Maybe you’re someone who looks forward to scouring the farmers market for a new vegetable to experiment with each week, or maybe you don’t love veggies much but do your best to get them on your plate because you know you should. Either way, one thing you’re certain about is that some vegetables can leave you feeling gassy and bloated. A not-so-pleasant side effect of something that’s supposed to be healthy for you!
Usually, the belly inflation process starts with gas-producing microbes, which are found in the intestines and/or colon, explains functional dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T. “Bacterial fermentation naturally occurs when these unwanted microbes feast on poorly digested carbohydrates or fibers in the gut, producing gasses such as hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.” What’s rich in these fibers and tough-to-digest carbs? You guessed it, certain vegetables.
Alas, while all vegetables provide important nutritional components, some do cause gas. If you tend to feel like a balloon after loading up on the good stuff, be mindful of the following common culprits. (Don’t worry, we’ve got recommendations for bloat-free alternatives, too.)
Cabbage is unbeatable in slaws, soups, and stir-fries, but it’s part of a group of vegetables known as “cruciferous” veggies, which means that it contains sulfur-derived chemicals called glucosinolates. “These chemicals are known to feed sulfur-producing microbes (leading to rotten egg-like gas) in some people,” explains Volpe. “Cabbage is also a high-FODMAP food.”
Never heard of FODMAPs before? They’re a group of difficult-to-digest carbohydrates found in a variety of foods, including some vegetables, explains registered dietitian, Johna Burdeos, R.D. (FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.) “FODMAPS aren’t well absorbed in the small intestine and typically increase water content in the small intestine, as well as gas production,” Burdeos explains.
If you’re a fan of cabbage but not of the gas it gives you, Volpe recommends trying bok choy (also known as Chinese cabbage) instead. It’s a little sweeter and milder than Napa or Savoy cabbage and while it does naturally contain some sorbitol (a type of FODMAP), it contains relatively tiny quantities, notes Volpe. Swap it in for cabbage in any recipe that calls for it.
Cauliflower, another cruciferous veggie, is widely popular because of its versatility in the kitchen. After all, it can be turned into just about anything, from rice and mashed “potatoes” to pizza crust. Unfortunately, though, cauliflower is among the veggies most likely to cause gas and bloating in relatively small quantities for the same reasons as cabbage. “Cauliflower, like cabbage, is considered a high-FODMAP cruciferous veggie,” Volpe explains. “It is naturally high in raffinose (a poorly digested carbohydrate constituent) as well as in glucosinolates.”
A less-gassy substitute for cauliflower, believe it or not, is broccoli. While still a cruciferous veggie, it can usually be enjoyed in moderation by most people prone to gas or bloating, as long as they limit their serving to a half cup cooked or less, Volpe suggests. “Broccoli works great in stir-fries in place of cauliflower, especially since they offer a very similar flavor and texture,” she says. “Riced broccoli can also be a nice substitute for riced cauliflower (in moderation) and could be used in place of cauliflower to make a lower-FODMAP veggie pizza crust.” Just hope you don’t mind green crust!
Onions are a staple in just about every type of cuisine out there, but they’re also a high-FODMAP veggie and can cause symptoms of gas, bloating, and discomfort in some people. “Onions contain a higher concentration of fructans (another type of oligosaccharide), which can be difficult to break down and absorb in the gut,” Volpe explains. “Onions also contain sulfur-derived constituents, specifically thiosulfinates and thiosulfonates, which are also known to cause gas and bloating.” If you ever find yourself surprisingly gassy after a meal, it’s possible that onions are the sneaky culprit.
While cooking onions can make them easier to digest since the cooking process helps break down some of the fiber, they still may cause gas, notes Volpe. A good substitute here is leeks, which go well in omelets and can be chopped up and thrown into homemade soups in place of diced onions, too.
This delicious stem vegetable is easy to prepare and packs a ton of flavor, not to mention nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate. However, they also tend to cause unpleasant gas and bloating due to the fact that they contain an organosulfur compound called asparagusic acid, which our digestive system has trouble breaking down, notes dietitian Andrea Kirkland, M.S., R.D., owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed. Asparagus is also high in a trisaccharide called raffinose and a type of natural sugar called fructose, two other compounds that tend to be recipes for gas.
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Asparagus primarily gives people the most trouble when it’s eaten raw, so you’re less likely to deal with gas and bloating if you consume it cooked. A great and less-gassy alternative, though, is zucchini, which is mild-tasting and high in water. “Zucchini can be eaten raw in a salad with leafy greens, or sliced up and enjoyed with a dip as a snack,” says Burdeos. “It’s also perfect for sauteing and stir-frying, can be added to noodles or soups, and can be baked on a sheet pan with pieces of seasoned chicken.”
5. Brussels Sprouts
Like cauliflower and cabbage, Brussels sprouts are another cruciferous vegetable that can puff you up. The reason: They contain a high concentration of the indigestible sugar raffinose. “Raffinose is made up of glucose, galactose, and fructose and also belongs to the oligosaccharide family, a group of compounds that can’t be digested,” reminds Kirkland. “Because raffinose is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, it commonly causes gas and bloating.”
A good alternative to Brussels sprouts is kale. Just make sure to cook it—and ideally in coconut oil, since the medium-chain triglycerides it contains make the kale easier for your stomach to digest, Kirkland explains.
While some people can enjoy celery without facing gassy consequences, others—particularly those with a sensitivity to mannitol—are not so lucky, according to Burdeos. (Mannitol is a type of sugar alcohol found naturally in some foods that can cause gas and bloating in certain individuals.)
If you find that celery leaves you filled with gas, try munching on carrots instead. “Eat raw carrot sticks with dip or slice them into thin rounds or shred them to add to salads, wraps, or sandwiches,” suggests Burdeos. “Like zucchini, you can season them with herbs or spices and cook them by sauteing or stir-frying.”
While these veggies can be notorious for their gas-producing abilities, everyone’s gut is unique, so don’t write off every nutritious plant on this list quite yet! “Vegetables that bother one person may not bother the next,” explains Kirkland. That’s why she recommends tracking how your body responds to certain vegetables in order to pinpoint exactly which give you trouble before eliminating anything from your diet.
Additionally, if you’ve been feeling gassy as a result of adding more vegetables to your plate overall, it could just indicate that your gut just needs time to adjust. “Your gut bacteria may just need time to become balanced,” says Kirkland. “Decrease your portions initially and then increase them gradually to minimize discomfort as your gut adapts.” Considering all the health benefits of a high-fiber diet, it’s worth the slow-and-steady process of getting your intake up to the recommended level (which is 25 grams per day for women and 38 for men).