Ever find yourself feeling a little distended after a particularly large thanksgivings dinner or one too many amuse-gueules at that swanky party? We’ve all been there! But what if you’re part of the unlucky 30% of Americans for whom bloating happens on the regular? For whom this issue leads, at the very least, to embarrassing situations and, at the very most, to a constant feeling of discomfort? If this is you, read on to find out how to get rid of bloating once and for all. The following tips might be just what you need!
Bloating and gas are pretty close to the top when it comes to the list of most uncomfortable topics to discuss. Yet, although they may feel like a curse only you suffer from, they’re actually quite common. And luckily, equally avoidable. But before we get into the details of how to prevent these pesky symptoms from ruining your swag, it might be useful to start with why they occur in the first place.
Many factors can encourage bloating, gas being the first of them. Gas is actually a byproduct of digestion. It is produced by bacteria in the colon, which feast on undigested food materials, as a result, releasing gas. Some foods produce more gas than others and, as you will see below, the trick is not necessarily to completely avoid gas-producing foods, but rather, to find a balance that works for you.
Then, there’s constipation. Constipation can make you feel bloated for two reasons. One’s because food stuck in your intestines inevitably makes your abdominal region look larger. The second is because the longer undigested material sits in your colon, the longer it serves as a buffet to your colonic bacteria, increasing bloat-inducing gas production.
Another common cause of bloating is the swallowing of air. Air can be swallowed by eating too fast, talking while eating, drinking through a straw and even through chewing gum! Two ways to avoid this from happening at mealtime are to eat more slowly and to chew your food well. Aim to chew approximately 20 times per bite (or for as long as it takes for your mouthful to turn into an easily-digestible paste). This not only reduces the chances of air being inadvertently swallowed, but will also help food pass through the body with more ease, decreasing digestion time and thus, the risk of bloating. As for straws and gum, use with caution (especially if bloating is a big issue).
Finally, your bloating may be caused by a food intolerance or allergy. When it comes to food intolerances, main offenders include wheat, gluten, dairy products and fructose. Your best approach to finding out if your bloat is caused by these nutrients is to talk to your doctor about taking a test. Once identified, the culprit food should be either greatly avoided or cut out completely. Another way to identify the culprits is to keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, noting down everything you eat and drink as well as when bloating causes the most trouble. Then it’s simply a matter of giving the instigators the boot!
If none of the causes above resonate with you, you may have what is known as irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic digestive disorder often causes symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain and bloating, especially in the evening. In this case, bloating doesn’t appear to be linked to excess wind, but rather down to erratic propulsion of contents through the digestive system.
Cutting down on caffeine-containing, fatty or high-fiber foods and drinks can provide some well-needed relief. Another thing that may help is to avoid fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols (also known as FODMAPs). A heap of studies show that FODMAP-containing foods such as wheat, onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, artichokes and beans (to name a few) can drastically worsen symptoms such as bloating and cramping in patients with irritable bowel syndrome whereas a low FODMAP diet can lead to major reductions in symptoms. Click here for a comprehensive low FODMAP list.
What Are Some Other Culprits?
Ok. Now that you know the principal causes bloating, here are some additional foods to keep an eye on if you’re looking to deflate.
We’ve all heard of the many benefits of fibre, but being too enthusiastic about incorporating it to your diet can lead to some unpleasant surprises. For instance, suddenly going from eating an average of 10-15 grams per day (as most Americans do) to the recommended 25-35 grams, will likely have you experiencing less-than-pleasant symptoms such extremely soft or extremely hard stools, gas and bloating.
That’s because the bacteria in your colon are influenced by what you eat and thus need, as with any type of change, time to adjust to the increased influx of fiber. Give your gut flora some slack by slowly increasing your fiber intake by 5 grams or fewer every week until you reach a level you’re happy with. Over time, these little beasts’ population will reach a new baseline and your body will adjust to the volume of gas produced without experiencing discomfort.
Also known as chicory root extract or chicory root fibre on food labels, inulin is a type of fibre naturally found in wheat, onions, bananas, garlic, asparagus, sunchoke and chicory. This soluble fibre is famous for its prebiotic properties, meaning it not only helps reduce cholesterol but can also stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in your colon. For these two reasons, as of late, you can easily find a wide array of foods supplemented with inulin. But before you rush out to stack up on such foods, take a step back as this may not be as great as it sounds. And especially not if you commonly experience bloating.
That’s because on the one hand, the refined, isolated form of inulin now commonly added to foods may not operate in the same exact way as the inulin naturally found in nature. If you need and example, think of the difference between the healthy fructose naturally found in corn and the man-made refined high fructose corn syrup identified as a large contributor to several chronic diseases. On the other hand, inulin remains a fermentable fibre, meaning it retains the ability to cause gas and bloating when consumed in large quantities. Basically, when it comes inulin, more may not actually better! To prevent it from exacerbating your symptoms, make sure to scan labels carefully!
Vitamin And Mineral Supplements
One last thing worth noting is that many supplements contain additives and fillers, such as lactose and wheat, not well tolerated by all. If these additives cause you grief, make sure to opt of multivitamins with shorter labels containing fewer harder to pronounce ingredients (which are often said additives of fillers).
How To Eradicate Bloating Once And For All
Although it might not be possible to completely eradicate bloating forever, keeping an eye on the offending nutrients above is a good starting point. But alone, this may not be enough. That’s where the following points come in, helping you advance in your quest towards well-deserved relief.
Yep, you probably saw this one coming. Is there something exercise doesn’t help with? Getting your sweat on regularly can relax your gut muscles and keep your digestive system on track. This prevents your intestine contents from getting stuck, producing more comfort-challenging gas than necessary.
