makes you eat slower, which is linked to reduced food intake and smaller portions ().
Summary People who experience bloating often have increased sensitivity to food in the stomach. Therefore, eating smaller meals can be very useful.
Food allergies and intolerances are relatively common.
When you eat foods that you are intolerant to, it can cause excess gas production, bloating and other symptoms.
Here are some common foods and ingredients to consider:
- Lactose: Lactose intolerance is associated with many digestive symptoms, including bloating. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk ().
- Fructose: Fructose intolerance can lead to bloating ().
- Eggs: Gas and bloating are common symptoms of egg allergy.
- Wheat and gluten: Many people are intolerant to gluten, a protein in wheat, spelt, barley and some other grains. This can lead to various adverse effects on digestion, including bloating (, ).
Both lactose and fructose are a part of a larger group of indigestible carbs or fiber known as FODMAPs. FODMAP intolerance is one of the most common causes of bloating and abdominal pain.
If you strongly suspect that you have a food allergy or intolerance, see a doctor.
Summary Food allergies and intolerances are common causes of bloating. Common offenders include lactose, fructose, wheat, gluten and eggs.
There are two sources of gas in the digestive system.
One is gas produced by the bacteria in the gut. The other is air or gas that is swallowed when you eat or drink. The biggest offender here is carbonated beverages like soda or fizzy drinks.
They contain bubbles with carbon dioxide, a gas that can be released from the liquid after it reaches your stomach.
Chewing gum, drinking through a straw and eating while talking or while in a hurry can also lead to increased amounts of swallowed air.
Summary Swallowed air can contribute to bloating. A major cause is drinking carbonated beverages, which contain gases that are dissolved in the liquid.
Some high-fiber foods can make people produce large amounts of gas.
Major players include legumes like beans and lentils, as well as some whole grains.
Try keeping a food diary to figure out if certain foods tend to make you more gassy or bloated than others.
Fatty foods can also slow down digestion and the emptying of the stomach. This can have benefits for satiety (and possibly help with weight loss), but can be a problem for people with a tendency to bloat.
Try eating less beans and fatty foods to see if it helps. Also, check out this article on 13 foods that cause bloating.
Summary If certain foods make you feel bloated or give you gas, try cutting back or avoiding them. Eating fatty foods can also slow digestion and may contribute to bloating for some people.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common digestive disorder in the world.
It has no known cause, but is believed to affect about 14% of people, most of which are undiagnosed ().
Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhea and/or constipation.
The majority of IBS patients experience bloating, and about 60% of them report bloating as their worst symptom, scoring even higher than abdominal pain (, ).
Numerous studies have shown that indigestible carbohydrates called FODMAPs can drastically exacerbate symptoms in IBS patients (, ).
A low-FODMAP diet has been shown to lead to major reductions in symptoms such as bloating, at least in IBS patients (, , ).
If you have problems with bloating, with or without other digestive symptoms, a low-FODMAP diet may be a good way to fix it.
Here are some common high-FODMAP foods:
This diet can be difficult to follow if you're used to eating many of these foods, but may be worth trying out if you have bloating or other digestive problems.
Summary Carbohydrates called FODMAPs can drive bloating and other digestive symptoms, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Sugar alcohols are commonly found in sugar-free foods and chewing gums.
These sweeteners are generally considered to be safe alternatives to sugar.
However, they may cause digestive problems in high amounts. The bacteria in your large intestine digest them and produce gas ().
Sugar alcohols are actually FODMAPs as well, so they are excluded on a low-FODMAP diet.
Summary Sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues such as bloating, especially when consumed in large doses. Try avoiding sugar-free chewing gums and other sources of sugar alcohols.
Certain over-the-counter products may also help with bloating, such as supplemental enzymes that can help break down indigestible carbohydrates.
Notable ones include:
- Lactase: An enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is useful for people with lactose intolerance.
- Beano: Contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which can help break down indigestible carbohydrates from various foods.
In many cases, these types of supplements can provide almost immediate relief.
If you're interested in trying a digestive enzyme supplement, a wide selection is available on Amazon.
Summary Many over-the-counter products can help fight bloating and other digestive problems. These are usually digestive enzymes that help break down certain food components.
Constipation is a very common digestive problem, and can have many different causes.
Studies show that constipation can often exacerbate symptoms of bloating (, 24).
Getting more soluble fiber is often recommended for constipation.
However, increasing fiber needs to be done with caution for people who have gas and/or bloating, because fiber can often make things worse.
Various foods can also help. Check out the 17 best foods to relieve constipation.
Summary Constipation can exacerbate bloating symptoms. Increased water intake and physical activity can be effective against constipation.
Gas produced by the bacteria in the intestine is a major contributor to bloating.
There are many different types of bacteria that reside there, and they can vary between individuals.
It seems logical that the number and type of bacteria could have something to do with gas production, and there are some studies to support this.
Several clinical studies have shown that certain probiotic supplements can help reduce gas production and bloating in people with digestive problems (, ).
However, other studies showed that probiotics can help reduce gas, but not symptoms of bloating (30, , ).
This may depend on the individual, as well as the type of probiotic strain used.
Probiotic supplements can have numerous other benefits, so they are definitely worth trying out.
They can take a while to start working though, so be patient.
Summary Probiotic supplements can help improve the bacterial environment in the gut, which can help reduce symptoms of gas and bloating.
Bloating may also be caused by altered function of the muscles in the digestive tract.
Drugs called antispasmodics, which can help reduce muscle spasms, have been shown to be of use ().
Peppermint oil is a natural substance that is believed to function in a similar way ().
Numerous studies have shown that it can reduce various symptoms in IBS patients, including bloating (, 36).
Peppermint oil is available in supplement form.
Summary Peppermint oil has been shown to be effective against bloating and other digestive symptoms, at least in IBS patients.
If you have chronic bloating that causes severe problems in your life, or becomes a lot worse all of a sudden, definitely see a doctor.
There is always the possibility of some serious medical condition, and diagnosing digestive problems can be complicated.
However, in many cases, bloating can be reduced — or even eliminated — with simple changes in diet.