If you suffer from gas and bloating and are looking for foods that won’t wreck your stomach, you may be wondering: Can oatmeal cause gas? Unfortunately there isn’t a straightforward answer to this since reactions vary from person to person. In this post I discuss different reasons you may or may not react to oatmeal and how to avoid gas and bloating overall.
What in oatmeal causes gas and bloating?
While not everyone experiences gas and bloating after eating oatmeal, those who do may be reacting to the dietary fiber or FODMAPs contained in oatmeal. Both of these components can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed in excess, leading to unpleasant symptoms.
Fiber is a kind of indigestible carbohydrate. While most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar molecules), the body cannot digest fiber. Instead it passes through your body and can add bulk to your feces.
High-fiber foods include most vegetables, beans and legumes, most fruits, whole grains and nuts and seeds.
While fiber isn’t digested by your body, it can sometimes be a great snack for the good bacteria in your gut, housed in your large intestine. These microbes in turn produce short chain fatty acids that the body or other microbes can use as fuel.
Most people can handle some fiber in their diet. But, if you aren’t used to a high fiber content in your diet, rapidly increasing the amount of fiber you eat can lead to some gas and bloating. Your gut bacteria simply isn’t ready to break down all that fiber.
As you slowly increase the fiber in your diet, the amount and variety of gut bacteria will increase and you will better tolerate high amounts of fiber.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. They are short-chain carbohydrates that the digestive system has a difficult time processing.
Side effects some people (especially those who suffer from IBS) may experience after eating high FODMAP foods include diarrhea, cramping, constipation, bloating and gas.
High FODMAP foods include dairy products, wheat based products like crackers and bread, beans and lentils, some vegetables like artichoke, asparagus, onions and garlic, and some fruits like peach, apples, cherries and pear.
If you want more information on low FODMAP diets, this is a great resource: Monash
Ways to prevent gas and bloating
There is no magic solution to “cure” gas and bloating. The best way to control your symptoms is through learning your triggers and working to slowly incorporate them in your diet.
If you notice consuming a lot of fiber causes gas and bloating, start out with small quantities of fiber and work towards gradual increases as tolerated. The average consumption of fiber is about 10-15 grams per day, so this can be a good place to start. Eventually, you should aim to consume at least 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed. But again, take it slow!
It’s also possible that you are sensitive to certain high FODMAP foods. If that is the case, it’s best to work through an elimination and reintroduction diet with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
You will start by eliminating all high FODMAP foods from your diet for several weeks and slowly reintroduce them category by category to determine which class of FODMAP you are sensitive to. You may need to avoid these foods for a period of time to improve symptoms, then your dietitian will step you through a process to reintroduce these foods as tolerated.
The goal of an elimination diet isn’t to avoid high FODMAP foods forever, but instead to determine which class of FODMAP foods you are sensitive to and then create a plan to improve your tolerance to these foods.
Is oatmeal a whole grain?
Yes, oatmeal and oats are considered a whole grain. Whole grains include all parts of the grain including the bran, endosperm and germ. Refined grains have the germ and the bran removed, leaving only the endosperm. This is why refined grains are low in fiber and micronutrients.
Examples of whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, barley, bulgar, farro, millet, quinoa, black rice, red rice, oatmeal, popcorn and whole grain breakfast cereals.
Health benefits of consuming whole grains (as opposed to refined grains) include lowering LDL cholesterol, raising HDL cholesterol, lowering insulin levels, lowering blood pressure and aiding in weight loss.
Does oatmeal contain gluten?
This is a complicated answer. While oats do not contain gluten naturally, they are often cross contaminated with gluten. This is why it’s recommended to avoid oatmeal if you have celiac disease unless you are purchasing gluten-free oats. Even though the amount of gluten may be very low, it can still damage your small intestine for those with celiac.
If you have gluten intolerance, any kind of oatmeal is probably fine since the amount of gluten is so small. But, if you notice you are reacting to oatmeal, stick with the gluten-free kind.
