Man clutching stomach

Whatever you call it – passing gas or letting one rip – bloating and gas happen to everyone. It’s not without reason: bloating provides clues about how your digestive system is reacting to what you’re eating and drinking, as well as what might be missing. Jane Reagan, a registeried dietition nutritionist (RDN) at Medical Services, shares why you get gassy and bloated and what you can do to minimize it.

What does it mean when we get bloated or gassy?

Bloating and gas are very common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, and it’s normal to have some intestinal gas within our digestive tracts. Gas and bloating can be mild or it can be extremely uncomfortable, leading to distention and pain. While it can feel embarrassing to talk about these symptoms, it’s important to understand if your bloating is normal or if it might be caused by other more significant factors that need to be addressed by a professional.

What causes bloating and gas?

There are a variety of reasons you might experience bloating and gas. Fiber is one of the most common causes of GI distress. Your body doesn’t digest fiber. Because of this, bacteria in your colon produce gas as a by-product of that indigestible fiber. In addition, if your digestive system is not firing on all cylinders, you may experience a greater amount of gas or bloating.

Eating too fast, overeating and even swallowing too much air by drinking carbonated beverages or chewing gum can contribute to bloating. Caffeine is also a factor, as it can overstimulate your digestive tract. Food sensitivities or hormonal imbalances can have a similar effect. Finally, stress can lead to increased bloating – it’s all linked!

High fiber foods like beans and veggies can increase bloating. However, low fiber diets can also cause bloating, since fiber is required to keep things moving and prevent constipation. When it comes to eating fiber, it’s important to find a balance, so you can meet your dietary needs without overdoing it.

Other foods that contribute to gas often contain sugars or sugar alcohols. Sugars exist in a variety of food products including dairy, wheat, sweets, vegetables and fruits, all of which can contribute to gas and bloating. Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol, can also cause gas and other digestive symptoms. These types of alcohols are often found in artificially sweetened foods and chewing gum.

Again, it’s important to find balance and practice moderation. Most of the time, you don’t need to eliminate things entirely (unless they are making you feel ill or uncomfortable, in which case you should talk to a professional), but you need to be mindful of what you’re ingesting, how much and how it makes you feel.

How can you minimize bloating and gas?

To reduce bloating and gassiness, try some of these tips:

  • Chew food thoroughly.

  • Eat slowly; make each meal last for at least 20 minutes.

  • Avoid swallowing excess air (chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages).

  • Stay active – exercise helps digestion.

  • Do not introduce too much fiber too soon; add it into your diet slowly.

  • Rule out food sensitivities or allergies under the direction of an RDN.

  • Take digestive enzymes and/or probiotics to improve gut health.

  • Try digestive herbs, such as ginger, fennel and mint – incorporate these into more of your cooking or add them to things like tea.

  • Try drinking apple cider vinegar in moderation: 1 tsp mixed in 6 oz. water before each meal.

Most of the time, bloating is caused by food or environmental factors. Most people will experience some gas as a result of fiber and normal digestion. Sometimes, however, bloating can have a more serious underlying cause, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) or a gastrointestinal disease.

If your gas or bloating becomes painful enough that it disrupts your day-to-day life – if you can't eat, sleep, have diarrhea, constipation or other issues – it may be time to see a doctor or consult a registered dietician.

There are a variety of resources on campus to support your nutritional needs. Medical Services offers a free Nutrition Resource Clinic (available at the Recreation Center) for basic consultations during the academic year as well as ongoing, in-depth Nutrition Counseling. Housing & Dining Services also has a registered dietitian on staff, who can meet with students individually, answer questions, do dining hall walk-throughs and more.