Abdominal bloating feels bad and looks bad – especially in a swimsuit or skimpy summer outfit. A bout of over-indulgence can result in a tummy that’s stretched, puffy and full of gas, but if these symptoms are more than an occasional annoyance, the root cause needs to be investigated.
Top 5 causes
As a nutritionist, I know how common and bothersome bloating can be. Not only does it affect a person’s quality of life, it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious health issue that needs addressing. If a patient complains of regular bloating, Underlying factors such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), low stomach acidity, lack of digestive enzymes, bacterial imbalances and parasites are likely to blame for the uncomfortable and embarrassing signs that something is out of balance.
My job is to identify the culprit and to fix it.
Diet and lifestyle factors
Additional contributors to bloating include the overuse of antibiotics, too much sugar, alcohol or refined carbohydrates, high levels of stress and the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
Something you ate?
Food sensitivities are a key cause bloating. If you can’t digest food properly, the undigested particles produce excess amounts of gas, which then becomes trapped and in turn causes your belly to distend so much that you may appear several months pregnant. The main offenders are wheat, gluten and dairy products. Other common problem-causing foods include yeast, eggs, shellfish, soy and chocolate.
Bloating is seldom acknowledged as a “real” problem by the medical profession. But when it is, it’s usually viewed as “idiopathic”, which means “caused by unknown factors”. Diuretics, anti-depressants or indigestion remedies like antacids or anti-gas remedies may be prescribed. However, these offer only temporary relief and may ultimately compound the problem, as they do nothing to address the root causes of bloating.
10 wise rules to avoid bloating
Some people become accustomed to bloating and discomfort being an inevitable consequence of eating. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle – and perhaps with a little help from a qualified nutritionist – the chronic bloating can be resolved.
Here are a few of my (non-obvious) tips to get you started:
10 rules to avoid bloating
- Avoid sugarless sweets and gum – dieters and diabetics often use indigestible sugar substitutes like sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol because they don’t affect blood sugar levels. But even small amounts can cause bloating. Try more easily tolerated erythritol, or a natural sugar substitute like stevia.
- Avoid fructose – a natural sugar added to many processed foods that many people find difficult to digest. To avoid bloating, check labels and limit the amount you consume.
- Avoid fried foods – burgers, chips, fried chicken and doughnuts take your stomach longer to break down and digest, allowing more time for gas to build up and cause bloating.
- Go easy on the salt – sodium causes your body to retain water, which makes you feel bloated. Check food labels and avoid processed foods.
- Avoid carbonated, fizzy drinks – the bubbles trap carbon dioxide, which creates gas in your stomach and causes bloating. Drink water instead.
- Limit gas-producing vegetables – some vegetables produce more gas than others. These include healthy foods like beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, onions and peppers.
- Check for parasites – if you have been traveling recently, you may want to have a stool test to rule out the possibility of this common cause of gas and bloating.
- Watch your fruit intake – excess gas and bloating after eating fruit may mean you are fructose-intolerant and cannot digest this sugar properly. Opt for lower fructose fruits like apricots and berries instead of high fructose fruits like bananas and grapes.
- Eat rice instead – starchy foods, like potatoes, corn, pasta and wheat produce gas as they are broken down in gut. Substituting rice can help, as it is the only starch that doesn’t cause gas.
- Use spices – fennel, ginger and anise can temporarily reduce gas. A few slices of fresh ginger, or half a teaspoon of dried ginger can be added to boiling water to make a tea. Fennel and anise can be used in tea or you can simply chew on the seeds.
10 Common food offenders
Make no mistake – these foods are a good source of healthy carbs, plant protein, fibre and much more. But sometimes they cause problems.
- Beans: These legumes contain sugars called alpha-galactosides, which belong to a group of carbs called FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols), hard-to-digest short-chain carbohydrates that are easily fermented by gut bacteria in the colon. Gas is a by-product of this process. For most people, FODMAPs simply provide fuel for the beneficial digestive bacteria and should not cause any problems. However, if you suffer from IBS, another type of gas is formed during the fermentation process. This may cause major discomfort, with symptoms like bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhea.