Health benefits of oatmeal
A hearty bowl of oatmeal comes with a variety of health benefits including lower blood sugar levels, better bowel movements, weight loss, lower risk of heart disease and more. Even adding raw oats to your smoothies or granola comes with these benefits.
A cup of oats (dry) contains about 310 calories, 11 grams of protein, 55 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat. Along with this, it contains 8 grams of fiber, coming from both soluble and insoluble fiber.
The type of fiber matters because soluble fiber absorbs water, gelling up and slowing down your bowel movements while insoluble fiber bulks up and makes bowel movements pass faster. Oat bran in particular is high in soluble fiber.
Oatmeal is also high in phytic acid which is an anti-nutrient. While this sounds daunting, anti-nutrients can actually provide many health benefits in small doses. Benefits of phytic acid may include protection against DNA damage and cancer cell growth and prevention of kidney stones.
This being said, phytic acid can reduce absorption of certain nutrients like iron, zinc and calcium. As long as you are consuming a varied and balanced diet, this shouldn’t be an issue, but just like anything else, everything in moderation.
What other foods can cause bloating?
As mentioned earlier, foods high in fiber or high FODMAP foods can lead to bloating. Avoiding a high-fiber diet can be helpful to reduce bloating, though you should try to slowly introduce fiber as tolerated once bloating has decreased.
Fiber-rich foods include:
- Vegetables: leafy greens, carrots, bell pepper, asparagus, beets, mushrooms, turnips, pumpkin, squashes, potatoes and sweet potatoes with skin, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, artichoke
- Fruits: apples, pears, bananas, peaches, tangerines, prunes, kiwis, dried fruit, berries
- Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, pinto beans, split beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, pistachio, cashews, peanuts, pecans
- Grains: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, bran muffins
High FODMAP foods include:
- Dairy products: cow’s milk, ice cream, yogurt, soy milk
- Wheat-based products: wheat bread, some breakfast cereals, biscuits, some snacks
- Protein foods: most legumes and pulses, cashews, pistachios
- Some vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, onion, green peas, mushrooms, sugar snap peas
- Some fruits: apples, apple juice, cherries, dried fruit, mango, nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, watermelon
- Other: high fructose corn syrup, honey
How to know if you have irritable bowel syndrome
If you experience excessive gas and bloating or have a sensitive stomach, you may have irritable bowel syndrome or IBS for short. Speak to your doctor to get properly diagnosed, then you can be referred to a registered dietitian nutritionist to come up with a game plan.
It’s also possible you have lactose intolerance, which means you may need to avoid dairy products or consume lactose-free dairy products.
Also, just a reminder that food intolerances are separate from food allergies. Food intolerances manifest as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Food allergies can lead to an allergic reaction, vomiting, hives, tight throat, swelling on the tongue or more. Allergic reactions can be life threatening.
Easy Oatmeal Recipes
Overnight Oats: In a mason jar combine ½ cup rolled oats, ¾ cup milk of choice, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 tbsp maple syrup and ½ tsp vanilla extract. Stir to combine and add fresh or frozen fruit on top. Store in the refrigerator overnight and enjoy in the morning.
Apple Pie Oatmeal: In a small pot over medium heat add ½ cup oats and ¾ cup milk of choice. Adjust milk based on how thick you would like the oatmeal. Add 1 tbsp sweetener of choice, ½ tsp of cinnamon, ½ tsp of vanilla extract and ½ cup of sliced apples. Stir gently until the oats have absorbed the liquid and the apples are cooked.
Blueberry Pie Oatmeal: In a small pot over medium heat add ½ cup oats and ¾ cup milk of choice. Adjust milk based on how thick you would like the oatmeal. Add 1 tbsp of brown sugar, ½ tsp of vanilla extract and ½ cup of frozen blueberries. Stir gently until the oats have absorbed the liquid.