There are no hard and fast rules when trying to avoid bloating, however, there are a few simple and practical steps you can take to start beating the belly bloat now.
- Stay Away from the Raw Food Craze
You may have heard how important it is to eat food in its raw form as cooking can deplete foods like vegetables of their vitamins and minerals. However, for those that regularly experience bloating, raw vegetables are one of the worst things to eat.
This is because their fibre content (the component of food that isn’t digested and contributes to the bulk in the stool) is much higher, meaning that your digestive system has to work harder to break it down, which can sometimes lead the food to just sit in the intestines for longer periods of time. This can often lead to bloating and gas, due to the fermentation of the fibre with the bacteria that live in your intestines.
The cooking process breaks down these tough fibres into simpler components, which your digestive system finds much easier to process and transport – meaning less chance the food will be hanging around fermenting and causing unpleasant gases – much better for you and everyone else around you!
- Slooooww Down…
Your stomach and intestines have a way of preparing themselves for receiving food, so that when you do take your first bite, all the right juices are flowing to help break your meal down and absorb nutrients.
However, this can only happen when we are relaxed. When we’re constantly on the move, in a rush – and in a typical scenario, eating at our work desk, we don’t give our gut a chance to prepare itself properly. When we are relaxed and start thinking about eating, our stomach senses this through smells, sights and hunger signals, and begins to produce acid, which is one of the first stage of digestion that helps to break proteins down and kills off bad bacteria to prevent it from moving further down in our gut. Our blood circulation also begins to direct itself towards our internal organs, so that when we do receive food, we are able to carry those important nutrients from our intestines to the right places.
So the trick is to move away from work, sit down, chew slower, try to be in good company (save the pending awkward conversations for a moment when you’re away from meals!) and give yourself that time to enjoy your food.
- Don’t Overdo the Liquids
There is a common misconception that drinking whilst eating helps to ‘wash the food down’. However, all of those digestive juices, such as the acid in the stomach, can end up becoming diluted and lose their concentration.
Not only does the acid in our stomach help to break down and sanitise our food, but it also helps us absorb vital nutrients like vitamin B12. According to Ali Miller, a dietitian based in the states, ‘when you drink during meals, you slow down the entire digestive process, which can lead to bloating and less-than-optimal digestion – and while, yes, research shows you may save yourself a few calories, you need to decide if it’s worth the price’.
Try to limit the amount of fluids you drink before, during and after eating and see if this helps to reduce symptoms of bloating.
- Fill up on the Good Bugs
According to the European Society for Neurogastroenterology and Motility (ESNM), our gut comprises of tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes).
However, not all of these are good and having too much of the bad stuff can lead to excess gas and bloating, amongst many other things. Experts are finding that having a good amount of the healthy bugs not only help us digest food, but also help to support our immune system and brain health.
In order to ward off bad bacteria, it’s important to keep stocking up on foods that increase our good bacteria. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and kefir are great sources of probiotics, or in other words, good bacteria, as well as eating foods that help nourish and feed bacteria such as apples, oats, asparagus, onions and garlic.
Another effective strategy, is supplementing with Lion’s Mane, a medicinal mushroom that has shown to be powerful in improving and increasing our good gut bacteria. This unusual looking mushroom not only has antibacterial properties, helping to ward off the bad bacteria, but it also helps to reduce inflammation and regenerate cells in the digestive tract, meaning that it can help to prevent long-term issues that are often caused by chronic symptoms such as bloating and cramps.
- Avoid Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are commonly found in processed foods as a replacement from normal cane sugar. They have a similar chemical structure as sugar and are therefore just as sweet, however, they don’t contain the same calorie content as normal sugar and are therefore popularly used in ‘light’ or ‘low-calorie’ products. Names such as xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and mannitol are the most commonly used sugar replacements in foods such as fizzy drinks, sweet bars, chewing gum, biscuits and confectionery.
Whilst there may be benefits to choosing products with these sweeteners over normal sugar, many have found that sugar alcohols can cause bloating and trapped wind. According to experts, this is because the molecules in these sugar replacements are not broken down by our digestive system and can often sit in our intestines, causing fermentation, bloating and sometimes even diarrhoea.
Try reading the ingredients of packaged foods and avoid these sugar alcohols for a period of time – see if you notice the difference!
- Are you intolerant? Rule out possible food triggers
Food intolerance is a buzzword at the moment. With so many unexplained gut-related symptoms nowadays, a popular strategy to try to identify clear triggers for abdominal discomfort is to take a food intolerance test.
