Have you ever enjoyed a delicious meal only to feel immediately bloated afterward? Or, perhaps you notice bloating during your period every month or when you travel. If you're constantly wondering how to reduce bloating so you can feel better (and actually enjoy your day), you're not alone.
Although it's frustrating and uncomfortable, bloating is a natural part of life—and it's typically caused by gas buildup from normal, everyday activities like eating and drinking. “Gas can accumulate in the intestines when you swallow air while eating, or when the bacteria in the colon breaks down food that wasn't fully digested in the small intestine,” says Jordan Hill, RD, a nutritionist at Top Nutrition Coaching. Another common cause of bloating is constipation, but hormonal fluctuations may also be to blame.
Apart from bloating in the abdomen, you can also feel puffy in your hands, feet, and even your face, adds Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative and host of the FUELED podcast.
On most occasions, bloat goes away on its own. But sometimes you just want the feeling gone, like, yesterday. If you're looking for quick relief, here are some ways to reduce bloating, according to experts.
Meet the experts: Jordan Hill, RD, is a nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching. Courtney Schuchmann, RD, is a nutritionist at University of Chicago Medicine. Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, is the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans and host of the FUELED podcast. Kim Kulp, RD, is a nutritionist and gut health nutrition expert based in California. Michael D. Brown, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Group. Sonya Angelone, RD, is a former spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Matthew Bechtold, MD, is a gastroenterologist at University of Missouri Health Care. Angela Houlie, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York.
What causes bloating in the stomach?
You might have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
"Bloating is one of the symptoms of a common digestive problem known as a disorder of the gut-brain interaction,” says Kim Kulp, RD, a gut health nutrition expert. “Since the communication between the gut and brain plays a major role, diet and stress management are some of the most effective treatments.”
It could be your eating habits.
“Many people feel bloated after a holiday meal or when trying a new diet,” says Kulp. “Since larger meals sit in your stomach longer, it is normal to feel a bit bloated.” Sometimes, eating healthier and including more fruits and vegetables can surprisingly lead to more discomfort, Kulp says. “A sudden increase in high-fiber foods can cause gas and bloating.” The best way to eat better and feel better is to make diet changes slowly, giving your gut a chance to adapt.
You might be constipated.
Another common cause of bloating is constipation. In these cases, bloating is from stool that is not moving, Kulp says. When there is a backlog, gas becomes trapped and this can lead to gassiness or a general "puffy" feeling. Supplements like magnesium might be helpful for this, along with other remedies (more to come).
Add probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are important for gut health, and you can get them in both food or supplement form. "Yogurt is one of the easiest ways to get probiotics in your diet," says Courtney Schuchmann, RD, a nutritionist at University of Chicago Medicine. "You can also eat fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut, or things like kombucha and kefir—but be cautious, because those products may also contain a lot of sugar, which can be counterproductive for GI health."
If you opt for probiotic supplements, Kimball recommends the ones you find in the refrigerator since refrigeration may help preserve the live active cultures. Just chat with your doctor before adding any new supplement, including probiotics.
You've probably been told before that you should be drinking more water, but this is especially true if you find yourself bloated all the time.
Drinking water will soften your stools, which makes them easier to pass and quickly reduces bloating in the form of gas and constipation, says Matthew Bechtold, MD, a gastroenterologist at University of Missouri Health Care. Good hydration also increases the mucus secretions in your bowels and your overall bowel motility, so drink up!
Watch your salt intake.
If you're feeling bloated after an especially salty meal, you might be able blame the sodium. However, the effects should be temporary.
That said, Dr. Bechtold recommends choosing fresh meats and produce over the prepackaged ones, experimenting with cooking with flavorful spices in lieu of salt, preparing your own meals at home instead of dining out, and studying food labels closely for sodium content.
And just so you know: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (that's just one teaspoon of salt, FYI).
Add more potassium to your diet.
Speaking of how sodium can make you retain water, if you're regretting those French fries you ordered at lunch, try snacking on a potassium-rich banana to relieve bloat ASAP.
"Potassium can help the kidneys get rid of salt, which may help with water retention," says Dr. Bechtold. If bananas aren’t your thing, oranges and strawberries are also good sources of potassium.
Don't skip the skin on fruits.
Put down the fruit peeler. In fruits like apples and pears, the skin is where you find insoluble fiber, a.k.a. the kind that aids digestion by keeping things moving through your bowels. Munching on these fruits with the skin intact can help increase stool bulk and give you more regular bowel movements over time, says Schuchmann.
Be mindful of the bubbly.
I know, it's amazing, but there's a side effect to all that no-cal seltzer sipping—belly bloat.
"Carbonated beverages may add air in the GI tract," says Dr. Bechtold. "The more air that is trapped, the more bloating [you'll have]." Replace some of your sparkling water with the flat bottled or tap kind, and see if there's any improvement. Note that this is more of a long-term fix, though.
