Bloated Much? Top 5 Things in Your Diet Causing Bloat (and what to do about it)

You have likely experienced bloating on at least one occasion.

Bloating — that feeling of your stomach expanding like an overinflated balloon, causing gassiness and tightness — is a common symptom that people with digestive issues or food intolerances experience in response to eating certain foods or supplements.

This article highlights the top five things in your diet that cause bloating and what you can do to relieve your symptoms.

1. Sucrose

Sucrose — commonly known as table sugar — is composed of two simple sugars — fructose and glucose.

Before your body can absorb sucrose, it must break it down into these two sugars using an enzyme called sucrase.

However, with no or low sucrase levels, sucrose passes through your digestive tract unabsorbed, causing digestive symptoms like bloating.

A sucrase deficiency — which may be present at birth or acquired from an inflammatory condition that affects the small intestine where the sucrase enzyme is made — is more common than recognized and tends to go undiagnosed.

In a study of 258 adults who reported undiagnosed digestive symptoms like bloating, sucrose malabsorption was detected in 31% of them (1).

Sucrose is ubiquitous in foods, but some of the highest containing foods include:

  • Certain fruits like pineapple, oranges, and syrup-packed canned fruit
  • Certain vegetables like corn, peas, carrots, and sweet potatoes
  • Refined grains like cookies, cakes, muffins, and sugary cereals
  • Snacks like granola bars, pudding, and peanut butter
  • Condiments like syrups, barbeque sauce, jelly, and most dressings
  • Beverages, including lemonade, sports drinks, juice, soda, and energy drinks

If a sucrase deficiency is present, the amount you can tolerate will depend on the degree of deficiency.

2. Fructans

Fructans are a type of soluble fiber and FODMAP carbohydrate.

FODMAPs stand for fermentable oligo-, di, and monosaccharides and polyols.

These carbohydrates are poorly absorbed and pull water into your digestive tract. The bacteria in your gut can also ferment them, contributing to bloating and other digestive symptoms.

As a FODMAP, fructans are a common trigger for bloating in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but also in people who believe they are intolerant to the wheat protein gluten.

In fact, it’s fructan, rather than gluten, that tends to cause symptoms in people who believe they have an intolerance to gluten (2).

In addition to being found in wheat, other foods that contain fructans include:

  • Agave
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Rye
  • Chicory

Many of these foods, especially chicory, contain the fructan inulin, which is present in many supplements and health food products.

3. Fructose

Fructose is a simple sugar and component of sucrose.

Fructose can go unabsorbed in some people causing bloating and other intolerance symptoms.

Fructose intolerance is common in people with IBS, but its prevalence is steadily increasing among people without the condition.

Its cause is largely unknown, but a defect in the proteins necessary for its absorption is believed to be the primary reason (3).

In people with fructose intolerance, the amount they can handle at one time varies greatly, but research suggests that 50 grams for adults is enough to provoke bloating and other digestive symptoms (3).

Foods high in fructose include:

  • Fruits like apples, dried fruit, grapes, and juices
  • Vegetables like pickles, sugar snap peas, sweet corn, and tomato sauce or paste
  • Sweeteners like agave syrup, caramel, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, and pancake syrup

  1. Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols share a similar structure to a single sugar molecule but they contain a hydroxyl or alcohol.

Because sugar alcohols are incompletely digested and absorbed, they provide about 50% fewer calories than sugar while providing a similar level of sweetness.

However, because sugar alcohols aren’t completely digested and absorbed, they can cause digestive symptoms like bloating, especially when consumed in large amounts (4).

The sugar alcohols include:

  • Xylitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Maltitol
  • Lactitol
  • Isomalt
  • Erythritol

Of these, xylitol and erythritol tend to be better tolerated and may not lead to digestive symptoms (4).

Sugar alcohols are naturally found in some foods like fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms, and added to others, especially food products marketed for weight management or blood sugar control.

5. Lactose

Lactose — commonly known as milk sugar — is composed of two simple sugars — galactose and glucose.

Similar to sucrose, your body must break apart lactose into its individual components to absorb it.

Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, but many people lack enough of the enzyme, causing bloating in response to consuming milk or other dairy products.

A deficiency in lactase can be present at birth or be caused by an infectious or inflammatory disease that affects the small intestine (5).

