How To Beat The Bloat
Ahh bloating. I suffered for many years, almost a decade. From the occasional bloat after a fibre rich meal to chronic bloating and looking 9 months pregnant at the end of each day, I have felt it all.
Feeling bloated every so often is totally normal, but there is a significant difference between having discomfort, pain, flatulence and bloating chronically.
Read on for some of the top questions I get asked about bloating, and some of the ways nutrition can help.
WHAT CAUSES BLOATING?
For each person it is different, and it is likely that your triggers will change over time, and from day to day. Some of the common culprits include:
- Excess gas production that is produced from food fermenting in the digestive system
- Changes in gut motility – the way the muscles in the gut move
- Swallowing air – this could be caused by drinking too many carbonated drinks
- Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and Endometriosis
- Changes in hormones- the menstrual cycle can be a trigger
IS BLOATING NORMAL?
Bloating is very normal and part of each and every person’s digestive process. Bloating is incredibly normal after we eat, and especially after we eat a fibre rich meal. However, when you’re bloating more than you’re not, or if it’s causing significant and routine discomfort and pain, this is not considered normal.
HOW DOES THE EATING PROCESS HELP US DIGEST?
When we chew, we secrete digestive enzymes that help to break down our food. If we miss this part of the digestive process, we are sending large parts of our food to the stomach and intestines, putting further pressure on those organs and leaving food to sit longer in the gut, fermenting and potentially producing gas.
FOOD TRIGGERS FOR BLOATING?
High fibre foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas and certain vegetables, can trigger gas production, which is actually a positive thing – it shows your gut bugs are at work, but too much fibre can trigger bloating.
That is not to say that removing fibre is the solution, it is about understanding your own personal tolerance, and gradually increasing your proportions to build yourself up. If we cut out fibre, we may have an increased likelihood of constipation, which can be a cause of bloating.
Some people may wish to watch their FODMAP consumption. FODMAPs are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that bypass many digestive processes and are fermented by our gut bacteria, causing gas and bloating. For many people, these FODMAP foods are beneficial, but for those with IBS, they may trigger significant bloating and discomfort.
It is always advised to work with a Nutritionist who specialises in gut health when following a FODMAP diet as it is a very complicated and restrictive process.
SHOULD WE TAKE SUPPLEMENTS FOR BLOATING?
This all depends on what the root cause of your bloating is.
If you are suffering from constipation, sometimes taking a fibre supplement such as Psyllium Husk can be helpful or Magnesium Citrate can help to draw moisture into the bowels to help with movement.
If you have an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, taking a good quality probiotic may be helpful, as it may help to support the diversity of microorganisms in the gut.
However, sometimes taking a probiotic can do more bad than good. For example, those with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can find that additional bacteria can actually trigger symptoms.
The best way to work on your bloating is to understand the root cause of your bloating and symptoms with the help of a professional to specifically target these symptoms with safe and reliable supplements.
ARE PREBIOTIC FOODS HELPFUL FOR BLOATING?
For some, consuming prebiotic foods can actually trigger bloating, especially when eaten in large volumes. This is because they can be difficult to break down, and can be stimulatory, therefore triggering gas production and bloating.
The benefit of prebiotics is that they supply food for your beneficial gut bacteria, helping the bacteria to flourish and thrive. This contributes to a healthy digestive system.
Prebiotic foods include raw garlic, raw onions, Jerusalem artichokes, flaxseeds, apples, oats and leeks.
My advice – go low and slow. Try out one or two prebiotic foods and slowly introduce them into your diet, gradually building them up until you get to a comfortable amount that doesn’t trigger symptoms.
IS IT A FOOD INTOLERANCE?
The best at-home way to know if you have a food intolerance is to keep a food and symptom diary. Jot down everything you eat and note your symptoms. Review this after a month and try to notice any patterns that emerge. It may be that if you notice a certain food triggers a symptom, that you may be a touch intolerant to that food.
A full elimination and reintroduction of foods to understand intolerances should only ever be done with a qualified Nutritionist or Nutritional Therapist so that you can avoid deficiencies.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT STRESS
When we are in a stressed state, we actually turn away resources from the gut to other areas in the body – including blood flow and energy. Therefore, when we eat in a stressed state, the digestive system does not work as effectively to help break down our food.
This stressed state is referred to as fight or flight, whereas when we are relaxed, we are in our rest and digestion mode. As we relax, we are able to digest more effectively.
In addition to this, high-stress levels can impact your stomach acid production. Stomach acid in the stomach works as one of the first steps of digestion and helps to break down much of our food and remove unwanted bacteria
NUTRITION TIPS TO REDUCE BLOATING:
- Eat slowly – put your fork down between each mouthful of food and try not to eat too much at one time.
- Chew- at least 20 times per mouthful or until your food is the consistency of applesauce.
- Choose water or herbal tea over fizzy drinks- The gas in fizzy drinks can contribute to bloating so consume in moderation.
- Try some gentle stretches or self-massage to aid digestion and ease bloating to get things moving.
- Avoid sugar alcohols often found in sugar-free foods and chewing gum- These sweeteners can cause digestive problems in high amounts with the bacteria in your large intestine digesting them and producing excess gas. (1)
- Keep a food diary to try and distinguish what is triggering you to bloat.
- Avoid constipation by staying hydrated and eating a high-fibre diet. Studies have shown that constipation can often exacerbate symptoms of bloating. (2)
- Go for a walk- moderate aerobic exercise can be effective at preventing bloating by lowering stress levels.
- Sit down to eat- Excess gas will build up as undigested food ferments. Digest your food properly by sitting down and eating slowly. This will get your saliva flowing and realising the all-important digestive enzymes. (3)
The best way to work on your bloating is to work with a gut-health nutritionist or nutritional therapist to help better understand the root cause of your bloating and work with you to specifically target that with safe and reliable supplements and dietary interventions.
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