Why me? Again?
We've all been there. Some of us on a regular basis, some of us only occasionally. For whom of you did a bloated belly sabotage all your evening plans - and your mood? I feel you. It happened to me way too often.
So, what do you do when you want to wear the perfect dress, leggings, tuxedo or whatnot, but suddenly your stomach feels and looks swollen? If this problem is familiar to you, I got you!
What causes bloating?
Bloating occurs when bacteria in the digestive tract generate gas from food which has not been digested properly. But there are different causes for bloating.
Too much body fat
One of the most common issues when it comes to bloating is excess body fat. What people think is bloating, is most often body fat.
Here's how you can tell the difference:
- Bloating comes and goes, unlike body fat. You wake up with a flat stomach, but after a few hours, you look like you are pregnant? You're bloated. Belly fat doesn't fluctuate within a few hours.
- You can't grab a bloated belly, but you can grab belly fat. Bloat doesn't jiggle, body fat does.
Besides the above-mentioned fact, one of the most common causes of bloating is a food intolerance - or the inability to fully digest certain foods.
Foods most commonly associated with food intolerances include dairy products, grains which contain gluten, and foods that can cause intestinal gas build-ups, such as beans, lentils, broccoli or cabbage.
Not to mention, food additives which are used to enhance the flavour, to make foods look more appealing or to increase their shelf life can also cause bloating.
Such additives are:
- Artificial colouring
- Artificial flavourings
- Flavour enhancer
The reason behind is the intestines fail to produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose. The undigested lactose passes through the small intestines. When it reaches the large intestine, bacteria eat it and produce gas as a byproduct.
This causes an expansion in the large intestines, which results in a swollen, bloated stomach.
IBS or IBS-like symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder which causes a variety of digestive problems.
While the cause of IBS is still unclear, triggers can be avoided. One of these triggers are particular types of carbohydrates also known as FODMAPs (fermentable obligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols).
FODMAPs are a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives.
Basically, the problem with FODMAP is the same as with lactose. Food passes through the large intestine undigested, where it gets fermented by bacteria, which leads to gas built-up and bloating.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:
- Fermentable – meaning they are broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the large bowel
- Oligosaccharides – "oligo" means "few" and "saccharide" means "sugar". These molecules made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
- Disaccharides – "di" means two. This is a double sugar molecule.
- Monosaccharides – "mono" means single. This is a single-sugar molecule.
- Polyols – these are sugar alcohols (however don't lead to intoxication!)
Fun fact: What most people think is a gluten sensitivity is in truth a FODMAP sensitivity.
Many women know too well about the bloat. Hormone levels can fluctuate in women of all ages, and also in men. However, hormonal imbalances most commonly occur during the menstruation, throughout pregnancy or as one approaches the menopause.
One reason is the changing levels of the hormone progesterone, which slows down the digestive process, making one feel more constipated, bloated, and gassy. In addition, when estrogen is high, women seem to retain more water, which can be confused with bloating.
Furthermore, when a woman approaches the menopause, the hormone estrogen begins to fluctuate. The result can be water retention, gas and bloat.
And men aren't spared from bloating either! A lack of stomach acid can also throw off your hormone balance. Stomach acid is very important for a proper digestion.
Last but not least, a prolonged diet might raise cortisol levels dramatically. Chronically elevated cortisol levels might lead to increased water retention and bloating.
Mind your sodium intake
Sodium is such an essential part of our diet. It helps to regulate fluid balance and sustain normal nerve impulses. The problem is many people eat way too much sodium every day. Pretzels, anyone?
So, if you wonder how much sodium you should eat, I like to go with the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations here, which are about 1.5 to 2.3 grams of sodium per day.
Foods which might promote bloating
Although bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition, it is usually caused by certain foods in your diet.
- Carbonated drinks: They contain excessive amounts of carbon dioxide. Meaning, when you consume them you end up swallowing high amounts of air. Better options are plain water, tea, fruit-infused water or coffee.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are known to cause bloating because they contain FODMAPs. Nevertheless, they are very healthy and contain many essential nutrients. Cooking cruciferous vegetables can make them easier for you to digest.
- Beans: Most beans contain alpha-galactosides, sugars which belong to the group of FODMAPs. Soaking and sprouting beans is an efficient way to reduce FODMAPs in beans. Consider beans which are easier to digest, such as Pinto beans or black beans.
- Sugar alcohols: Low-calorie sweeteners, such as Xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol are used in granola bars, protein bars and cereal. Sugar alcohols are made up of polyols, which is a FODMAP. Choose green leaf stevia or 100% pure maple syrup.
- Spices: Spices like chili and pepper, onion, garlic or vinegar won't help you. They stimulate the release of more stomach acids, which can irritate your digestive tract and cause cramps.
Foods which help when you are bloated
Here are some food, which might improve bloating or even avoid being bloated.
- Cucumber: They're not only used to reduce the puffiness under the eyes. You can do the same for your belly by eating them. Cucumber contains quercetin, a flavonoid which helps to reduce swelling.
- Bananas: Foods rich in potassium, such as bananas, avocados, kiwi and oranges, regulate sodium levels in the body and reduce salt-induced bloating. Plus, bananas are rich in fibre, which also prevents or aids with constipation.
- Asparagus: Asparagus is one of the best foods when it comes to bloating prevention. The key is, it makes you pee, which helps to flush out all that excess water and relieve any pain and bloat.
- Probiotics: Feeling bloated? Get some of the good bacteria in your gut by eating yoghurt. It will help to regulate digestion and to maintain the overall health of your digestive tract.
- Ginger: Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, digestive aid. It relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract and relieves bloating. Ginger also contains enzymes which absorb proteins much easier, so you will experience less protein-induced puffiness or gas.
- Tea: Especially peppermint and chamomile tea are known to relax GI muscles to help dissipate the gas, therefore they reduce bloating
When to consider a doctor
Usually, bloating is not a serious medical issue. However, you should see a doctor if you suffer from frequent bloating additional to other symptoms, including diarrhoea, constipation, fever, weight loss or bloody stools.
Do you bloat often? If so, do you have any home remedies to get rid of the bloating? Please let me know in the comment section below.