Levels of lactase also tend to decline with increasing age, which is suggested to be the most common reason for lactose intolerance.

The condition is most common in African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and Asians, and least prevalent in people of European descent.

Fortunately, most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate a certain amount  — usually 12 grams, which is equal to about one cup of milk —  before experiencing symptoms (6).

And while it sounds counterintuitive, people with lactose intolerance who consume lactose regularly may support the growth of lactose-digesting bacteria in their colon, which enhances the body’s tolerance level and in turn decreases symptoms over time (6).

As the primary sugar in dairy, foods to limit with an intolerance include:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Cream cheese
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Whipped cream
  • Products that use dairy as an ingredient like cookies, chocolate, sauces and gravies, salad dressings, puddings, and custards

People with lactose intolerance usually can tolerate protein supplements that contain milk protein isolate like PEScience’s Select Protein since most of the lactose is removed during processing. 

How to identify a food to which you may be intolerant

While you may have some idea of which foods or ingredients are triggering your bloating, many people believe it’s one thing when in fact it’s another, causing unnecessary restriction or avoidance.

There are certain tests to determine if you have an intolerance to certain ingredients, but these tests can be spendy and may provide false positives.

Alternatively, one of the best ways to identify an intolerance is through an elimination diet.

As the name suggests, an elimination diet temporarily removes the foods or ingredients from your diet that you believe are causing bloating, usually for 2-6 weeks, before reintroducing them back while you identify the culprit. 

These foods may include those with sucrose, fructans, or the other potential suspects. During the elimination phase, you can determine whether your symptoms resolve or if your symptoms are due to something else.

In the reintroduction phase, you reintroduce each food, one at a time, over a few days while you monitor for bloating. If you experience no symptoms after reintroducing the first food, you can assume it’s not the culprit and then reintroduce the second food, and so forth.

It’s best to keep a journal so you can document which foods you eliminated and what symptoms you experience — if any — after reintroducing them.

Still, elimination diets are nuanced and tedious and often require professional guidance, which you can get from working with a registered dietitian.

Probiotics and digestive aids

Probiotics are live microorganisms that when consumed or supplemented in adequate amounts provide several health benefits.

To this point, studies have shown that probiotics can crowd out harmful microorganisms within the gut, strengthen immune health, treat diarrhea, and may also reduce or prevent inflammatory bowel diseases and allergies (7).

And when it comes to bloating, probiotics are associated with a significant reduction, especially in people with IBS (8).

Many foods contain probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, kimchi (a Korean fermented cabbage dish), kombucha (a fermented tea), and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

You can also get probiotics from supplements. The most common types include the genera of:

  • Bifidobacterium
  • Lactobacillus
  • Saccharomyces
  • Streptococcus
  • Enterococcus
  • Escherichia
  • Bacillus

  • Digestive enzymes may also alleviate bloating.

    Digestive enzymes break fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into their smaller constituents so they can be absorbed.

    Some people lack enough of these enzymes due to certain inflammatory conditions or because of conditions that affect the pancreas — like diabetes — where many of these enzymes are produced.

    PEScience’s Symbiont-GI contains a probiotic along with digestive enzymes and other nutrients to support digestive health.

    The bottom line

    Bloating is very common, and can cause severe discomfort and gassiness, affecting your quality of life.

    Bloating may be due to a medical condition or digestive disease, but it’s often triggered by something in your diet.

    Foods that contain sucrose, fructans, fructose, sugar alcohols, or lactose tend to be the primary culprits that cause bloating. 

    The extent to which they might affect you depends on various factors, including how often and how much you consume them.

    To prevent unnecessary dietary restrictions, you can try an elimination diet, which is best done with the support from a registered dietitian with experience in these types of diets.

    There is also research suggesting that probiotics and digestive aids can alleviate your symptoms.

    However, it’s best to implement one intervention — either the elimination diet or probiotics and digestive aids — to determine which is responsible for resolving your bloating.


    Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD
    Gavin Van De Walle holds a master’s degree in human nutrition and exercise physiology. He is also a registered dietitian. Gavin has a bias for the truth and aims to provide the public with the information they need to make educated and informed health decisions. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Healthline, Livestrong, the American Botanical Council, Underwriter Laboratories, Verywell Health, and many more.
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