Caroline Rees | 12 Nov 2019 | Dysbiosis

Severe bloating after eating bread? 5 helpful solutions

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Many people experience gas and bloating after eating bread.

This bloating can cause embarrassing wind, or leave you having to undo your belt or change into looser clothes. As well as bloating, you might also experience stomach ache, diarrhoea, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

The good news is that if you find your tummy swells alarmingly after eating bread, there are things you can do to help.

What causes bloating after eating bread?

There are lots of reasons why bloating can happen after eating. With bread, the main problem is that wheat is difficult to digest.

During digestion, your food is broken down into small components that are absorbed through the gut lining. Any food that can’t be broken down properly and absorbed has the potential to be fermented by your gut bacteria. It’s this fermentation process that creates the gas that causes bloating, wind and discomfort.

Bread and other wheat-based products contain several substances that make them especially hard to digest—meaning more material is available for your gut bacteria to ferment. These substances include:

Enzyme inhibitors. These interfere with the gut enzymes (amylase and trypsin) that digest protein and starch [1].

Wheat-germ agglutinin. In animal studies, this substance was found to interfere with the digestion of protein and stop the release of the enzymes that digest food [2, 3].

Fructans. These are a type of sugar in bread that gut bacteria love to ferment [4].

Gluten. This well-known bread protein can cause problems by triggering the release of a chemical called zonulin from the gut lining [5]. The release of zonulin creates gaps in the gut wall, allowing partly digested food particles to cross into the bloodstream. These particles then stimulate the body to mount an immune response, which damages the lining of the gut and negatively affects digestion.

High fibre content. Although a healthy substance, lots of fibre can make bloating more likely because your gut bacteria are especially good at fermenting it.

All these components can add up to poorly digested food, which is then available for your gut bacteria to ferment.

Of course, many people have no problem with bread. It’s more likely you’ll get bloating if:

You have an imbalance in your gut bacteria (dysbiosis).

You have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or any gut inflammation.

You tend to have constipation.

You often eat in a rush, don’t chew your food well, or are distracted while eating [6].

You are particularly stressed, as your body digests food less efficiently when you’re in fight-or-flight mode.

How do I avoid feeling bloated after eating bread?

If you have coeliac disease or a wheat allergy (see below), you’ll need to avoid wheat completely.

If you have only mild symptoms, you may find that some simple changes can help to reduce bloating after eating bread. The key is to improve your digestion.

Here’s what to do:

1) Chew your food well. This is the first stage of digestion, so skipping this will compromise the rest of the process.

2) Relax when you eat. Simply taking five deep breaths before you start eating will help you to relax.

3) Use herbs and spices that support digestion. Good choices include black pepper, cumin, turmeric or ginger, which can easily be added to recipes. Ginger or peppermint tea can reduce bloating too.

4) Try apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Add a tablespoon to a glass of water and drink before your meals.

5) Consider supplements. Taking digestive enzymes or bitters before meals can help to reduce bloating.

What alternatives are there to bread to avoid bloating?

Switching to a different type of bread can often reduce or eliminate bloating.

For some, swapping to authentic sourdough bread can be enough. This is because the sourdough culture, together with the slow rise typical of an authentic sourdough loaf, breaks down many of the digestion-resistant components in bread—such as the enzyme inhibitors. Even if a loaf of bread is not sourdough but has still been given a long proving time, it can be more tummy-friendly. Try buying your bread from a traditional bakery to see if this makes a difference.

Different kinds of wheat that are lower in gluten and enzyme inhibitors are another option. These include spelt, kamut, einkorn and emmer. Flours and breads made from these ancient grains are now available in many supermarkets.

Gluten-free breads are made from non-gluten containing flours, which don’t carry the enzyme inhibitors and wheat germ agglutinin. But these products can contain emulsifiers and other additives that can affect your gut health, so it’s important to read the label carefully before choosing.

Bloating after eating bread and gluten intolerance

Gas and bloating after eating bread may be a sign of gluten intolerance or sensitivity. The most well-known form of gluten intolerance is coeliac disease, but it’s increasingly recognised that non-coeliac gluten sensitivity also exists. This is when someone reacts to gluten, even if they don’t have the immune response seen in coeliac disease [7]. It’s also possible to have an allergy to wheat.

What are the first signs of gluten intolerance?

Bloating and gas after consuming wheat or other gluten-containing foods (such as rye, barley and sometimes oats) are the commonest symptoms.

Diarrhoea after eating wheat or other gluten-containing foods, as well as constipation, nausea or smelly stools (poo), are also potential signs of gluten intolerance.

Stomach ache after eating gluten foods may indicate an intolerance.

Fatigue can be common too. There are many possible causes of fatigue, but if you notice you’re especially tired after eating wheat, it could be a sign of gluten intolerance.

Headaches are worth paying attention to. Like fatigue, they have many causes, but they are often experienced by people with gluten intolerance.

How soon after eating gluten do symptoms appear?

The exact pattern of symptoms and timing will vary from person to person. It may also depend on how much gluten was in the meal. The first symptoms may appear as early as a few minutes after eating or several hours later.

Bear in mind that it is also possible to have a food intolerance to yeast, which means that you’ll still react to wheat-free bread if it contains yeast. Eating a yeast-free diet can help you to identify if yeast is the culprit for your bloating.

Conclusion

Bloating after eating bread is common. It may mean that you have a sensitivity to gluten or one of several substances in wheat. It could also mean that your digestion isn’t working properly.

First, try to optimise your digestion, and then experiment with eating different types of bread to see if it makes a difference. If you know you have coeliac disease, it’s essential you avoid all bread that contains gluten.

Author

Caroline Rees (PhD, PGDip Nutritional Therapy, mBANT) is a Registered Nutritional Therapist with a particular interest in the links between gut health and weight issues. Caroline was originally a research scientist, gaining a PhD in asthma and allergy from Guy’s Hospital, London. She subsequently worked for many years as a medical writer. She retrained as a Registered Nutritional Therapist at Worcester University when her passion for nutrition and functional medicine was ignited by her success in being able to lose weight through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

References

  1. NCBI
  2. NCBI
  3. NCBI
  4. NCBI
  5. NCBI
  6. NCBI
  7. NCBI

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