10 surprising ‘healthy foods’ that could be causing bloating

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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23 April 2019

Can healthy foods still cause bloating?

Depending on the state of our digestive health, plus how much of a certain food we're consuming (remember we can experience too much of a good thing!), we could be left feeling bloating if we're tempted to consuem certain 'healthy foods' in excess. Some common culprits include some of the following:

1. Apples

2. Beans and pulses

3. Broccoli

4. Grapefruit

5. Onions

6. Dried fruit

7. Melon

8. Fruit juice

9. Cashews

10. 'Diet' drinks

Throughout this blog I explore some of the processes involved in healthier foods potentially adding to bloating, and which simple swaps may be an option for you.

1. Apples

Apples are well known for their low calorie status and are often a popular choice amongst dieters. However, it’s possible that you could be sabotaging your washboard tum with that apple a day.

Apples are rich in fructose which falls into the category of FODMAPs. FODMAPs are specific types of indigestible carbohydrates which are instead broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. As bacteria metabolises these compounds they release gas. Although this is all quite normal, some people just don’t respond so well to this process, this could be as a result of an intolerance to FODMAPs, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, or as a result of another condition at play, such as IBS.

Regardless of exactly why, some people need to give FODMAPs a bit of a wide berth as they find they are left feeling rather bloated and gassy! This is definitely something to keep in mind if bloating is a common occurrence – paying attention to your symptoms after certain foods is key.

Simple Swap:

If apples aren’t working for you why not try having a handful of berries as a healthy snack instead? Options like strawberries and raspberries are low in FODMAPs but super nutritious!

Also, if you find you are little gassy or uncomfortable after certain foods why not try out Digestisan – it’s a bitter herbs remedy licensed for the relief of indigestion and flatulence.

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2. Beans and pulses

Beans and pulses including lentils and chickpeas are super healthy, rich in fibre and minerals such as iron. However, these little guys are rich in another type of carbohydrate called galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), which again falls into the FODMAP group.

Simple Swap:

Opt for tinned varieties of pulses instead to help avoid bloating– some of the GOS content is thought to leak out into the surrounding liquid which you the drain down the sink! Happier tum time.

Remember, in moderation beans and pulses are good option as they are naturally gluten-free. Gluten rich carb options sich as wheat, barley or rye may be ones to avoid if you're more prone to bloating.

3. Broccoli

Broccoli is a popular vegetable amongst gym goers as it is rich in beneficial compounds including sulforaphane.

However, broccoli falls into the category of cruciferous veg alongside other common culprits such as cabbage or Brussel sprouts. This means it contains fructans, another type of oligosaccharide which doesn’t get broken down until they reach the large intestine.

As a result, gas is produced – however for calciferous vegetables a specific type of gas called hydrogen sulphide is produced which is a particularly pongy variety – double whammy!

Simple Swap:

Why not try other green vegetables for a change, after all variety is key to good health, courgettes or asparagus are all versatile and can be made into a tasty side dish. Also, salad ingredients rather than your normal vegetables often make a safer option and often a nice change, especially during the warmer weather. Cucumber and tomatoes are nutrient-rich and don't have a high FODMAP count.

4. Grapefruit

Grapefruit is often hailed a ‘superfood’ with questionable claims of its ability to reduce fat. But could it be having some undesirable effects instead? Quite possibly! And why? You’ve guessed it, it contains a type of FODMAP – those pesky oligosaccharides.

This time they aren’t in mega high amounts so you could get away with a small portion – but perhaps avoid the grapefruit diet if you think you are particularly sensitive.

Simple Swap:

Why not replace a wedge or two of grapefruit with orange instead. Oranges are lower in FODMAPs and should leave your digestive system feeling a bit happier.

Also, when it comes to fruit, timing is also an important consideration. Whilst you might assume that having fruit for dessert is a healthy option, a tummy full of stomach acid after a protein or fat heavy meal is perfectly healthy, but it could be a recipe for disaster if you add some fruit into the mix. The naturally-occurring sugars in the fruit will quickly ferment and will take a longer-term to empty if you have a full tum.

Aim to eat fruit first thing, or in-between meals instead. 

5. Onions

Onions are the base of many healthy recipes, and alongside garlic, they add a nice flavour to dishes and are nutritious. However, both onions and garlic contain a compound called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which are often regarded as beneficial as they act as prebiotics.