Here’s another one you might have expected. Together with exercise, drinking enough will help keep things moving along smoothly. Plus, water helps flush excess sodium out of the body, which, in itself, may help somewhat reduce bloating (although it’s more likely to have an effect on your feet than on your gut).
If you find plain water boring, try adding some lemon juice to it. In addition to adding taste, lemon can help prevents kidney stones from forming and may even help protect the stomach against ulcers.
Stay Away From Bubbles
While on the topic of hydration, try staying away from bubbly beverages. The fizz they contain can cause gas to get trapped in your stomach in the same way eating too quickly does, potentially causing a ballooning feeling.
Give Sweetners The Boot
Keep a close eye on sugar-free foods. Although they might seem like a healthy alternative, the sugar alcohol-containing sweeteners used to give them taste can lead to bloating, especially if you’re reaching for these types of foods on the regular. So, once again, check your labels carefully and steer clear from ingredients ending in “ol” (i.e. xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol).
Reduce Fatty Foods
A little fat in your diet can definitely be healthy, but when it comes to bloating, too much can exacerbate your symptoms. That’s because fat slows down your digestion, meaning that that burger you ate for lunch will likely spend a good amount of time partying it up in your intestines, inviting two of its favorite party crashers; bloating and gas!
Avoid Large Feasts
Steer clear of the buffet table! Eating large volumes of food in one sitting can definitely extend your stomach, making you look and feel bloated. To avoid this from happening, stick to smaller, more frequent well-balanced meals, spread throughout the day.
Release The Pressure
Here’s a last tip worth mentioning; let the air out! This may not always be practical, but it’s definitely a must. Gas produced in your intestines must come out at one point or another and the longer you wait, the more it will build up and the worse it will get. There’s no getting around this one! So excuse yourself to find a spot to break wind.
Some Extras That Might Be Worth Trying:
Stack Up On Probiotics
These beneficial little bacteria which populate your gut are already known to promote a wide array of health benefits. Making sure you have enough of the “good” bacteria helps maintain strong and healthy digestive and immune systems. And when it comes to digestive issues, several scientific studies agree to say that probiotics can be advantageous in reducing both bloating and gas. So go ahead and add kombucha, sauerkraut or if so inclined, some yogurt to your daily regimen. Your gut will thank you!
Did you know that peppermint is great for soothing agitated stomachs and easing gas pains? A recent meta-analysis (a.k.a. review of the overall scientific studies on the subject) concluded that peppermint oil can significantly decrease digestive symptoms in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. This seems to be due to the menthol it contains, which can reduce spasms in muscles of the digestive tract. Steep it for about 10 minutes for bloating-reducing peppermint tea, add some peppermint oil to your water or simply chew on fresh peppermint leaves. The fresh breath you’ll gain is a happily-welcomed bonus!
Give Gingeroot A Try
Gingeroot is often mentioned as useful in preventing the formation of excess gas and / or helping expel it. It seems that two of its chemicals – gingerols and shogaols – can, in a similar fashion to peppermint, have a relaxing effect on your intestinal muscles. However, unlike peppermint, not much scientific evidence is available to support gingeroot as a bloating and gas-reliever. None the less, since not much risk is associated to adding a little ginger to your diet, why not give it a try and judge for yourself? Opt to either add a sprinkle of freshly grated ginger to your meals or seep 5-6 thin slices in boiling water for 10 minutes prior to consumption. Let me know if this works for you in the comments below.
All About Activated Charcoal
Although the exact mechanism remains unknown, some people swear by activated charcoal when it comes to kicking gas and bloating to the curb. It is believed that the charcoal passes through the digestive system, trapping toxins, bacteria and hydrogen sulfide along the way, reducing the amount (as well as potentially improving the smell) of gas. Activated charcoal seems safe for most adults, when used short term, but it’s worth noting that, in some, it actually worsens symptoms of constipation. You can also expect some interestingly-colored stools… If you’re interested in giving activated charcoal a try, make sure to talk about it with your healthcare professional first.
Fennel, Anise & Caraway
Fennel seeds are touted as very effective for digestive problems such as bloating due to their diuretic, pain-relieving and anti-microbial properties. Anise seeds (in a similar fashion to peppermint) are said to help relax your digestive track, helping you expel pent-up gas and relieve the bloating often associated with it. Finally, caraway has been used for centuries to help trapped gas find its way out of the digestive track. To give these three seeds a try for yourself, munch on a small handful of either before or after a large meal or steep a teaspoon in a cup of hot water for 5-10 minutes prior to straining and consuming.
Eat Some Pumpkin
This might be old wives’ tales, but pumpkin, prepared in whichever way you prefer and eaten along with a problematic meal is said to help nip your distention problems in the bud. Again, scientific research supporting this is sparse, but so is research opposing it. And since pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A, C & E, alongside several minerals, there’s not much to be lost at giving this potential aid a try!
Try Out Digestive Enzymes
Finally, digestive enzymes such as bromelain (from pineapple), papain (from papaya), alpha-galactosidase (i.e. beano) and lactase (i.e. lactaid), can help break down the indigestible compounds we have most trouble with, consequently, decreasing bloating and feelings of fullness. These supplements are generally safe when taken in amounts commonly found in foods. Talk to your healthcare professional if you’re interested in giving them a try.
Bloating can be quite frustrating, especially if experienced on the daily. Luckily, with these tips in mind, you should soon experience some relief. Feel free to let me know which of these tips worked best for you, and, if you have any additional tips, please share them in the comments below!