As a nutritionist I find I spend a fair bit of time talking about bloating. Many of my clients find it awkward, annoying and confusing. But it’s also preventable, predictable, and even kind of normal, sometimes.
Today I’m answering common questions about bloating that you might be too shy to ask. You might be surprised by what you learn.
1. What exactly is bloating? What causes it?
Most of the time, bloating is due to a build-up of gas created during digestion. So nice, right? Not!
The cause can be linked to any of the following or a combination of these factors; an imbalance of gut bacteria, overeating, food sensitivities, lack of digestive enzymes, low fibre intake, sudden high fibre intake.
Sometimes, though, bloating can have a more serious underlying cause such as gastrointestinal diseases, kidney or liver problems or ovarian issues. If you experience sudden and persistent bloating, be sure to talk to your doctor first before jumping to conclusions or eliminating foods from your diet.
2. What foods are the worst for causing bloating?
Foods high in short chain carbohydrates are most likely to lead to bloating. Short chain carbohydrates (also called FODMAPs) are found in common, healthy foods like fruits (especially apples and pears), cereal based foods, dairy, garlic, onions, beans, and more. You can see a full list here. If you react to these foods, it may be related to an underlying malabsorption issue within your digestive system.
Common FODMAPs include:
- Fructose: A simple sugar found in many fruits and vegetables that also makes up the structure of table sugar and most added sugars.
- Lactose: A carbohydrate found in dairy products like milk.
- Fructans: Found in many foods, including grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley
- Galactans: Found in large amounts in legumes.
- Polyols: Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. Also found in some fruits and vegetables. These are often used as food sweeteners.
The best way to determine a FODMAP sensitivity is an elimination diet, as outlined here. This is best undertaken with the assistance of a qualified nutritionist or dietician.
Additionally, diets low in fibre can also lead to bloating, since fibre is required to keep things moving and prevent constipation. If foods are not moving through the digestive process in a timely fashion then they start to ferment and generate gas, this leads to bloating and discomfort.
Lastly, and counterintuitively, a diet that has suddenly become high in fibre can also cause bloating. This is usually a result of a build-up in undigested fibre in the digestive tract in conjunction with water intake not matching the increased fibre load.
3. Can you get bloated even when eating a healthy diet?
In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear is “Why is this happening when I eat so healthily?!” Surprisingly, many people start experiencing bloating after they reset their diet and introduce more wholefoods!
Often, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits that we love are high in both FODMAPs and fibre. As mentioned previously, this suddenly increase in fibre intake can cause temporary bloating. If you’ve recently made changes to your diet that led to bloating, give your body a week or two to adjust. If the issue is persistent, you might consider a nutritional consult to get to the root cause rather than taking a mass elimination approach.
4. Do lifestyle factors play a role in bloating like sleep, exercise and stress?
All of these factors play a significant role in bloating! During stressful times, your body actually produces fewer digestive enzymes.
Think about it: if you’re about to run from a crocodile, the last thing your body cares about is whether you digest and absorb all the nutrients from your nourish bowl. Our body responds similarly to high levels of stress created by our fast-paced lives, relationship issues, financial issues and work-related demands.
To counteract this, we need to try to slow down and reduce the stress our body is carrying. Ways to reduce the stress our body feels include mediation (a minimum of 10 minutes per day is all that is needed), a fast-paced walk for 20 minutes, eating away from screens including your smart phone.
Additionally, movement is required for the digestive system to function optimally, to this end low-intensity exercise can be very helpful to reduce bloating. A gentle yoga class or walking a few kilometres per day will stimulate digestion and help keep things moving, preventing uncomfortable gas build-up.
Lastly, a lack of sleep affects us in so many ways. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol, which disturbs our digestive system to cause things like bloating and constipation. A lack of sleep also causes us to crave carbohydrates, which lead us to overeat and feel bloated.
5. Once you are bloated, what are the best ways to de-bloat? Are there any magical foods or tricks?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and sadly, there is no magical cure-all! I am one of those unsexy nutritionists who doesn’t sell quick fixes.
Having said that you’re not helpless either.
- Keep a food diary for 2-4 weeks and record your meals and when bloating occurs. Then with the help of a dietician or nutritionist you can identify what the root cause(s) might be.
- Go for a long walk
- Have a cup of ginger, fennel or peppermint tea. Or mix a few drops of DoTerra Digest Zen into warm water and consume; I find this works better than herbal teas.
- Review your water intake, are you hydrated enough? The best way to know this is check your urine, is it a pale straw colour (near clear but not quite); if not, drink more water. Many use the guide of 8 cups of water, there is no scientific evidence associated with this recommendation, but it seems to do the trick for most people.
- Review your fibre intake (use a food app like Easy Diet Diary) and if below 25g for females or 38g for males, slowly increase intake over 1-2 weeks. Along with increased water intake this will hopefully get your bowel moving at the right speed to avoid bloating.
6. Is bloating normal? Or is it something I should worry about? At what point should I consult with a healthcare professional about bloating?
It might come as a surprise to learn that, to an extent, bloating is normal!
Everyone will experience gas as a by-product of digestion sometimes. In fact, if you’re chasing perfect digestion or a perfectly flat tummy, you’re probably just going to stress yourself out. And that stress leads to even more bloating!
If your bloating is new, or if it’s very painful you should talk to your doctor. Once you know that it’s not related to a serious underlying condition, consider a nutritional consultation.
7. Parting words of wisdom: What’s your best advice to beat the bloat?
Get to the root cause!
Food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances, and enzyme deficiencies can be helped by the right nutrition and, if necessary, supplement protocol. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s important to make sure you identify the true cause for you.
In the meantime: take a walk or do some yoga, don’t over-eat and have a cup of herbal tea.
If you have any queries please don’t hesitate to contact me.