Diet as a cause of bloating

Could food intolerance be the cause of your bloating?


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
Ask Ali

An introduction to diet, food intolerance and bloating

Dietary food intolerances are thought to be becoming more common nowadays, with gluten and dairy being common culprits. 

Reactions as a result of food intolerances can be quite individual and can vary across different people, however, often they come with a host of unpleasant symptoms. Some common ones include abdominal discomfort, bloating, nausea, and changing bowel movements, to name a few.

Symptoms may crop up within as little as a few hours, however, the after-effects, in some cases, can be long lasting and debilitating. 

What are food intolerances?

Food intolerances are an adverse reaction to a certain food. Why exactly this happens has been subject to debate, and it may be that reactions can occur for a number of different reasons.

Firstly, there is the possibility that our body struggles to breakdown certain foodstuffs. This is a common reaction to dairy, for example. To digest the naturally occurring sugar in dairy, lactose, we require a specific enzyme called lactase. If we are lacking in this enzyme, which is thought to be more common in certain populations, and / or as we become less exposed to dairy, then we can end up experiencing symptoms as a result – bloating being a common outcome.

With some other foods, the exact reason for the food intolerance reaction is less well understood. The idea that the immune system is involved in some way is increasingly thought to be a possibility. For example, with food sensitivities or intolerances to gluten, in many cases, flare ups can result in symptoms emerging outside the gut, such as breakouts in the skin. This suggests a low-grade inflammatory response mediated by the immune system may be apparent.

How can food intolerances cause bloating?

Food intolerances are thought to give rise to a number of different symptoms, ranging from digestive troubles to skin problems, or even fatigue. When it comes to bloating specifically, there are a number of reasons why food intolerances may have this reaction.

If there is partially undigested food present, this can, in some cases, mean that transit time is increased throughout the digestive system. This can contribute to constipation (a common symptom of food intolerance) which in itself can add to bloating. However, in the event of a slow-moving bowel, this can also give bacteria the opportunity to take hold. As bacteria naturally ferment food material, a by-product of this process is gas. In excess, this can easily lead to bloating, flatulence and discomfort. 

FODMAPs are also a common class of foods which people may be sensitive to. These foods contain types of fibre, which means they aren’t absorbed by the time they reach the large intestine. Here, they are fermented by bacteria, which is natural, but it seems that for some people this process is plain sailing, whilst for others, undesirable symptoms can arise. This may be because they have an intolerance to these specific food groups, perhaps they have an imbalance of gut bacteria in the large intestine, or people with certain conditions affecting the gut, such as IBS, in many cases appear to more sensitive. So, these factors are all worth considering.

What can I try at home to help manage food intolerances?

To help identify and manage food intolerance and the associated symptoms, including bloating, there are steps you can try at home that might prove effective:

  • Don’t overeat – Eating too much of anything, even in people who don’t necessarily have a food intolerance can often give rise to symptoms as your digestive system struggles to cope. Eat slowly so you aren’t likely to overeat and of you identify any potential triggers, you could try to decrease your intake of this food to see how you get on.

How can natural remedies help?

For relief of bloating associated with food intolerance, there may be some herbal remedies that could help soothe some of the symptoms:

Can my doctor help?

If your symptoms are persistent, severe or you are struggling to manage them with home and herbal remedies, it might be time to go to your doctor. 

Your GP may refer you to a specialist if they’re not quite sure what might be causing your symptoms, as allergy testing may also be necessary. If you’ve identified triggers but aren’t quite sure how to manage your diet going forward, advice from a dietician may also be recommended.

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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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