Swapping soda for a pressed juice. Choosing whole-wheat toast over white bread. Grabbing a fiber bar before a tough workout. These seem like smart, healthy choices, right? Then why is it that the fiber bar leaves you with a bloated midsection or the juice (yes, the one with all the fruits and vegetables!) has you feeling sluggish? Turns out sometimes eating good-for-you food can cause some unpleasant side effects if you eat too much or aren’t careful with when and how you consume them.
If you find yourself gassy, tired, or puffy around the middle, take a peek at what’s on your plate—it could be that one of these 20 foods ahead is the culprit.
If ditching refined, white carbs is the obvious healthy choice, then why is it that whole-wheat toast or linguine can still make us feel heavy? Turns out the reason whole grains are so good for you can also be their potential flaw: fiber. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate and quickly increasing your intake or eating too much at once can cause gas, bloating, and belching, explains nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic. Plus, carbs make you hold on to water, which can contribute to that sudden my-pants-don’t-fit feeling after a meal.
If you’re making the switch or upping fiber in your diet, increase it slowly to give your body time to adjust and drink water with any fiber-rich meal to help move digestion along.
Green tea has been revered for so long for its health superpowers—it could slash risk for many cancers and help lower blood pressure—that it’s hard to imagine any drawbacks. But for some people, the caffeine in green tea can be a sneaky culprit for abdominal distress. “Like coffee, green tea contains caffeine, a diuretic that could cause nausea,” says Cavuto. If your cup of tea is causing you to be woozy, switch to some non-caffeinated herbal varieties like chamomile and peppermint, which also deliver health perks.
Raw cruciferous vegetables
Greens like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and collard greens are packed with nutrients like vitamin C, folate, fiber, and also contain compounds that could help ward off cancer. Unfortunately, they’re not always easy on the tummy. “These veggies contain an indigestible complex sugar called raffinose that is responsible for producing gas,” says Cavuto.”On top of that, their soluble fiber doesn’t break down until reaching the small intestine which may lead to bloating and an upset stomach.”
This doesn’t mean that cruciferous fare should disappear from your plate forever. Steaming is an easy hack that not only breaks down the raffinose to make vegetables easier to digest, it also helps preserve the cancer-kicking compounds, which can be lost when boiling or in the microwave.
Dairy can cause some unpleasant symptoms for an estimated 30 million lactose-intolerant Americans who lack the enzyme needed to digest lactase, the sugar in milk. But even if you are not lactose intolerant, overindulging in a bowl of ice cream or Greek yogurt can set off some unpleasant symptoms. “Eating too much dairy leads to digestion in the large intestine instead of the stomach, which can result in symptoms such as diarrhea and gas,” explains Cavuto.
Everyone has a different threshold, so you’ll need to experiment what “too much” means for you. “It’s worth noting that some hard cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar and fermented dairy products, like kefir, are lower in lactose and more tolerable,” Cavuto says. Aim for three servings of dairy per day and remember that nutrients such as calcium can come from non-dairy sources like dark leafy greens and sardines, too.
There’s good reason the “magical fruit” has a song dedicated to its gas-inducing powers: “You can blame starches that can’t be digested in the small intestine and end up in the process of bacterial fermentation again in the large intestine,” says Kirkpatrick.
You can still fill up on the fiber and protein-rich legumes without the embarrassing after effects. Rinse canned beans before using and soak the dry variety overnight in water and baking soda to reduce the starches and help ease the post-dinner toot. If you’re not a bean fiend, it helps to gradually up consumption over a couple weeks and eat them on the regular so you won’t be bothered by gas, she says.
Reaching for sweets that substitute the white stuff for an alternative may seem like the healthier choice, but for some people the swap can lead to a puffy midsection. The sugar alcohols (like sorbitol, manitol, anything ending in ‘ol’) are not digestible, says Kirkpatrick. “They cause bacteria to ferment in the intestine, causing gas, discomfort, and bloating.”
Chewing on a stick of gum could help keep teeth healthy and has even been shown to boost concentration, but the breath-freshening solution could be the sneaky culprit behind your bloat. “When you’re constantly chewing, you’re also swallowing air which gets trapped in the intestines and causes gas and that uncomfortable feeling of fullness,” says Kirkpatrick. What’s more, a 2008 German study revealed that the biggest sugarless gum-chewers—16 to 20 sticks a day—risked not only gas and bloating, but also severe diarrhea and unexpected weight loss, all thanks to sorbitol.
Packed with fruits and vegetables, this magical drink can deliver a ton of nutrients, all in one gulp. But some varieties can be a sneaky sugar trap since they ditch the pulp and skin where all the fiber lies. “Without the fiber, the sugar in fruit and some vegetables causes your blood sugar to spike and fall,” explains Kirkpatrick. This sudden dip leaves you sleepy and hungry.
Check out the labels of store-bought juices and choose those that go easy on the sugar. If you’re juicing at home, throw in some veggies like kale or celery to offset the fruits’ sugar. Better yet, blend a smoothie. “You’ll get in all the nutrients and keep filling fiber,” she says.
