According to Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, “Bloating can take a day from great to gloomy pretty quickly. One minute you’re feeling sexy and confident. And the next minute, you feel like a balloon that’s ready to pop.”
That’s so true, isn’t it? Chances are, you know exactly what Dr. Petrucci is talking about. And depending how you look at it, you’re in good company. After all, at least 30% of adults struggle with bloating. It’s a “universal” complaint among folks who more routinely suffer from maldigestion issues. 1
You read that right. As many as one in three people report bloating. And chances are, there are many more silent sufferers who just “suck it up.” Hands down, bloating is one of the most frequently reported digestive complaints. Perhaps more importantly, it is one of the most bothersome—affecting quality of life (often deeply). Common as it may be, belly bloat is not normal.
But you already knew that, didn’t you? Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. In fact, I’ve got great news for you: What you eat (or don’t eat) can have a powerful de-bloating effect—and quickly. That’s right. Here are the top 8 foods that reduce bloating.
The Top 8 Foods That Reduce Bloating
1. Bone Broth
Looking for the top food to reduce bloating? Bone broth is the answer. Heck, it’s the answer (or at least part of the solution) for all kinds of problems, depending on who you ask.
Bone broth is all the rage these days. While there may be some hype, it does seem to hold its own, especially when it comes to digestion. Meat stock and bone broth are the backbone of the Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s popular GAPS Diet because of their ability to soothe the gut and ward off harmful microbes.
Along those lines, bone broth contains nutrients that support the intestinal lining, support a healthy gut microbiota, aid in the production of stomach acid and bile (which both play critical roles in digestion), improve gut motility, and more. 2–4
While there’s a lot more to bone broth when it comes to nutrients, it is arguably the richest dietary source of collagen protein, which is an essential component of the digestive tract as it helps maintain the structure and integrity of the intestinal lining. For example, the amino acids in collagen support normal, healthy function of the tight junctions of the digestive tract.
What’s more, bone broth is particularly rich in the amino acids glycine and glutamine, which are particularly nourishing for the cells of the digestive tract and immune system. As an added bonus, glycine serves as an important “inhibitory” neurotransmitter. Along those lines, it supports relaxation, which means it helps support healthy stress management, a stable mood, and quality sleep—all factors that can go a long way to help beat belly bloat.
2. Fermented Foods
Before we had refrigeration and preservatives, fermentation was the food preparation method of choice for thousands of years to help retain shelf-life and prevent food spoilage. In fact, at least in traditional dietary practices, fermented foods and beverages remain widespread.
In addition, there is renewed interest in fermented foods, particularly because they contain “probiotics,” which are beneficial microbes (such as bacteria and yeasts) that can have a wide variety of human health benefits, including aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption (and reducing belly bloat).
Fermented foods include an array of probiotics—including strains from the Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Lactococcus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces families—which essentially break down the carbohydrates found in these foods, ultimately preserving shelf-life and making them easier for us to digest. 5,6 Here’s a handful of some of the most common fermented foods that reduce bloat:
While fermented foods are among the top foods that reduce belly bloat, a word of caution: If you struggle with histamine intolerance, then fermented foods (which tend to be histamine-rich) are probably a no-no.
3. Low-FODMAP Foods
Many people who struggle with bloating and other digestive complaints do particularly well when they consume a diet with reduced fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols, or, as they’re better known, FODMAPS.
In short, FODMAPs are carbohydrates—such as fructose, lactose, sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol, and isomalt), fructans, and galactans—that are found in a wide range of foods including cereal grains, dairy, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Undigested in the small intestine, these poorly absorbed FODMAPs draw water into the large intestine (osmotic effect) where they are fermented by gut bacteria.
The result is gas production. This can, of course, lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort, particularly in susceptible people, who are likely “hypersensitive” to intestinal distension. 7 In fact, recent research has shown it is very likely FODMAPs—not gluten—to blame for symptoms associated with self-diagnosed non-celiac gluten sensitivity. 8
4. Fruits & Vegetables
Generally speaking, many fresh fruits and vegetables help reduce bloating, but there are some exceptions, including citrus fruits (e.g., orange, lemon, lime) and nightshade vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, eggplant), which susceptible people may be sensitive to. Also, if you have a sensitivity to FODMAPs, then your list of choices may be cut significantly, as certain veggies (like those from the cruciferous and allium families) and fruits can be problematic.