What to do: Soaking and sprouting is a good way to reduce the FODMAPs in beans. Changing the soaking water several times can also help. Some beans are easier on the digestive system. Pinto beans and black beans may be more digestible, especially after soaking. You can also replace beans with grains or quinoa.
- Lentils: Because of their high fibre content, they can cause bloating in sensitive people. This is especially true for people who are not used to eating a lot of fibre. Like beans, lentils also contain FODMAPs – sugars that may contribute to excessive gas and bloating. However, soaking or spouting lentils before you eat them can make them much easier to digest.
What to do: Light coloured lentils are generally lower in fibre than darker ones and may therefore cause less bloating.
- Wheat : Despite the gluten controversy, wheat is still very widely consumed. It is an ingredient in most breads, pastas, tortillas and pizzas, as well as baked goods like cakes, biscuits, pancakes and waffles. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, wheat causes major digestive problems. This includes bloating, gas, diarrhea and stomach pain. Wheat is also a major source of FODMAPs, which as mentioned above, can cause digestive problems in many people.
What to do: There are many gluten-free alternatives to wheat, such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, almond flour and coconut flour.
- Broccoli: The cruciferous vegetable family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussel sprouts. They are extremely healthy – however, they also contain FODMAPs, so they may cause bloating in some people.
What to do: Cooking cruciferous vegetables may make them easier to digest. There are many possible alternatives, including spinach, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet potatoes and zucchini.
- Onions: Even though they’re usually eaten in small quantities, onions are one of the main dietary sources of fructans – soluble fibres that can cause bloating. Additionally, some people are sensitive or intolerant to other compounds in onions, especially raw onions. Therefore, onions are a known cause of bloating and other digestive discomfort.
What to eat instead: Cooking onions may reduce these digestive effects. Try using fresh herbs or spices as an alternative to onions.
- Barley: Because of its high fibre content, whole grain barley may also cause bloating in individuals who are not used to eating a lot of fibre. Furthermore, barley contains gluten. This can cause problems for people who are intolerant to gluten.
What to eat instead: Refined barley, like pearl or scotch barley, may be tolerated better. Barley can also be replaced with other grains or “pseudo cereals” like oats, brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat.
- Rye: also contains gluten, a protein that many people are sensitive or intolerant to. Because of its high fiber and gluten content, rye may be a major cause of bloating in sensitive individuals.
What to eat instead: See barley above.
- Dairy Products: About 75% of the world’s population can’t break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. This condition is known as lactose intolerance. If you’re lactose intolerant, dairy can cause major digestive problems, including bloating.
What to eat instead: People who are lactose intolerant can sometimes handle cream and butter, or fermented dairy like yogurt. Lactose-free milk products are also available. Other alternatives to regular milk include coconut, almond, soy or rice milk.
- Apples: An apple a day keeps the doctor away – but they can also cause bloating. The culprits are fructose (which is a FODMAP) and the high fibre content. Both of which can be fermented in the large intestine.
What to do: Cooked apples are easier to digest than fresh ones. Try a baked apple with cinnamon for dessert.
- Garlic: Like onions, garlic contains fructans, which are FODMAPs and can cause bloating. Allergy or intolerance to other compounds found in garlic is also fairly common, with symptoms such as bloating and gas.
What to do: However, cooking the garlic may reduce these effects. Try using other herbs and spices in your cooking, such as thyme, parsley, chives or basil.
- Beer: We’re all familiar with the term “beer belly”. It refers not only to increased belly fat, but also to the bloating caused by drinking beer. Beer is a carbonated beverage made from sources of fermentable carbs like barley and wheat, along with yeast and water. Therefore, it contains both gas (carbon dioxide) and fermentable carbs, two well-known causes of bloating. The grains used to brew the beer also often contain gluten.
What to drink instead: Water is always the best beverage, but if you are looking for alcoholic alternatives then red wine, white wine or spirits may cause less bloating.
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.foodwise.life for your personalized nutritional program.