4 Carbs to Eat if You Want to Debloat, According to a Dietitian
Think you have to give up carbs entirely to manage your bloated belly? Think again.
Bloating is a complaint that I constantly encounter among patients in the gastroenterology practice where I work as a dietitian, and most sufferers are on a constant quest to identify a specific food sensitivity that's underlying their problem, or a silver-bullet solution in the form of a magical de-bloating food.
In truth, it's pretty rare to identify an individual food that's singularly responsible for one's bloating, and rarer still to find a single food remedy that erases it. (Rare, but not impossible. In the case of celiac disease, eliminating wheat and other gluten-containing foods is absolutely a miraculous de-bloating solution for most.)
But for everyone else seeking to minimize their visibly distended belly through dietary strategies, the answer is usually found in changes to the overall dietary pattern rather than zeroing in on a single food. And a more realistic expectation from food isn't that eating something specific will deflate an already-bloated belly, but rather that identifying 'safer' foods that are less likely to create or aggravate bloating can prevent the problem from happening.
Which foods are more or less likely to prevent or minimize bloating, of course, will depend on the particular reason you're bloated to begin with. Certain foods that are the absolute safest and gentlest for some of my patients are among the worst bloating triggers for others of my patients. When it comes to de-bloating diets, they are in no way one-size-fits-all. This is particularly true when it comes to carbs, since carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that may contain both fiber AND fermentable (read: potentially gas producing) material, both of which can contribute to bloating from a variety of causes. (Don't forget—vegetables and fruits also contain carbs!)
So forget those infographics you see all over social media listing a common set of foods that alleviate bloating, and think twice before resigning yourself to a low-carb diet for the rest of your life just to control your bloating. Instead, start getting in tune with your body's specific bloating patterns to figure out what carb containing foods are actually safest for you.
1. For bloated grain-free dieters:
Pictured Recipe: Spinach & Egg Sweet Potato Toast
If your bloating got worse soon after adopting a lower carb, grain-free diet plan—whether Paleo, keto or Whole30—you're in very good company. Many of my patients are shocked to discover that adopting a super high fiber, lower carb diet can sometimes result in constipation... and that this constipation results in a type of bloating that builds and builds as the day progresses, making them gassy as all get-out by bedtime.
The unexpected worsening in bowel regularity some people experience on low-carb diets may result from eliminating all forms of dietary soluble fiber—the moisture-retaining, regularity-promoting fiber found mostly in higher-carb foods like non-berry fruits, oatmeal, beans, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Fixing the dietary fiber balance usually fixes the constipation, which fixes the bloat. Including a sizeable portion of soluble-fiber rich sweet potato at breakfast may be worth trying out.
See More: Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes
2. For wheat-sensitive bloaters:
There are many folks who find that eating wheat products—breads, bagels and pastas—really bloats them even though they've been tested for celiac disease and don't actually have it. These patients often consider themselves "gluten sensitive". In many—or even most—of these cases, however, "gluten", one of the main proteins found in wheat products, is taking the blame for the carbohydrates that are actually responsible for excess gas and bloating in susceptible people. These gassy carbohydrates, called fructans, are also present in other foods, like onions, garlic and artichokes.
If this feels familiar, you may not have to break up with gluten or bread entirely to avoid bloating: try sourdough instead, whether whole-wheat or white. Sourdough bread's fermentation process breaks down those hard-to-digest fructans and may give you at least one great, gluten-containing bread option that you can enjoy without worrying about setting off bloating.
3. For a "bacterial bloat":
Pictured Recipe: Apple-Cinnamon Quinoa Bowl
I see a lot of patients who struggle with a recurring condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrwoth (SIBO), in which an excess of bacteria in the small intestine create loads of gas and bloating when very fermentable carbohydrates are consumed. While some folks with SIBO find plain sugar and simple carbs like rice to be very easy to tolerate, others can find that starchy carbs like rice, potato or banana can aggravate them, too. In these cases, a higher fiber, less-starchy carb that does not contain matter that bacteria find fermentable may be among the easiest to tolerate and least likely to contribute to bloating. Quinoa to the rescue!
4. For bloated plant based eaters:
White rice is the carb that everyone seems to love to hate: it takes a lot of abuse for being low fiber and having a high glycemic impact—or blood sugar-raising potential—since it's almost entirely composed of fast-digesting simple starch. Yet for my bloated patients who follow incredibly high fiber, plant-based diets, sometimes a little bit of white rice is exactly the escape their very-full bowels need to minimize bloating from piling onto a high gas or stool burden.
While a plant-based, high-fiber diet is objectively nutrient-dense and associated with some terrific health prospects, it can be quite difficult for some people to comfortably tolerate. All the fiber that goes in must eventually come out, and for those who may struggle with emptying their bowels completely, extremely high-fiber diets can create quite a bit of bloating. Moreover, plant-based diets tend to be quite rich in fermentable (read: potentially gas causing) healthy "prebiotic" foods like beans, Brussels sprouts and whole grains.
If your diet is already delivering well above the recommended guidelines for fiber intake, it's OK to give your full bowels a break and allow yourself a few meals per week that don't cram every possible gram of fiber onto the plate. A sushi meal—white rice and all—is often one of my bloated patients' gentlest, least-aggravating options.