Having said that, fruits and vegetables are packed with phytonutrients. These nutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can also beneficially modulate the gut microbiota (the community of microorganisms that make up the digestive tract).
What’s more, raw fruits and vegetables contain enzymes, which can aid in their own digestion. In other words, they’re packaged with the tools they need to digest themselves. Pretty nifty! Speaking of enzymes, one of the best foods to reduce bloating is pineapple, which is a rich source of bromelain, a powerful enzyme that supports protein digestion, healthy levels of inflammation, and healthy circulation—all factors that can contribute to helping soothe the digestive tract. 9
Of course, fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can both contribute to digestive health by enhancing laxation and supporting a healthy gut microbiota. 10 Some people need to be careful with increasing fiber intake too quickly, particularly insoluble fiber, which can have a similar effect as FODMAPs. 8
5. Non-Dairy Alternatives
Whether it’s the lactose, the casein, or some other component in cow’s milk (e.g., β-lactoglobulin, α-lactalbumin), sensitivity to dairy (e.g., milk, butter, yogurt, cheese) is one of the most common food intolerances, and along those lines, a fairly common contributor to bloating.
Removing dairy is a pretty standard step in the process to reducing belly bloat. That’s not to say it’s problematic for everyone. Rather, because it’s a probable suspect, it’s a good idea to eliminate it while you’re trying to deflate the belly bloat and discover what’s truly troublesome for you.
When you re-introduce it in a systematic way, you don’t necessarily have to avoid it forever. The idea is to create awareness and understand your choices have consequences. In other words, you can eat the ice cream. You just may have to endure some long-term pain after the short-term gain. Also, you may experiment with digestive enzymes, which can be particularly helpful with milk sensitivities.
Having said all that, the good news is there’s been a boom in plant-based, non-dairy alternatives, which have come a long way from soy “milk” (which I don’t recommend, by the way). You have many options to choose from when it comes to non-dairy “milk” (let’s not turn this into a debate about whether these should “milk” or not), yogurt, cheese, and more, including:
6. Gluten-Free Options
Believe it or not, going gluten-free is probably not the solution to all your problems—bloating-related and otherwise. While there’s no question that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a real issue, research shows that its prevalence is only about 3 – 5%—which is MUCH lower than what people tend to self-report. 11
Needlessly avoiding gluten can be unnecessarily restrictive, and it can lead to limiting or altogether avoiding social situations. It can leave you in a state of cognitive dietary restraint and paralysis by analysis, and it can also contribute to nutrient deficiencies (i.e., minimally processed whole grains containing gluten also provide various essential nutrients).
Having said that, avoiding gluten has some upsides, especially when it comes to bloating. As mentioned, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a real issue. One of the most common side effects is bloating. 12 So, if you suffer from NCGS, avoiding gluten is a good idea. Unfortunately, NCGS tends to be difficult to accurately diagnose.
Be that as it may, going gluten-free often improves diet quality because it results in eating fewer processed foods made with/from refined wheat, additives, poor-quality oils, etc., which may contribute to bloating (not to mention a host of other troublesome health issues).
And even though gluten may not be the villain many have made it out to be, there may be other components in gluten-containing grains. For example, recent research has shown that it is very likely FODMAPs—not gluten—are to blame for symptoms associated with self-diagnosed NGCS. 8 Wheat and other grains also contain trypsin inhibitors that may contribute to bloating in sensitive folks. 13
That being said, going gluten-free (and grain-free) is often considered “low-hanging fruit” because it tends to be a probable suspect. Just like with dairy, you’ll ultimately want to re-introduce it after the bloating storm calms down to see if, in fact, it’s problematic for you.
Fortunately—thanks in part to the gluten-free craze—you have quite a few gluten-free foods that reduce bloating:
- Almond and coconut flours
- Quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat (which are seeds)
- Sorghum, teff, and millet
- Oats (look specifically for gluten-free oats)
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed meal (ground)
- Sprouted grains/seeds (sprouting tends to make seeds easier to digest)
Note that if you intend to go grain-free (which some people may need to do), the list gets a bit shorter. Flours and food products made from legumes (e.g., beans) are also gluten-free options. However, folks who struggle with bloating often have trouble with legumes as well.