Prebiotics basically support the bacteria in our gut by acting as a source of food. However, as we know, as bacteria feed they produce gas, which we suspect is further complicated if you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut – the bad guys tend to produce even more!

Simple Swap:

Why not experiment with some different FODMAP-free veggies as the base of some of your dishes in the kitchen, for example, beansprouts or some grated carrot. Herbs also make a tasty, yet FODMAP free option. Fennel and ginger are fragrant and especially settling for your stomach.

6. Dried fruit

Dried fruit packs are all the rage in health food stores and people assume these little dears are the perfect snack. Although, they can be a nutritious option and a nice addition to a healthy balanced diet, they are particularly high in the so-called ‘fruit sugar’ fructose.

Some people are thought to suffer from fructose malabsorption and flare ups in symptoms can occur as a result of this.

Simple Swap:

Opt for fresh fruit options instead which have less fructose in, such as a handful of berries or a banana.

7. Melon

Summer days and juicy melon slices often go hand in hand. However, melon, especially watermelon, may not be your go to in future when you consider the fructose content – much like dried fruit, it’s pretty high.

Simple Swap:

Why not go for other refreshing summery options instead, such as kiwi fruit, juicy pineapple chunks or papaya. Papaya and pineapple, in particular, contain naturally-occurring digestive enzymes that may help support your digestion.

8. Fruit Juice

It’s been drilled into us that fruit and fruit juices are super healthy, but the concentrated juices, in particular, can be problematic – again they are super high in fructose.

Some people may be able to tolerate larger amounts of fructose, but for others, it isn’t well absorbed and can cause havoc in your gut.

Fruit juices often make popular breakfast choices so just watch you arent consuming large quantities if you suspect you might be sensitive. Unfortunately other popular breakfast choices could be just as tricky. Lactose-containing dairy can be one to watch too for those who have food sensitivities.

Simple Swap:

Swap sickly sweet fruit juices for some hot water with lemon in. Lemon slices are well tolerated by most, have a lovely refreshing taste and are packed full of vitamin C.

Other suitable options to start your day include herbal teas including peppermint or ginger, which again can help settle a tummy in turmoil.

If you find adding milk to cereals is a common habut, why not try yoghurt instead which is lower in lactose.

9. Cashews

Although nuts are great additions to any diet being a great source of protein and healthy fats, it might just be worth watching how you respond to certain types. Cashews, and a couple of others including pistachios, have a higher percentage of carbohydrate and can, in some cases, be problematic.

Also, watch out for salted nuts. Excess salt can give rise to water retention which can make us feel more bloated. 

Simple Swap:

Why not try some seeds instead of your normal handful of nuts. Pumpkin or sunflower seeds are super nutritious and are low in FODMAPs.

You can roast them yourself for some added flavour and it means you can control the salt content.

10. ‘Diet’ drinks

People so often assume that as diet drinks are low calorie they are fine as part of your healthy eating regime – but sadly this just isn’t the case.

Firstly, they contain gas to start with which can easily become trapped causing flatulence, next artificial sweeteners are high in a compound called polyols which  are also known as 'sugar alcohols.' These  substances aren’t broken down or absorbed before they reach the large intestine – and we know what this means – gas!

Finally, in the long-term artificial sweeteners are thought to potentially upset blood sugar balance and insulin responses which can actually lead to weight gain... phew, doesn’t really seem worth it now does it?

Simple Swap:

It’s got to be good old H2O. Water is so underrated, for all bodily functions really, but weight loss too. It helps get your bowels moving, helps clear toxins out your body, and keeps everything ticking over.

If you’re dehydrated, contrary to popular belief you’re also more likely to suffer from water retention as your body desperately tries to cling on to every last drop. So drink 1.5l of plain, still water daily in order to feel at your leanest. Remember, you can add a slice of lemon or some fresh herbs such as mint if you fancy a little flavour, but without the digestive grief.

Please note that persistent or extreme bloating could be linked to more serious conditions such as IBS, chronic constipation, food intolerance or coeliac disease so you should always go to the doctor for checks if dietary changes aren't doing the trick.


Originally published on 07/7/19, updated on 24/04/19

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Did you know?

An apple a day cannot keep bloating at bay. This popular fruit can play havoc on sensitive tummies due to their fibre and fructose content!

Other common foods that cause bloating

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