Struggling with belly bloat? It’s a common problem. Bloating happens when the gastrointestinal tract fills up with air or gas, usually because of something you ate. Pinpointing the foods that cause bloating is easier said than done. While it might come down to a single ingredient, that uncomfortable, full and tight feeling in your stomach may be caused by multiple foods. In fact, gums – which are food additives – may be to blame.
“There a variety of gums used as additives in processed foods,” says expert nutritionist, Registered Dietician, and Fellow of the American Dietetic Association Judy Fields. “In general, they are used to thicken and stabilize food products.”
These days, additives like carrageenan and xanthan gum lurk at the bottom of ingredients lists in more foods than we can count. That includes ice cream, pudding, non-dairy milks, salad dressings, baked goods, breading, and spreads. Most of us don’t know much about these gums and forget that they’re even in our snacks and goodies. However, all of them have been linked to gas and bloating.
Foods That Cause Bloating: The 6 Gums to Watch Out For
If you’re trying to reduce bloating after a meal, here are the six gums to avoid: acacia, carrageenan, carob bean (sometimes called locust bean gum), gellan, guar, and xanthan.
Acacia gum – derived from the sap of the Acacia tree in Senegal – is an indigestible polysaccharide. The FDA has actually labeled it as a safe dietary fiber, and many people consume it on its own to boost fiber intake. Just like other forms of fiber, however, it can cause bloating and gas.
Carrageenan is also naturally derived, as it comes from edible red seaweed. However, this gum is more controversial. Research suggests that it increases inflammation in the gut and may raise a person’s risk for colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even certain cancers. “Carrageenan has been loosely linked with digestive inflammation,” Fields adds. “Its use should be limited and cannot be labeled as ‘USDA Organic.’”
Carob or locust bean gum, which is extracted from carob tree seeds, is usually used as a natural thickener. Gellan gum (created by fermenting sugar with certain bacteria) helps bind different ingredients together and stabilize foods. As Fields points out, gellan often works as a plant-based alternative to gelatin. As with Acacia, both gums are safe to consume but may still cause you to bloat.
Guar gum comes from guar beans, or long green beans known as cluster beans. This type of gum may help you stay full for longer because it’s low calorie and high fiber. Still, it has similar downsides to the rest of the gums. “Much like other legume-based foods, [it is] known for causing bloating and gas,” Fields says.
Xanthan gum, which is created by fermenting carbohydrates with certain bacteria, is perhaps one of the most common gums you will find at the bottom of an ingredients list. It thickens and stabilizes ingredients and has no taste, making it an ideal additive in processed foods. Still, its side effects include intestinal gas and bloating.
In some circumstances, it may be helpful to eat these gums.
Fields points out that some individuals eat gums like gellan and guar to aid with certain conditions. “[Guar, gellan, xanthan, and carrageenan] are helpful in normalizing the water content in our stools,” she says. “They can also help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar.” Thus, you may want to eat more of these gums to aid with diabetes or high cholesterol. “To reduce bloating and discomfort start with small amounts and increase gradually,” Fields adds.
It’s important to understand that bloating doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a serious problem. Belly bloat is often a normal result of eating high-fiber foods. But if you want to experience less bloating, reducing your intake of these gums for a while may improve your symptoms over time.
If changing up your diet doesn’t help, it may be time to see a doctor. Other reasons to check in with a physician include unexplained weight loss, no appetite, chronic constipation or diarrhea, or your symptoms make it hard to go about your day. These may be signs that you have a different digestive issue. Hopefully, knowing which foods cause bloating may be all you need to have bloat-free days.
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