Bloating is when your stomach feels full, stretched and uncomfortable. It happens to all of us at some point, but for some people it can be a more regular and inconvenient occurance. It is usually caused by intestinal gas, and can go hand in hand with excess wind and burping. The gases behind bloating are produced by bacteria in the digestive tract, which generate this gas from food that is eaten but not properly absorbed.
If you often feel bloated, this could be due to a number of things including:
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
Depending on what is causing your bloating, there are a number of ways to treat it. If you find that you are also suffering from excess wind, it is a good idea to try cutting down on foods which are known to cause these symptoms, such as beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower.
If you suffer from constipation, a fibre-rich diet can help, as well as drinking lots of fluids and taking regular exercise.
While eating, sit down and upright rather than standing or sitting slumped over. Reduce the amount of fizzy drinks you consume, avoid chewing gum and don’t talk while you eat or chew with your mouth open as this will lead to you taking in excess air.
Coeliac disease is a digestive condition where the intestine can’t absorb the gluten found in wheat, barley, oats and rye. As well as bloating, eating gluten can also result in diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fatigue. Although there is no cure, switiching to a gluten-free diet can help. You should see you GP for testing if you suspect you may have Coeliac disease.
Whereas symptoms of a food allergy are severe and immediate, food intolerances are far more subtle, with symptoms taking anywhere up to 48 hours to manifest and show. They can be caused by low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, stress or eating too much of the same food, and can lead to bloating because:
Your bowel doesn’t empty properly
The food causes gas to be trapped
Too much gas is produced as a reaction to the food
The most common foods for food intolerance are wheat or gluten, dairy products, yeast, eggs and shellfish. If you suffer from intolerance to any of these foods, it is better to cut them out completely if you wish to avoid bloating.
If you suspect you may be sensitive to wheat, try cutting it completely from your diet for four weeks to see if this makes a difference. If, when you start to bring it back into your diet after this period of time, your symptoms start to reappear, this is a good indicator that you may be sensitive to wheat.
The anti-bloat FODMAP diet is a specific type of eating plan designed to help people with wheat sensitivity. The ‘FODMAP’ part stands for the types of carbohydrates which can’t be easily broken down and absorbed by the gut, and which should be cut from the diet completely to avoid diarrhoea and bloating.
Some foods you should avoid include:
People with IBS often suffer from bloating due to the erratic propulsion of contents through the bowel. Cutting down on fatty or high-fibre foods can help, while peppermint tea or capsules and probiotics are also reported to help ease symptoms.
In search of some take-away bloat-beating tips, we asked nutritional therapist and founder of Wild Nutrition Henrietta Norton for her expert advice on how to prevent bloating.
1. Take a probiotic supplement for one month every 3 months. Choose a good quality product with multiple strains and preferably no FOS (in supplement form this can increase bloating so get FOS from your food instead). I use Wild Nutrition Multi-Strain Biotic.
2. Hydrate. It may sound counterproductive to increase your fluids for a flatter tum, but dehydration can reduce elimination of toxic matter from the body and therefore increase the vulnerability to bloating. Drink good old plain water (rather than flavoured or coconut substitutes for example), warm in colder or damp weather and cold in the hotter weather.
3. The 'second brain'. Your gut is inextricably linked to your mind, and what you think you often 'feel' in your gut - think butterflies in the stomach, gut instinct. Therefore nurturing your emotional wellness is central to supporting digestion. Choose the channel that is right for you - music, dancing, meditation, yoga or simply walking in nature.
4. Rule out a food intolerance. There could be a food, often seemingly innocuous, that you are eating that is causing digestive distension. The only really fool-proof way to rule this out is by doing an elimination diet under the guidance of a qualified Nutritional Therapist. BANT is a good a resource for finding a therapist near you.
5. Magnesium. Estimated to be low in 70% of western women, magnesium has a functional role in the ability to move waste through the gut for elimination via a muscle controlled function called peristalsis. Eat plenty of magnesium rich green leafy vegetables and if necessary, a magnesium supplement (preferably in a food-state form).
6. Daily movements. Regular movement promotes the wave-like process above and, as long as you are rehydrating well, should reduce the time toxic matter will spend in the gut.
7. Eat! This may sound very obvious but I am still surprised by how little some of my clients eat, and therefore have a lack of 'bulk' for bowel movements. This, combined with excess gases from under-secreted gastric juices, can increase the bloat. Eat plenty of plant foods and foods rich in fatty acids such as coconut oil, oily fish, olive oil, freshly ground nuts and seeds.
8. Gratitude. See each meal time as an opportunity to nourish your body and be grateful for each mouthful you take. The Institute of Functional Medicine recently held a conference on Detoxification, discussing the influence that negativity of thought can impact on tension in the gut which can lead to constipation and bloating.