While a swollen tummy after a big meal is nothing to worry about, if you frequently suffer from bloating, it’s worth finding out why – and how to counter it. Here’s what the experts say
Feeling bloated? There are supplements for that but while we have a few to recommend (scroll down), they should not be your first port of call. “Supplements are helpful in the short-term to relieve bloating symptoms while you make dietary changes,” says registered nutritional therapist Charlotte Grand. Those dietary tweaks should be your starting point and we’ve listed the most helpful, expert-approved ones below.
As for the right pills to pop, it is important to know what to look for to tackle your specific bloating issues – otherwise you could be wasting your money.
What are the reasons for bloating?
In her book Eat Yourself Healthy, an easy-to-digest guide to health and happiness from the inside out, £14.23 gut health doctor Dr Megan Rossi explains the two main types of bloating. “Continuous bloating is always present, with no daily fluctuations associated with what you eat,” she says. There’s a possibility it’s caused by something more troublesome than poor digestion, so she advises seeing your GP if you’re always bloated.
Intermittent, occasional bloating is more common and often presents at the end of the day or after a meal. It’s quite normal, and, to an extent, a good thing, says nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton , co-founder of Wild Nutrition supplements: “It’s a sign of a gut-microbiome that’s well-fed with the right fibres and doing its job,”, i.e. helping digest the food and creating gas in the process.
But if you feel you’re walking around with a tummy like a balloon too often, you may have certain sensitivities or intolerances you can address with dietary or lifestyle changes, or with supplements. Some issues that can lead to excessive intermittent bloating, according to Grand, are:
- Lactose intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammation in the gut, which may or may not be caused by a compromised gut barrier function
- Eating the wrong foods
What are the best dietary and lifestyle changes to relieve bloating?
We asked the experts for their top nutrition tips for eating your way to a flatter tummy and -bonus! - more energy from breakfast to bedtime.
1. Start the day with grated fresh ginger, turmeric and the juice of half a lemon (or apple cider vinegar)
“This concoction can help produce the digestive juices needed for breaking down protein, important because undigested proteins can become a feeding ground for pathogenic microbes,” says Norton. “Turmeric provides anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe distention.”
2. Soak your grains the night before
“Phytic acid found in most grains can be irritating to the mucosal lining of your digestive tract,” says Norton. “Soaking grains overnight and rinsing them before eating can reduce the phytic acid in them and reduce that ‘scratchy’ cramping feeling.
3. Go easy on the fruit
“Limit yourself to one piece of fruit (or 80g) per sitting, no more than three times a day, and avoid smoothies and juices,” says Rossi. Juiced fruits, though full of vitamins, are packed with sugar that can make you gassy.
4. Soothe digestion with avocado
“Avocados are rich in soothing fats, amino acids and vitamin E to support an irritated tummy,” says Norton.
5. Don’t swallow excess air
The evidence is limited but, says Rossi, there seems to be a link between bloating and taking in air from carbonated drinks, chewing gum and drinking through a straw, so those are all best avoided.
6. Drink fennel or cardamom tea
“Add a teaspoon of fennel seeds and one cardamon pod into a teapot of hot water, leave to steep for five minutes and drink,” says Norton.
7. Don't snack on your emotions
“It’s easy to graze on food to curb emotions such as boredom, but eating ‘mindlessly’ in front of a computer means you’re not able to give full attention to eating,” says Norton. “This can lead to less nourishing food choices and affect how efficiently your body produces digestive enzymes juices.”
8. Chew well
“Aim for between ten and 20 chews per bite,” says Rossi, “and try putting your knife and fork down between every mouthful to remind yourself to chew.” The process of digestion begins in the mouth where enzymes are secreted in saliva to break down food.
9. Move around and get some fresh air “Sitting for too long can contribute to sluggish digestion; move around as often as you can,” says Norton.
10. Don’t drink during meals “Gulping liquid during meals can dilute the digestive enzymes needed to break down the food,” says Norton.
11. Try a peppermint oil capsule “Peppermint oil has been proven to relax the gut muscles, and so can relieve bloating caused by trapped gas,” says Rossi.
12.Keep dinner light “According to traditional Chinese medicine, digestion is slower later on in the day,” says Norton. “So eat less in the evening.”
13. Drink a glass of flaxseed juice “Bloating can be the result of sluggish bowel movements, so if things have been a bit slow (that means going less than once a day), soak one tablespoon of flaxseeds in half a tumbler of water, leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drink the juice and seeds,” says Norton. “This usually results in a more enthusiastic trip to the loo the following morning.”
14. Eat according to the climate “I advise clients to eat cold foods during hot weather and warm foods in the colder weather to improve digestion and reduce bloating,” says Norton.
15. Avoid sugar alternatives “Polyols are commonly found in sugar-free foods and chewing gum, and they act as prebiotics that can cause bloating for some people or if consumed to excess,” says Rossi. “Examples are sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol and isomalt.”
16. Increase your magnesium supply “Magnesium is a mineral used by the muscles to contract and relax. The digestive tract is a large muscle and if magnesium stores are low (from stress, medication or lack of appropriate food sources) this can affect how well the muscle works. It can mean food lingers longer in the gut than it should,” says Norton. “This creates the perfect feeding ground for unwanted bacteria, causing the gut to become gassier.” She advises getting magnesium from your food in the shape of green leafy vegetables and seeds. Or try our pick of the best magnesium supplements.
Are pre- and probiotic foods good or bad when it comes to bloating?
It’s important to maintain optimum levels of good gut bacteria to avoid (among other things) bloating, and this is best done by feeding the gut microbiome with probiotic, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir. Alternatively, boost your probiotic population by feeding it with prebiotics in the shape of soluble fibre or fermentable sugars that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine. Known as FODMAPS, examples are oligosaccharides (in cabbages and fruits), polyols (in sugar substitutes), and inulin (in vegetables like artichokes, bananas, chicory and asparagus).