Unlike allergies, food intolerance symptoms are caused by a different immune response, which can sometimes take up to 48 hours to show up and are therefore difficult to track without taking a test to properly measure how your body reacts to different foods. When our immune system mounts a reaction to a food that it doesn’t like, symptoms such as bloating and cramping can be the most common signs to show up at the very beginning.
Whilst symptoms may be similar from one person to the next, we are all individual when it comes to foods that we can tolerate more or less of, which is why taking a comprehensive food intolerance test and following a subsequent elimination diet can be an effective and safe strategy to manage bloating.
It may be useful to work with a nutritional therapist or nutritionist in this circumstance to help support you through the process of avoiding dietary triggers and then eventually reintroducing foods.
- Try Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are normally produced by the pancreas and are responsible for breaking food molecules down into simpler molecules, so that we are able to absorb and assimilate them properly. They can also be found in natural supplements and can be taken with each main meal to aid digestion and prevent fermentation of food in the upper part of the intestines. Whilst taking digestive enzymes should only be a temporary solution, they can be very useful for reducing symptoms, whilst identifying the main cause of the bloating.
- Rule out Gut Bacteria Imbalance
As mentioned above, it’s important to keep stocked up on the good bacteria, through food and sometimes supplements, so that we can prevent an overgrowth of the bad guys. When this happens, there is more risk of bloating and most commonly other symptoms such as diarrhoea and constipation.
Aside from this, over time there can be damage to the intestines, which can leave us more susceptible to long term problems such as Irritable Bowel Disease. In order to rule out an imbalance between the good and the bad bugs, there are tests available privately through labs such as Genova Diagnostics, that can offer you a reading into the composition of your gut bacteria and ways in which you can improve its composition by weeding out the bad guys and replenishing with the good guys!
- Get the bowels moving!
If you frequently suffer from constipation, this is a clear sign that things are just hanging around in your gut, fermenting and releasing toxins – a perfect breeding ground for bad bacteria.
Constipation can be caused by many things – bacteria infections, not eating enough fruit and veg, as well as not enough exercise. However, a key factor when dealing with constipation is hydration. The digestive tract pulls water into the intestines in order to help move stools along, so when we aren’t drinking enough the body prioritises other functions in the body such as regulating blood volume and pressure, meaning that you’re not giving your body a chance to help flush waste out of the digestive tract properly.
Aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day as a first step. But if constipation is chronic, a wonder mineral that helps to ease stagnancy in the bowels is magnesium. It helps to relax the intestines, as well as draw water in to soften the stools, meaning that they are able to move more easily down into the lower part of the colon.
Make sure you look for either magnesium hydroxide or citrate, as these are the two that are most effective for constipation, and be sure to continue drinking lots of water.
- Try Activated Charcoal…
This definitely isn’t the type of charcoal you use in your barbecue! Activated charcoal is a manufactured product that has been used since 1915 for medicinal uses, in particular for filtering and absorbing toxic substances in both the human body, as well as the environment. It’s so effective because of its large surface area that contains many tiny little pores that attract toxins and pollutants.
Activated charcoal has been used for years as a traditional remedy to absorb and remove intestinal gases and toxins. It is so highly effective at doing this because it isn’t broken down by our digestive system, instead it moves along the bowels, soaking up everything that doesn’t need to be there and eventually removing it all in the stools.
There are rules, however, when taking activated charcoal. For example, it must be taken away from food, supplements or medications, on an empty stomach. This is because it not only absorbs toxins and gases, but it can also absorb things like nutrients from food and supplements, as well as the active components of medications, which consequently won’t work properly. Chronic use of activated charcoal can also cause constipation, so be sure to use it only at a time of real need!
Last few words about bloating:
Ever wondered why those pre-interview or exam butterflies in the stomach lead to bloating or diarrhoea? Whilst there is no clear magic pill for IBS, experts are beginning to see just how much influence the brain has on our digestion.
Dr Megan Arroll, a Senior Health Psychology Lecturer at BPP University School of Health, advises on keeping a mood, food and symptom diary for 2 weeks, so that you’re able to track potential triggers for bloating and other concurrent symptoms. Stressful events can play a huge role in how we digest food and what experts are realising is that the gut isn’t a simple tube that digests and absorbs nutrients from food, but in reality the gut is like a ‘mini brain’ that houses between 50 (million) to 100 million nerve cells in the layers of the intestines that communicate directly with our brain.
There is clearly much more to learn and research into, however, the above 10 tips are simple and evidence-based ways that you can start now to get you on the right track to belly bloat freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]