That said, Kimball says she drinks a good amount of carbonated water and doesn't feel this effect. So, whether or not it makes you feel bloated may be individual. She recommends paying attention and seeing how it impacts you personally.
Consider an OTC option.
If you're looking for quick relief, Michael D. Brown, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Group, recommends trying simethicone, an over-the-counter medication that is available under brands like Gas-X and Equate. "About 80 to 120 milligrams of a chewed tablet with meals can help,” he says. (Remember, it never hurts to check in with your doctor before trying any new supplement or medication.)
Work up a (light) sweat.
You don't have to go for a five-mile run every day, but fitting in some regular physical activity might keep things moving more smoothly in your tummy.
There are two reasons why a short walk—especially after eating a big meal—can significantly reduce bloating, according to Dr. Bechtold. First, exercise increases the motility of your colon, which reduces the amount of time your stool sits in your belly making gas. Secondly, exercise increases your heart and respiratory rates, which also increases blood flow to the gut; this encourages your bowel muscles to work harder to push stool out. Best of all, you'll notice an improvement right away!
Consider a food log.
Pay attention to when you’re feeling bloated and consider keeping a food log to pinpoint potential culprits, Kimball suggests. You may find you're sensitive to certain foods, like those that contain gluten. "A gluten sensitivity could leave you with that bloated sensation, even if you’re not completely intolerant," says Kimball, adding that gluten is often found in things you may not realize like beer and salad dressing.
Don't overdo it with the broccoli.
You should definitely eat your vegetables, but if you’re going to town on some of your nutritious faves—like broccoli and cauliflower—they could actually be the source of your woes.
These cruciferous veggies are high in a sugar called raffinose, says Dr. Bechtold, which doesn’t break down easily in your GI tract.
Luckily, you don't have to swear off those greens for good. It’s just a matter of finding your threshold: Some people can tolerate one cup of broccoli at a time, others more or less, Schuchmann says. Over time, you won't be in so much discomfort. You may also have better luck eating cooked broccoli versus crunching raw florets. (More on this soon!)
Always look for ways to get your leafy greens.
Since leafy green vegetables, like kale and spinach, are a good source of insoluble fiber, they help your colon produce stool, thereby reducing gas and bloating over time, says Dr. Bechtold.
These veggies are also low in calories, so they’re pretty versatile. You can eat them raw in salads or incorporate them into your soups, stews, eggs, smoothies, sandwiches, and tacos without adding a lot of calories to your meal.
Aim for a few small meals each day.
If you’re waiting several hours between meals, you’ll end up ravenous when it’s time to eat again—and that might result in overeating.
Dr. Bechtold explains that overeating causes the stomach to both look and feel larger than normal (hello, food baby!), but eating several small meals over the course of the day can prevent that awkward distended belly.
Cut back on certain types of dairy.
Kefir, yogurts, or an aged cheese can be good for your GI system, says Kimball. (Remember probiotics?) However, the lactose is higher in straight-up milk and ice cream (which also contains potential other bloat-inducers like sugar or sugar substitutes), she notes. "For those sensitive to lactose, you might try experimenting with cutting back on milk and ice cream," she says.
Choose grilled, broiled, or baked chicken over fried.
Obviously fried chicken is delicious, but it should be more of an exception, not a rule: Fried food is tougher on your stomach and may be to blame for gas and bloating.
“Fried versions of food typically absorb more of the fat [they’re cooked with],” says Schuchmann. “That can cause GI distress.” As often as possible, she suggests opting for meat and seafood that’s grilled, broiled, or baked rather than fried. Your stomach will thank you in the long run.
Fried foods also tend to be higher in salt and carbs which could be a double whammy for bloating, says Kimball.
Go ahead, drink your coffee.
Coffee drinkers, rejoice! Black coffee can keep your bowel movements regular, according to Schuchmann. The connection is mostly anecdotal at this point, but lots of people feel the urge to run to the bathroom pretty soon after their morning cup of joe. So, if it works for you, stick with it and down a cup whenever you're bloated. (Just be sure you don’t overdo it on sugar-laden milk or creamers, which might negate some of the GI benefits.)
If you’re not a coffee fan, Schuchmann says herbal teas are a good way to get the all-important hydration your colon needs to keep things moving.
Pay attention to artificial sweeteners.
Stevia and monk fruit are typically going to be very mild for people and aren't likely to cause GI issues, says Kimball.
However: Certain artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol, maltitol, and lactitol—could be making you bloated, she says.
These chemicals are found in sugar-free snacks, like candies and gums, as well as in many of the dressings, beverages, and condiments. They’re also hard for your stomach to properly digest, so they create gas and GI problems (like bloating!).
Go easy on processed foods.
