Feel like you’ve swallowed a balloon or three? Nutritionist Rose Carr has nine expert hints to help you banish your bloating for good.
You know that tight, cramped feeling in the stomach when you’re desperately wishing for looser clothes, in the hope you’ll feel more comfortable? Think yourself lucky if you don’t.
Bloating affects about 30 per cent of the population – that’s around one in three people. Most of us have no idea what causes it. The good news is there is seldom a serious underlying causes. The bad news is that it can range from uncomfortable to flat-out painful.
So why do we bloat? As a general rule, bloating occurs when the normal flow of gas, fluid or waste is disrupted in some way. This can be due to stress, a food intolerance, a digestive disorder or worse – but just as often, the cause (and the solution) will be a simple one.
1. Reduce your salt
Salt is a well-known culprit of fluid retention, as excess salt prompts your kidneys to hold onto water instead of excreting it – making you up to 2kg heavier. For women, reducing salt intake may also diminish PMS-related bloating and fluid retention.
2. Move more
Studies have proven that exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly, with one study finding those who were bloated were more likely to have recently gained weight and have weak abs – factors linked to a lack of exercise. Reduce your symptoms by adding exercise to your schedule, and try a quick walk next time you’re bloated.
3. Drink more water
Fibre absorbs water like a sponge, allowing it to be easily eliminated from the gut – so make sure you drink at least eight glasses of water each day. You can also boost your fluid (and fibre) intake by eating more fruits and vegies – most contain more than 80 per cent water! Oranges and watermelon are two great options.
4. Increase your magnesium
Suffer from PMS-related bloating? Generally, this is related to the imbalance of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, as well as a decrease in the production of the hormone prostaglandin, which alters fluid balance in the body causing water retention and bloating. Research shows just 200mg of magnesium each day lessens bloating symptoms by 40 per cent, so boost your magnesium intake by eating seeds, nuts, spinach, wheat germ or bran and avocado.
5. Eat more fibre
Most of us only get about two-thirds of our recommended daily intake of fibre (30g for men, 25g for women) – which may be why we bloat. Add more fibre with oats or bran for breakfast; nuts, seeds and fruit for snacks; and wholegrain bread and pasta. Introduce extra fibre bit by bit – ironically, too much of it too fast can worsen bloating.
6. Eat more slowly
Eating too quickly can increase the amount of air you swallow, and when you take in too much oxygen, the excess remains in the digestive tract and can cause bloating. Take more time for meals by sitting down to eat, putting your knife and fork down after each mouthful, chewing with your mouth closed, taking smaller sips and avoiding fizzy drinks.
7. Portion sizes
Many of us were brought up to eat everything on our plates. That’s fine if you only use small plates, but most of us are in the habit of over-serving ourselves – not to mention the serving sizes we have no control over when we eat at friends’ houses and restaurants. Too much food can overwork the gastrointestinal system and result in bloating; so give more thought to portion sizes.
8. Enjoy probiotics every day
Probiotics are ‘friendly’ bacteria found in fermented milk and some yoghurts. When there’s a decreased concentration of them in the gut, or an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria (as is often the case in people who suffer irritable bowel syndrome), excessive gas and bloating can result. Luckily, restoring levels of probiotics has been found to reduce flatulence, pain, bloating and the symptoms of chronic constipation. While more research is needed in this area, you may find relief in eating yoghurt with added probiotic cultures such as Yoplait Elivaé, or a fermented milk product with beneficial bacteria such as Yakult.
9. Avoid gassy foods
Some foods are notorious for producing gas or bloating. These foods – including legumes, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus – contain a carbohydrate called raffinose, which is difficult for our bodies to break down, causing an increase in gas production. To minimise its effect, limit the amount you eat at one time.
Triggers for bloating can be very individual, so if you regularly suffer from bloating, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP to help ensure there is no underlying cause needing specific treatment.
Bloating is often thought of as the expanding of the abdominal region but medically speaking, it’s actually just the feeling of discomfort. If your abdominal region is physically enlarged, you’re actually suffering ‘distention’ – so you can feel bloated, without being distended.