As a general rule, bloating occurs when the normal flow of gas (produced in the colon after we eat or drink), is disrupted in some way, getting trapped and resulting in distention and discomfort. The good news is that there are lots of simple tweaks that can counteract common bloat-inducers. Here’s how to avoid loosening that belt buckle.
You gulp too much
Swallowing air is the most common reason for bloating and can leave even the most toned of tummies looking poochy. Gulping, commonly caused by wolfing food down too fast, chewing gum, eating on the run or drinking from a straw can leave air trapped in your stomach, causing pressure and belly expansion – none of which will help flatten your middle.
The Fix: Satiety signals (aka feeling full) can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain and dampen the appetite, so taking time to chew your meals properly without rushing is key. This forces you to breathe through your nose and slows you down. While you’re at it, opt for a cup, not a straw. Smaller portions will also benefit digestion and prevent overeating.
Avoid gassy foods
We all know to eat at least five servings of vegetables a day, however certain vegetables are notorious for producing gas or bloating. Common culprits include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage. They contain sulfur and a carbohydrate called raffinose, both of which are hard for the body to break down, especially if these foods are eaten in the evening.
The Fix: This doesn’t mean ditching the green stuff entirely as these foods are packed with disease-preventing antioxidants and are good sources of fibre. To minimise their effects, eat just a single half-cup serving of these foods at a time.
Ditch The Junk
Eating rich and fatty food, particularly the saturated kind such as pastries, fried foods and processed meats, can make you feel uncomfortably full and often lead to bloating. That’s because fats are the last thing to leave the stomach. In the same vein, eating greasy foods causes damage to the gut wall lining. So when the gut flora is altered, bad bacteria inflames the intestinal tract, causing bloating and wind.
The Fix: Not all fats are created equal. Healthy unsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts, flaxseeds and oily fish like salmon and tuna, are better processed by the body and have an anti-inflammatory effect which may aid inflammation of the gut. Likewise, probiotics can help restore digestive balance because they contain good bacteria that crowds out any bad bacteria in the gut. Enjoy natural yoghurt with breakfast, in a smoothie or as a snack, or pop a probiotic pill daily.
Watch what you Drink
Drinking carbonated drinks such as sparkling water and sodas may seem like a treat, but where do you think those tingly bubbles end up? Trapped in your belly. Soft drinks are loaded with added sugars which cause rapid spikes in insulin levels. And with increases in insulin promoting increased fat storage in the abdominal area, there’s good reason to avoid these high-sugar drinks. It’s also worthwhile avoiding too many diet, sugar-free or low-carb products that contain artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol. These sweeteners, which are used in place of sugar, have a laxative effect, which can leave you feeling uncomfortable.
The Fix: Boosting your water intake can work wonders, flushing waste out of your system and helping to get things moving. Bored of plain water? For a zesty alternative, flavour with fresh mint, lemon and lime, or savour a soothing cup of chamomile or peppermint tea. While they might not be your usual choice for a cuppa, drinks like this aid digestion and can help to ease that bloaty feeling.
Believe it or not our gut has its own neurological system, sometimes referred to as the second brain, which is lined with hundreds of thousands of nerve cells to communicate with the central nervous system. When you’re feeling frazzled, the colon can experience spasms which disrupt the muscular contractions that move gas through your gut. And as we all know, feeling highly strung can lead to further inch gain, thanks to binging on less nutritious food.
The Fix: If your waistband feels snug after lunch, head outside for a brisk walk. Not only will regular exercise help to reduce stress by releasing happy hormone endorphins, it will increase blood flow to various parts of the body, including the gut, helping the air bubbles pass through your digestive tract quicker. Trust us, that bloated feeling will disappear faster than if you continue to sit at your desk.
Skip the salt
You may be attracted to your salt shaker, but water is too. Salt causes your body to retain fluid, contributing to that puffy appearance and extra water weight. Watch out for salt hidden in processed foods, namely condiments, sauces and salad dressings.
The Fix: To play it safe, read the labels carefully and order dressings and sauces on the side. For a healthier alternative, season your food lightly with olive oil and vinegar or flavour with fresh herbs and spices. Eating foods rich in potassium will also help regulate the fluid balance.
Some people blame bloating on a food intolerance such as gluten or dairy. But true food intolerances are notoriously difficult to diagnose, with symptoms as wide ranging as bloating to fluid retention and headaches to tiredness. If you think you might have an intolerance, keep a diary to help you identify triggers and always speak to your doctor.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutritionist and author of What’s Eating You? www.therightbalance.com.au