Everyone strives for a healthier diet, but loading up on nutritious options may require some adjustment, especially for your digestive system.
“When you add a lot more healthy options into your diet, sometimes the unexpected result is bloating and digestive upset,” says Tamara Duker Freuman, author of “The Bloated Belly Whisperer.” She notes that the increased fiber can be one culprit, along with a different ratio of fats and carbs.
Here are the most common foods or trends that tend to cause issues:
Although numerous experts have suggested the pitfalls of juice cleanses outweigh the benefits, there are still plenty of people who see them as a “reset” for their new eating plans, especially for the quick (but often unsustainable) weight loss that might result.
These juice-only programs might add more vitamins and minerals into your system, but you’re also missing out on fiber, says Freuman. When that happens, your digestive system basically fights back.
“When you have zero fiber, you’ll see the consequences in the bathroom,” she says. Many people become constipated, she notes, because fiber gives our stool bulk. Others might have the opposite problem with diarrhea because of the high amount of sugar alcohols introduced by the fruits and vegetables — without the fiber that would allow those alcohols to be absorbed properly.
With many people still cutting gluten, or simply wanting healthier alternatives, bean pastas have gotten more popular, such as those made out of black beans, chickpeas or edamame. These aren’t bad for you, quite the opposite. But it’s the amount that can become a problem, Freuman says.
“Not everyone can eat that amount of beans in one sitting,” she says. “For example, think about how many whole chickpeas you would reasonably eat for a meal, and it’s probably about 1/4 cup on your salad. But when it’s made into flour, you might be getting 2 or 3 cups in one meal. That’s an immense portion.”
Because of that, she suggests using these pastas as a side dish, not as a main course.
Similar to bean pastas, nut flours tend to contain a very high amount of specific nuts compared to what you’d eat as a regular serving if they were in a whole form. Freuman says almond flour is especially prized in paleo diets, and vegans tend to opt for cashew-based options, but both may cause bloating and gas when consumed in bigger portions.
“What happens with many people is that they’re eating several foods made with these flours throughout the day,” she says. “For example, you might have nut flour in your breakfast pancakes, then some at lunch in baked goods or desserts and finally some in dinner, used as a substitute for wheat flour in what you’re cooking. Most likely, you’re going to hit a threshold of tolerance.”
Sometimes, specific vegetables or fruits get trendy — kale and avocados have had their time in the spotlight, for instance — and now cauliflower seems to be the standout. That’s likely because the vegetable is so adaptable to popular eating plans like Paleo and keto or those just trying to limit carbs and increase vegetable intake.
Cauliflower is touted for its ability to mimic rice, mashed potatoes, pizza crust and other foods. While those are all great options, Freuman advises people ease into a cauliflower spree since the vegetable may cause some gas buildup, especially when paired with others in the brassica family like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
When you’re trying to break a sugar habit, using a no-sugar fix like gum might be helpful, but pay attention to whether you tend to feel more bloated as a result, Freuman suggests.
This can happen for the same reason as the juice cleanse issue — sugar alcohols in the gum made from artificial sweeteners like xylitol or sorbitol can produce intestinal gas. Since you swallow more air when you’re chewing gum, that can result in discomfort in your digestive tract.
How do you know if what you’re experiencing is simply bloat and mild stomach upset, as opposed to something more serious, like irritable bowel syndrome or another issue? The biggest way to tell, Freuman says, is you should wake up with a normal stomach, not one that seems distended. As you sleep, your body digests whatever material was making you puffy, so you should feel “flatter” in the morning.
But if you have bloating that never seems to resolve, and especially if you have more concerns like unexpected weight loss or blood in your stool, that’s something to check out with your doctor.
“It’s not normal to always be bloated, even if you eat super gassy stuff regularly,” says Freuman. “If you wake up in the morning and you’re not feeling OK, or looking OK, that means you didn’t get that overnight reset, and that’s a sign that something else might be going on.”
If you get the reset but experience frequent discomfort during the day, she suggests keeping a food log — like on MyFitnessPal — so you can begin to pinpoint what types of foods may be causing an issue.