Unfortunately for some, says Grant, these foods create a lot of ‘activity’ in the gut which might make gassiness and bloating worse before it gets better. In these cases, “you might temporarily avoid prebiotics while you support the gut in other ways, as a short-term strategy while you identify and resolve underlying triggers for bloating,” says Grant. “But as prebiotics are key for optimum digestion and minimal gut inflammation, long-term avoidance is never the goal.”
She adds that people who have small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, “usually suffer with extreme bloating which causes pain. It’s clinically supported that a low-FODMAP diet for short periods brings relief in these cases.” Avoiding prebiotic sugars can also be helpful, Grant says, for people who suffer bloating caused by with IBS.
By the same token, Rossi advises going easy on fermented foods if you suspect they could be triggering your bloat. “Halve your portions for two weeks and reassess,” she says. “If your symptoms improve, continue with the smaller portions and look to increase them over time.”
What should you look for in a bloat-reducing supplement?
You need to look for a supplement featuring probiotics, digestive enzymes and anti-inflammatory herbs to help successfully reduce bloating and reduce discomfort,” says Grant.
It’s not so much about the number of active probiotics (or CFUs, colony forming units) per serving, but including the right types,” says Grant. She suggests a daily dose of 10-20 billion CFUs but in the right, balanced gut health formula, fewer will sometimes do. Norton advises to always look for multiple strains of different bacteria, while Grant recommends seeking out the following if you know what lies at the heart of your bloating:
- Lactobacillus for IBS
- Bifidobacterium for constipation
- Streptococcus thermophilus for lactose intolerance
- Saccharomyces boulardii for a better gut barrier
- Lactococcus lactis for gut inflammation
2. Digestive enzymes
Powerful enzyme blends work to digest all the building blocks of food to support maximum breakdown, nutrient absorption and energy promotion,” says Grant “Enzyme supplementation helps the body to break down food more efficiently, while helping to ensure that your body is getting the fuel it needs.”
3. Soothing herbs such as ginger, fennel, peppermint oil and liquorice
Anything that soothes the gut and limits stomach acid reflux will help optimise digestion, and anti-inflammatory or anti-spasmodic herbs are great for this,” says Grant. “Look for herbal extracts, including peppermint, liquorice root, milk thistle, and ginger.”
The best supplements to reduce bloating
The probiotic anti-bloat bomb: Beauty Pie Supergut Live Bacteria Microbio Culture Capsules, £50 for a 30-day supply (£22 for members)
This boasts 50 billion CFU (that’s a lot) per daily serving of well-researched Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, so tackles bloating caused by IBS and constipation. Has no prebiotics so you needn’t be concerned if you think you’re sensitive to those.
The expert’s bloat-reducing pick: Wild Dose A Dose For Bloating, £10 for a ten-day supply
Grant picked this as her Gold winner in the GTG Wellness Awards’ Best Digestive/Gut Health category because “it contains probiotic strains that are well-researched for reducing bloating as well as digestive enzymes. It also has anti-spasmodic liquorice and peppermint, and ginger which can reduce fermentation.”
The mushroom-powered anti-bloat solution: Hifas Da Terra Hifas-Microbiota, £48.50 for a 30-day supply
This is an all-prebiotic supplement, but the sources in this case are organic medicinal mushrooms. Rich in soluble fibre but not in prebiotic sugars (FODMAPs), the Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Pleurotus, Shiitake and Hericium strains nourish intestinal microbiota.
Most bio-available bloat relief: Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Multi-Strain Biotic, £39 for a 30-day supply
Guaranteed 30 billion CFU of eight different probiotic strains to cover all bases. These are grown from food and are therefore highly bio-available, making them potentially more digestible and effective.
The enzymatic bloat-reliever: Hum Nutrition Flatter Me Healthy Digestion Supplement, £27.25 for a 30-day supply
A proprietary blend of no less than 18 digestive enzymes to improve digestion and break down foods, assisted by ginger, fennel and peppermint. Our Silver Gut Health winner in the 2023 Wellness Awards.
The Ayurvedic bloat-buster: Artah GI Fix, £38 for a 30-day supply
Targeted probiotic strains plus anti-inflammatory Ayurvedic and Western botanicals (including ginger, liquorice and slippery Elm) work to ease bloating, discomfort and constipation.
The bloat-buster to cut your symptoms in half: The Nue Co De-Bloat, £45 for a 30-day supply
Another blend of digestive enzymes (17 this this time) and gut-soothing herbs (turmeric, liquorice root) in a bio-available formula. The company claims its own clinical trial showed a 51% reduction of bloating, gas and heartburn after 30 days’ use.
The one that aids your liver too: JS Health Detox + Debloat Formula, £29.99 for a 30-day supply
This botanical blend majors on fennel seeds for healthy digestion and turmeric to aid liver function, but also has schisandra, milk thistle, dandelion, broccoli and amino acids to support both gut and liver.
The vegan gut calmer: Inessa Biosoothe, £38.99 for a 30-day supply
Nine clinically supported ingredients in “relevant” doses work together to quell bloat-causing inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body to relieve aches and pains. Was awarded Bronze in the 2023 Wellness Awards.
The de-bloating fibre powder: Regular Girl Organic On-The-Go Powder, £66 for a 30-day supply
Low-FODMAP prebiotic Guar fibre plus 8 billion CFU of B. Lactis probiotic in a flavourless powder packed in single dose sachets. Add to any food or drink to put a stop to constipation and diarrhoea, but without excess gas or bloating.