Beat belly bloating and embrace a lighter, healthier summer with dietitian Brooke Longfield’s simple eating strategies.
Believe it or not, our bowel habits often mimic the change of seasons. Summer’s warm days and balmy nights are a time when many of us suffer from uncomfortable bloating, constipation and fluid retention.
Changes in our routine are partly to blame. During the summer festivities, we eat and drink in ways unique to this time of year. And during the holiday period we often stop exercising. These changes affect our digestive system, making it slow and sluggish, which leads to bloating. If you want to feel lighter and healthier this summer, adopt the following simple strategies.
Keep on eating fibre
At barbecues, piling up your plate with steak, snags and a few salad leaves hardly makes a dent in your daily fibre target. And if you’re nibbling on a few canapés over a round of social drinks, you'll probably be too full to eat a nourishing meal with all-important fibre.
And at this time of year when the calendar is crowded with social events, you’re probably missing out on a regular fibre intake, resulting in constipation.
Summer holidays also take their toll. Whether you’re away or taking it easy at home, you might opt for more takeaways and eating out, which means meals that are often short on fibre-rich vegies.
Load up on salads
In many restaurants, vegies barely appear on the plate, unless ordered as sides. A few serves of vegies and salad is a vital part of any meal, so make a habit of ordering a healthy side. If you’re grabbing a takeaway, include vegetarian dishes to boost your fibre intake. And if you’re at a barbecue, aim to fill half your plate with salad. Especially beneficial are leafy salads with fibre-rich beans or chickpeas.
Snack on fruit
When travelling, you’ll be hard-pressed to find high-fibre options at standard roadside stops and fast-food outlets. Instead, stop at a country market or supermarket to grab some fresh fruit, or packets of trail mix for between-meal snacks and healthy breakfasts.
Go easy on salty food
Festive ham and hors d’oeuvres topped with salami, prosciutto or bacon are all high in salt. Salty food causes the body to retain fluid, especially around the legs and ankles, leading to annoying fluctuations in weight.
Be party wise
At summer celebrations, swap salty deli meats with lighter canapes such as char-grilled vegies on corn fritters and crudités and hoummos. And avoid loading up on salty snacks like chips, nuts, and cheese and crackers.
Go easy on takeaway
Bought-in meals may be quick fixes, but their side effects last much longer. Aside from being high in kilojoules, many popular options are heavy on salt. Skip pizzas with processed meat like bacon and salami, and opt for a margherita. Even better, choose pizza slices loaded with vegetables. Many popular Asian foods are high in salt. Thai green curry is made with salt-laden fish sauce, and if you choose sushi, use only minimal soy sauce.
Keep well hydrated
Hot weather also heightens fluid retention. Drinking more water will help, although it may seem counterintuitive. Doing so helps the body release this stored fluid. Adequate fluid intake also helps prevent constipation by allowing stools to move through the bowel.
Watch what you drink
Alcohol and fizzy drinks are diuretics that lead to fluid loss though increased urine production, which can cause constipation. Champagne and carbonated drinks can also lead to bloating due to gas build-up in the belly. Increased alcohol consumption during the festive season could land you with a double whammy of after-effects.
Water it down
When you’re socialising, a good rule of thumb is to have a glass of water in between each festive drink. And keep a jug of water in your fridge throughout summer as your go-to thirst quencher.
Skip the fizz
On hot summer days it’s easy to give in to an icy can of soft drink when you’re out and about. Just remember that caffeinated soft drinks, just like tea and coffee, are diuretics. Water is the most effective way to manage dehydration.
Swap juice for fruit tea
A fruit juice may seem healthier, but unless you’re juicing the skin, you’re missing out on valuable fibre! Consider this: a glass of orange juice has less than 1g of fibre, while a whole orange has nearly 4g. Takeaway fruit smoothies can also be loaded with sugar and kilojoules. For a healthier drink, opt for a fruit iced tea as long as you’re aware of the sugar in store-bought varieties. Or make your own and keep it chilled in the fridge. Alternatively, make your own fruit infusions. Add pieces of your favourite summer fruit, such as berries and limes, to a jug of water and let the flavours infuse.
Be active and you’ll encourage regular bowel movements. Lazy-paced holidays with long sleep-ins instead of walks before work and a relaxed morning read instead of a class at the gym can affect your metabolism.
There’s nothing wrong with being a little lazy as long as you spend half an hour each day doing some exercise. A refreshing swim, a sunset walk, or even dancing at a party all count as activities that will help keep your bowels moving, too.
Stop and revive
Long periods of sitting when travelling can lead to a decline in that all-important incidental activity. Then there’s the problem of finding a convenient toilet stop. Restraining bowel movements means more water is absorbed back into the colon, resulting in hard stools that are difficult to pass. Combat this with regular stops and plenty of water.
Don’t follow fad diets
Dressing up for summer parties can create the urge to diet in order to lose weight.
Take it slowly
Cutting out cakes and biscuits is one thing, but a detox or a crash diet can lead to a shortfall of essential nutrients. Be aware that depriving yourself of favourite foods is going to be difficult to sustain. So if you’re determined to lose a few kilos, do so by making small dietary changes that you’ll be able to stick to in the long term.
Keep eating the right carbs
If you eliminate all carbs, bowel trouble may follow. While people often think bread and pasta lead to bloating, it’s usually the quality of the carbs that’s the problem. Losing grainy breads and healthy cereals will challenge anyone to reach the recommended daily intake of 30g fibre. To help you meet your target, turn to our 7-day high-fibre meal plan on p90.
The FODMAP factor
Bloating may not be due to overeating or constipation but be triggered by foods containing FODMAPs — carbs that some people have trouble digesting. Instead of passing through the gut, FODMAPs stubbornly remain undigested for extended periods, causing excess wind. Common FODMAP foods include onion, garlic, cauliflower and lentils. Unknown to us, FODMAPs may be lurking in party foods and restaurant meals.
Are FODMAPs behind your bloating?
Find out by keeping track of the foods you eat over a week and pay attention to any recurring connections between ingredients and subsequent bloating. To find out more about FODMAP foods, visit shepherdworks.com.au. If discomfort continues, see an accredited practising dietitian.
Five ways to prevent constipation this summer
Aim to go for a 30–45-minute walk first thing in the morning, before it heats up.
Snack on a small handful (about 30g) of dried fruit between meals.
Sprinkle chopped nuts, LSA mix or psyllium husks over yoghurt and fruit for breakfast.
Freeze half-full water bottles before heading out and refresh yourself with chilled H2O when you’re on-the-go.
Add canned beans or chickpeas to your garden salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato.
Avoid kids’ toilet trouble
School holidays are a fun time for kids, but constipation can disrupt their enjoyment.
The excitement of sleepovers, long days at the beach and action-packed camping trips can affect how often they go to the bathroom. When kids resist the urge to go, their stools turn hard and dry, making them more difficult to pass, leading eventually to constipation.
Talk to your kids about the importance of going to the bathroom, even if they don’t have the urge. Kids also need to drink plenty of water, so get them into the habit of carrying around a water bottle when they're out.