But a little bit of bloat is usually no big deal. “There’s a common misconception that bloating is an abnormal phenomenon,” says Steven Naymagon, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. Chances are that your belly bulge isn’t a sign that you need to hit the treadmill or cut carbs. It simply means your body is doing its thing, says Naymagon.
If that fun fact just made your brain explode, we’ve got seven more surprising truths about belly bloat—and what you can do about it—that will really blow your mind.
1. Healthy Eats Don’t Keep Your Tummy Flat
A salad with a side of bloat? Say it ain’t so! Despite our greatest efforts to nosh well, it’s true: Our favorite veggies can puff us up. The biggest culprits are cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, says Naymagon. Your body doesn’t produce the enzyme required to break down a particular carbohydrate in these foods—and that can lead to gas and bloat.
Veggies also tend to be high in insoluble fiber, which draws fluid into your intestines, he says. “While that helps regulate your poo schedule, it can lead to the undesirable side effects of bloating.” And beans, the magical fruit you’ve joked about, do actually cause belly bloating, he says.
Of course, you shouldn’t cut good-for-you foods like these from you menu. Instead, focus on chewing slowly, which aids in digestion and minimizes how much air you ingest.
2. Carbonated Drinks Aren’t the Only Kind That Puff You Up
While bubbly sodas and champs do bring more air into your belly, sipping any liquid through a straw will also result in you swallowing excess air. That O2 gets trapped in your stomach, small bowel, and colon and produces bloat and gas. For your flattest stomach, skip straws and carbonated drinks.
3. You Can De-Bloat with Hot Water and Lemon
Celebs swear by piping-hot water with citrus for good reason. In the short term, experts say the lemon water acts as a mild diuretic. In the long term, staying hydrated keeps your metabolism revved and your digestion moving right on schedule, a key aspect of staying (and feeling) slim.
4. Diet Foods Cause More Bloating
If you stock up on fat-free and sugar-free foods, you might feel the need to unbutton. That’s because these foods contain sugar substitutes that are hard for your intestines to digest, says Naymagon. “They stay in the bowel and draw water in; increasing bloating.” And even if your body can digest those faux sugars, they’ll just create even more gas. Ugh.
When it comes to sugar, stick with the real stuff in its most natural form: fruit. Choices like papaya, pineapple, banana, and berries contain nutrients such as potassium, water, and papain, which actually help beat bloat.
5. Sitting All Day Can Make You Swell
“In general, being more active leads to increased activity in the GI tract,” says Naymagon. That means being on your bum all day can slow down your digestion, making constipation more likely, he says. And, obviously, being backed up makes you bloat. The prescription is simple: move. Even getting up every 15 minutes or so to walk around can be enough to keep things flowing (literally), says Naymagon.
6. Dairy Doesn’t Only Bloat People Who Are Lactose Intolerant
Any given food will impact any given person differently, but dairy products are a super common cause of bloating in most people, says Naymagon. Though you might think your body is A-OK at digesting dairy, get this: About 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you suspect you’re one of those people, you can make easy swaps, like trading almond milk for your regular milk. If you’re not ready to give up dairy for good (we can’t quit you, cheese), consider popping a probiotic, says Naymagon. That can bulk up the good bacteria in your gut, easing digestion issues.
7. Prescriptions Can Puff You Up
Anything that has a steroid in it can cause bloating, says Naymagon. That’s because steroids cause your body to retain water, making you feel puffy, he says. If you’re on prescription steroid like prednisone, talk to your doctor about how you can keep water weight gain to a minimim. Make sure you’re reaching for anti-inflammatory foods (like green, leafy vegetables, nuts, and veggies) that won’t make you bloat any more than you already are.