7. Ginger and Peppermint
Ginger is much more than a distinct kitchen spice. It’s been used since antiquity in various traditional systems of medicine to combat a variety of health maladies. Among its myriad health benefits, ginger has been revered as having immense value in soothing a variety of digestive complaints, including being on of the top foods that reduce bloating. 14
The “gastroprotective” effects of ginger may be traced back to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Compounds in ginger may also stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, reduce muscular tension within the GI tract, and help release trapped gas.
There’s a variety of ways to include ginger in your diet. Ginger tea is one of the more popular options. You can also add freshly grated ginger to your smoothies, or you can take a page out of your favorite sushi restaurant’s playbook and eat some pickled ginger with meals.
As mentioned above, other herbs and spices may also be helpful for erasing belly bloat. For example, I mentioned curcumin, berberine, oregano oil, and peppermint oil, which has been used for centuries as foods that reduce bloating. 15
As obvious as it sounds, not eating is a surefire way to reduce belly bloat. In other words, when appropriate and properly applied, fasting can be incredibly reparative and anti-inflammatory for an irritated digestive tract. Heck, fasting has been a tool used for centuries to combat and stave off a variety of health maladies.
For example, Bernarr Macfadden, a fitness guru referred to as “the Father of Physical Culture” by some, wrote a book in 1923 titled Fasting for Health. Macfadden explained that any illness could be prevented or cured with a combination of exercise and diet, with an emphasis on periodic fasting.
His rationale was that because so much of the body’s energy goes into digesting food, if there’s none to digest, more energy could be applied to recovering health. Macfadden was an outspoken rebel. He called the medical profession an organized fraud and said people who followed his rules could live to age 120. 16
I’m not so sure about all that, but when it comes to the use of fasting to address digestive-related complaints such as bloating, consider this metaphor from Dr. Michael Ruscio:
“Think of it like this, if you sprained your ankle and had to run 3 miles every day, how long would it take your ankle to heal? This same concept applies to the gut. If you have a gut ‘injury’ and are eating 3 times a day, it can be hard to get the gut to heal. Short-term liquid fasting can give your gut a break and aid in healing the same way avoiding activity can help the ankle sprain heal.”
This is obviously overly simplistic, but it paints the picture rather clearly. Eating, especially problematic foods, can add insult to injury. And when you’re repetitively insulting your digestive tract multiple times throughout the day, every day, it can make it increasingly difficult to deflate a bloated belly, especially if you don’t know what foods are troublesome for you.
Dr. Ruscio often recommends a 1- to 4-day modified liquid fast (drinking only bone broth or the ol’ lemon-cayenne-maple syrup concoction) or a semi-elemental diet, which is a liquid diet that involves drinking shakes that contain fully-digested nutrients (e.g., proteins, carbs, fats).
It’s arguable that various forms of intermittent fasting (IF) may also be beneficial and serve as a sort of spring board for getting a bloated belly under control. When it comes to IF, you have several options to consider:
- Alternate-day fasting—This involves alternating “fasting” days (no calories) with “feast” days (unrestricted food intake). In other words, eat nothing one day, then eat to your satisfaction the next.
- Time-restricted feeding—This is the most popular form of IF. It involves restricting food intake daily (often referred to as a “feeding window”) to specific time periods of the day, typically 8 hours or less. For example, one might fast for 16 hours followed by an 8-hour feeding window.
- Periodic fasting—This IF eating pattern, sometimes referred to as “whole-day fasting,” consists of alternating fasting periods (ranging from 1 day to 1 week or longer) with ad libitum food consumption. A good example of this is the “5:2 Diet” or the “Eat Stop Eat” program, which involve two days of fasting and 5 days of “normal” eating.
Top 8 Foods that Reduce Bloating
While there’s not a single food that’s going to erase the bloat, the road map above should be a highly accurate compass for the overwhelming majority of folks. And don’t forget that erasing belly bloat has just as much (if not more) to do with what you don’t eat. There’s also a long list of accompanying strategies (also listed above) that should be included as part of a comprehensive “beat the bloat” program.
Lastly, please be patient, consistent, and mindful with the process. Try to identify triggers that cause your belly to inflate (these could be foods, emotional issues, lifestyle factors, or environmental triggers, for example). And to the best of your ability, try to make changes systematically. The end game, of course, is to find what works best for YOU.