They’re a better snacking alternative than most vending machine options, but if you don’t watch the portion size, it can lead to some smelly results. “All fruit has naturally occurring sugars called fructose, but when it’s dried, the sugar ends up being more concentrated so there is more in a smaller amount,” explains Kirkpatrick. “It also tends to have more fiber, and topping that with the extra sugar leads to more fermentation in the intestine, which can have you feeling gassy.”
Dried fruit can still be a good-for-you treat and is a yummy add to everything from salads to muffins; just stick to a 1/4 cup serving at a time.
Sipping on fizzy drinks can upset your insides. “Sodas and seltzers contain carbon dioxide, which can cause burping,” says Kirkpatrick. “The bubbles can also get trapped in intestines and cause gas and bloating.” Plus, soda is one of the biggest causes of acid reflux, just another reason to sub it out for a less irritating drink like good ‘ol H2O spiked with mint, lemon, or cucumber.
With around 4 grams of fiber per serving, apples are one of the most filling fruits you can reach for. But the combination of high fiber and fructose makes this snack a surprising instigator for bloating, says Kirkpatrick. Enjoying the fruit on its own, not with a meal can help you avoid the puffiness.
And you don’t want to miss out on the health perks of apples. While it may appear “basic” in comparison with other exotic super fruits, it still delivers. The skin is jam-packed with an antioxidant called quercetin, which protects cells against cancer. Research has also found that people who eat five or more apples a week have better lung function than those who don’t. Plus, apples come with about 15% of your daily value of vitamin C, making them the snack to reach for right before cold and flu season.
Your favorite bar can fuel you up before the gym, but it could also have you running for the bathroom. Many bars are packed with inulin (also known as chicory root fiber), a plant-based carbohydrate which makes them extra filling. “The downside is that inulin doesn’t have the texture or taste of fiber, so it’s easy to graze on too much,” says Cavuto. “Then you’re faced with the same kind of digestive problems caused by an excess of any fiber like gas, bloating, nausea, and stomach cramping. Building up to high fiber foods slowly is the key to avoiding the smelly after effects.”
Corn is a good source of folate, vitamin C, phosphorous, and magnesium—but it can also cause some GI distress. “Corn contains cellulose, a fiber we cannot break down properly in our bodies,” says Cavuto. “If you do not chew it long enough it may pass through undigested and cause stomach upset.” Slathering corn in butter and salt can also leave you feeling heavy and sluggish.
The fix is easy: chomp down on those kernels long enough to break down the cellulose, and eat corn on the cob either plain or with a dash of spice.
Like the name implies, instant oatmeal gets us breakfast fast, though it’s not always a healthy option. Many brands are low in fiber and high in sugar, causing your blood sugar to skyrocket and then plummet, says Kirkpatrick. Instead of fueling you up in the morning, you’re left feeling tired.
Since it’s a heart-healthy whole grain, oatmeal can still make an appearance at the table but you’ll want to check the label: choose brands that have less than four grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber if you’re going instant.
Condiments are one way to add flavor to food without extra calories or unhealthy fat, but you’ll want to dash soy sauce sparingly. It’s pretty high in sodium—one tablespoon has around 1,000 milligrams—which can not only lead to some major midsection puff, says Kirkpatrick, but it creeps up pretty close to the recommended daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams for healthy adults (it’s 1,500 if you have high blood pressure). Keep the dousing conservative, and switch to the low-sodium variety.
You already know that burgers and steaks should be consumed in moderation—stick to a 3-ounce serving no more than three times a week—but sometimes even the occasional indulgence can lead to a ballooned belly. “Red meat is high in fat, so it sits in in your stomach longer than protein and carbs do. That’s why many people feel like they have a brick in their abdomen after eating it,” says Kirkpatrick. “It takes a while for that “brick” to leave and move to the intestines, which makes you feel bloated.”
Red meat is a great source of protein, iron, and B vitamins, but to beat bloat, load up on poultry and fish—they’re equally as hardy and come with similar nutrient perks.
Pretzels aren’t so healthy, but because they’re a tiny bit better than potato chips, they have a “health halo.” “Most pretzels are also made of stripped down wheat, making them a refined carb,” says Kirkpatrick. “Meaning you’ll experience a sugar high, then low, which, at that point you’ll be tired and looking for your next carb fix.” Plus, the salt makes you bloated.
Here’s another food wearing a totally undeserved health halo. Bagels are better for you than pancakes or French toast doused in sugary maple syrup, sure, but this choice doesn’t feel like a pick-me-up at all. That’s because any refined white flour product is metabolized like sugar in the body. Your body will process it really quickly, leading to an energy crash, explains Cavuto. Not only will you feel hungry after, but chances are you’ll actually be tired too. For a more filling and energy-boosting meal, she suggests subbing refined wheat products for whole grains and pairing them with a protein. (Just remember what we said before about increasing your fiber intake too fast.)
One you should never skip: Water
Here’s a case when less isn’t more. Skimping on your daily H2O intake can take a toll on your energy levels. “Most people actually don’t drink as much as they need,” says Kirkpatrick. When you’re short on water, oxygen and nutrients don’t circulate as efficiently. To see how much you should guzzle, take your weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of fluid ounces a day.
More from Health.com:
- Best and Worst Foods for Bloating
- 9 Reasons You Should Eat More Beans
- 14 Best and Worst Foods for Digestion