Processed foods are quick and easy when you're pressed for time, but they're not doing you any favors in the bloat department. "Processed foods are usually high in sodium, which causes water retention and thus bloating or a bloated feeling," says Sonya Angelone, RD, a former spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you love having something crunchy to munch on, try keeping healthy, anti-inflammatory snacks handy, like carrot sticks or unsalted almonds.
Increase your ginger intake.
Ginger can help increase motility in your GI system, Angelone says. "It helps food pass more quickly through the digestive tract," she explains. "This decreases the amount of time food stays in the gut, so it is less likely to undergo fermentation, which leads to gas and bloating."
To soak up the health benefits of ginger, you can try adding ginger to your tea or sprinkling it over foods for a kick of flavor. This is another long-term strategy that'll pay dividends over time.
Cook your veggies.
Raw vegetables are delicious and all, but they can contribute to bloating. If you're feeling bloated all the time, "eat vegetables cooked, especially cruciferous vegetables," like the broccoli and cauliflower mentioned earlier, Angelone says. "The cooking helps break down or soften the fibers so they are easier to digest." Not a quick fix, but you will find yourself dealing with puffiness much less often.
Limit happy hour(s).
Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits in disrupting the balance of our gut microbiome, says Kimball. Also alcohol is fermented, and that fermentation can cause gas and bloating in your belly, Angelone says. When you throw carbonated drinks into the mix, like beer or a fizzy cocktail, it can be even worse. So cut back on drinking to reduce bloat over time.
Sip mint or chamomile tea.
Both mint and chamomile teas are known for relaxing your GI tract, Angelone says. Make it a point to sip one in the morning to stop bloat before it even starts, or try having one when you're already feeling bloated to help de-puff.
Eat an early dinner.
After you eat, your GI tract works hard to break it all down, so your body can use the food you ingested. But digestion slows down when you go to sleep, Angelone says, and eating late can increase the odds that you'll be bloated. "Eating earlier while you are still up and about helps food digest better," she says.
Get plenty of prebiotics.
Asparagus contains prebiotics, which feed good bacteria, Angelone says. As a result, you have good digestion, lowering the odds that you'll have bloat.
Try adding asparagus to your weekly grocery list and eat it as a dinner or lunchtime side dish to keep puffiness at bay.
Other prebiotic foods include oats, garlic, and onions, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Try digestive enzymes.
Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes called bromelain and papain, both of which help banish bloat by breaking down protein and easing digestion, Angelone says.
You can simply eat the fruit sliced up as a snack, or add it to dishes for an extra burst of flavor.
You can also take these enzymes as a supplement, Kimball says, though it's best to always discuss new supplements with your doctor first. Pairing digestive enzymes with foods that might otherwise leave you feeling bloated could also be worth trying, she adds.
Try a low-FODMAP diet.
Dr. Brown says that the only diet proven to minimize bloat is a modified or low-FODMAP diet, which is used to manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). The eating plan helps you learn which foods may trigger a flare-up by systematically eliminating and slowly adding them back into your diet. The low-FODMAP diet is effective for reducing digestive symptoms of IBS, including constipation and bloating, studies have shown.
If this is something you are interested in trying, Dr. Brown says it is best done with the help of a registered dietitian.
When To See A Doctor For Bloating
“If you notice any sudden changes in your body, it is always important to seek medical advice,” says Kulp. “Bloating can have many causes, and it is important to be sure it is not something serious.” For example, if you think your stomach looks pregnant, then you might be dealing with something called abdominal distention, which might indicate a more serious issue, Kulp says.
Angela Houlie, RDN says to look out for digestive issues. “If chronic diarrhea or constipation persists, [and if avoiding trigger foods does not help], or you see blood in the stool, then it is time to see a doctor.” If bloating is accompanied by water retention, it might indicate a deeper issue like ascites, requiring immediate medical attention, she adds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get a food sensitivity test?
“While it may sound like a great idea, these tests are expensive and do not actually measure food intolerances,” says Kulp. “Too often the results include long lists of foods you should not eat, which can cause unnecessary diet restrictions that can lead to a lack of nutrients and more stress.”
Should I do a home stool test?
“In the future, we may see home stool tests that can tell us what we should or should not be eating to improve bloating,” says Kulp, “but we are not there yet. While these tests can tell you what microbes are found in your sample, we do not yet know how much of each microbe we should have to be healthy. If stool tests are recommended to help with your bloating, make sure they are the ones ordered by your doctor.”
Do I have to stop eating gluten and dairy?
“Some people with bloating feel better if they avoid gluten and/or dairy, but for others, cutting these foods out of their diet does not help at all,” says Kulp. “It is so important to learn what foods may actually be causing you problems, and not to restrict any foods you do not have to. More variety in the diet is both happier and healthier.”
You Might Also Like