When I tried cutting sugar out of my diet and all I could think about non-stop was getting my hands on some lusciously sweet, sugar-coated sugar, I realized it wasn't just what I lovingly referred to as a "sugar tooth." It felt more like a gripping addiction, which made it that much more important to get control of. It took me about three weeks to ditch sugar, and afterward, I honestly didn't crave it as much.
Once I felt like I had a handle on my sugar obsession, I began re-introducing a little back into my diet. Nothing crazy like soda or frosted doughnuts. Vanilla soy milk in my overnight oats, a little piece of dark chocolate after lunch, and a slice of home-baked chocolate chip banana bread after dinner didn't seem like much, but then I started having terrible, labor-like gas pains and bloating like I'd never experienced.
I went to the doctor, convinced I had some rare form of food poisoning or a 12-foot-long worm living inside my intestines. I went through a slew of blood tests, stool tests, and other tests I'd rather not talk about. They couldn't figure out what was wrong. I thought it was weird that they never once asked me about my diet, so I took matters into my own hands. Since I was vegan and eating pretty healthy, I thought about possible culprits. "Maybe it's gluten? Or maybe it's soy?" So I eliminated those, but that didn't do a thing. I even tried taking probiotics (two different brands!), but after two months, nothing changed.
It wasn't until I talked with registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition, that she said, "What about sugar?" She explained that, "in your GI tract, there are trillions of bacteria that usually help with health, but these bacteria consume the sugars in your foods and can increase gas production and bloat."
Although there isn't huge evidence that ties sugar to bloat, she said that many people find relief when they "cut down on added sugars and refined grains." It only took a week, but I felt 100 percent better after cutting back on added sugars. I used unsweetened soy milk and added mashed banana and a touch of maple syrup to my overnight oats, cut out the chocolate and ate a handful of raisins and peanuts instead, and baked with coconut sugar instead of white sugar (and used less of it). Honestly, I was so happy to be feeling better, I really didn't miss the sugar.
Could sugar be causing your belly bloat? Try cutting out added sugar and refined grains from your diet, or at least adhere to the World Health Organization recommendation for added sugars, which is 25 grams. For reference, Leslie says, "if you had a sweetened yogurt and a scoop of sugar in your coffee you are already over your sugar limit." That is nuts! Leslie says to definitely eliminate white and brown sugar, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, processed white carbs like bread and pasta, and sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol. The natural sugars in fruit are OK, but some contain high levels of fructose and polyols (natural sugar compounds) so if you're suffering from belly bloat, try limiting apples, pears, dried fruits, and mangoes.