We’ve all felt that uncomfortably full, puffy feeling in the tummy area. Yup, it’s called bloating, and it’s not pretty.
While some level of bloating — also known as abdominal distension — is normal, particularly after a big meal, there comes a point when the intensity and regularity of bloating may become intolerable. There are several reasons your belly may feel a little bulgy:
- Eating too quickly and swallowing air in the process
- Eating past fullness
- Digestive health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lactose intolerance, etc
- Constipation, which could be due to a number of causes, including inadequate fibre and fluid intake
- Excess sodium consumption leading to water retention
- Certain supplements and medications, including those used to treat constipation
- More serious medical conditions, hormonal changes etc.
Due to the wide array of potential causes, your best defence against bloating is to get personalized advice from a healthcare practitioner who can really get to know your habits. In the meantime, there are some strategies you can incorporate today that can help battle the bloat.
Drink enough water. If you are between the ages of 18 to 70, your daily fluid requirement from water and other beverages is going to be in and around the two to three-litre range, with males tending to be on the higher end. Water helps to flush out excess sodium which can cause our bodies to hold on to excess fluids and make us feel bloated.
Try psyllium fibre. Mostly easily accessible through high-fibre cereals, such as Kellogg’s All Bran buds. Psyllium is a special type of fibre that is particularly good for digestive health and goes well with yogurt (which also happens to be a source of gut healthy bacteria).
Reduce beer and other carbonated beverages. The fizzy bubbles in carbonated beverages, like beer and soda, is actually gas that can make your belly feel puffy. Some bubbly drinks can also contain hard-to-digest artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, which can be particularly troublesome when it comes to controlling bloating. And while we are on the subject of sugar, sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol — found in gum and candy — are also not easily digested and are therefore bad for bloat. It’s also worth noting that chewing gum can cause you to swallow air, which contributes further to gas and bloating.
Be vigilant with the veggies. Vegetables are essential for human health and digestive functioning, but certain varieties may be more likely to increase the risk of gas or bloating. These include onion, garlic, cabbage, asparagus, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. With that said, don’t be too quick to cut out these healthy selections without just cause.
Re-think your potassium/sodium ratio. High sodium meals may lead to water retention and bloating, whereas potassium has somewhat of an opposite physiological effect. Top sodium sources include processed meats like salami, hot dogs and most deli meats, as well as canned goods, like soups. Meals from restaurants are almost inevitably high in sodium as well. Commonly available potassium sources include spinach, bananas, sweet potato, salmon and most types of nuts and seeds.
Back those beans up. The legume family of foods, which includes lentils and chickpeas, are among the most important for human health. But they can certainly contribute to bloating in excessive quantities. My best recommendation is to stick to smaller quantities (a half of a cup cooked or less) if you suspect them to be problematic for you.
Increase your soluble fibre. Soluble fibre is a particularly useful food component when trying to improve digestive health. Oatmeal, flaxseed, green beans, carrots, kiwi, okra, tofu, zucchini and oranges are all great sources to consider.
These tips are a good starting point until such a time that you can get more personalized guidance and care. While persistent bloating may be innocuous, it could also be a sign of a more serious health concern and should not be taken too lightly especially if it is both chronic and severe.
Andy is a registered dietitian and author who has operated a private practice in Toronto since 2015. He spends his free time eating, writing and talking about kale @AndyTheRD. He can be reached at AndyTheRD.com