Bloating is nothing but the buildup of gas in the stomach and the intestines, which can be quite uncomfortable. It causes the belly to swell up and look larger than it is. Often bloating leads to stomach pain as well.
Bloating is mostly due to a digestive issue caused by some food intolerance or by simply gulping down your food too fast or eating too much or a weak gut. It could also be due to having carbonated drinks, menstruation or constipation. Hormones and stress can also play a role here. But in rare cases, bloating could be due to an underlying medical condition. However, the good news is that in most cases we can tackle the problem with simple strategies like regular exercise, dietary changes or over the counter medicines.
Some common causes of bloating
- Excess gas caused by eating certain foods
- SIBO or small intestine overgrowth
- Swallowing too much air
- Fluid retention
- Food intolerance like lactose intolerance
- Mental stress
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Infections like rotavirus or norovirus
- Eating disorders
- Hormonal changes
- Bloating can also be seen in those suffering from celiac disease and hypothyroidism.
Common foods that cause bloating
Beans and Lentils - They are both legumes and are high in protein, fibre and carbohydrates. Most importantly, they contain FODMAPs or what is known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbs that the small intestine is unable to absorb properly. These are then fermented by the gut bacteria in the colon and gas is a natural by-product. For people who suffer from IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, excess gas is formed during fermentation which can cause bloating, flatulence and even diarrhea. The alternative is to soak and sprout the beans or lentils to reduce FODMAPs. Even changing the water several times is helpful.
Carbonated drinks - As the name suggests, these drinks have a high quantity of carbon dioxide. You end up swallowing large amounts of gas along with the liquid which leads to bloating.
Wheat - For those with gluten sensitivity, wheat can cause bloating and gas. It is also a source of FODMAPs. One can opt for gluten-free alternatives like oats, quinoa, buckwheat etc.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli - They contain FODMAPs so they can cause bloating in some people. Cooking may make these vegetables easier to digest.
Rye and Barley - Both are rich in fibre which can lead to bloating. They also contain gluten. The alternative is to go for refined barley or replace both with oats, brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Dairy products - Lactose intolerance can cause digestive issues including bloating, gas and diarrhoea. The alternative is to go for lactose-free milk products or opt for coconut, almond, soy or rice milk.
Apples - They can cause bloating and other digestive issues for some people. The reason here is the presence of fructose, which is a FODMAP and the high fibre content of apples. Both fructose and fibre go through fermentation in the large intestine, causing gas and bloating. Eating cooked apples is an option.
Onions and Garlic - Both contains fructans which are FODMAPs that can cause bloating and gas.
Sugar alcohol - Some common examples include xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. They are sugar substitutes which are used in sugar-free food and chewing gum. Since sugar alcohols are FODMAPs, they can cause digestive issues. High consumption leads to bloating and gas. Stevia is a healthier alternative.
Beer - It is a carbonated beverage made from fermentable carbs like barley, maize, wheat and rice along with yeast. So it has both gas and fermented carbs which cause bloating.
Processed food and fat saturated food are also to be avoided.
Besides avoiding certain kinds of food to prevent bloating and gas, one can also incorporate a few simple lifestyle changes as well, like not speaking while eating or drinking. It also includes replacing large meals with small, more frequent meals; avoiding carbonated or fizzy drinks, chewing gum, hard candy and drinking with a straw. One also needs to give up using artificial sweeteners. One can also work on improving one’s posture, breathing and muscle tone with the help of yoga.
But what about foods that help with bloating?
Basically, plant fibre is good for bowel movement and prevents constipation and therefore gas or bloating. But those who have sensitivity to FODMAPs, need to choose their fibre carefully. Foods with good fibre includes lettuce, carrots, chives, cucumber, fennel, eggplant, celery, bean sprouts, blueberries, bananas, zucchini, asparagus, green beans, spinach, strawberries, pineapples, grapes, oranges, kiwi, quinoa and brown rice.
One also needs to ensure that one is hydrated to prevent constipation. Probiotics, which are naturally present in our gut may also help prevent bloating. One can take foods that naturally contain probiotics, like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso, kombucha and tempeh.
Ginger is also used extensively to help in relieving symptoms of bloating, gas, indigestion and nausea. It can be had as ginger tea or can be used in dry form in curries and lentils to reduce bloating. Peppermint tea also helps.
Bloating is generally due to minor reasons which can be tackled. But if bloating persists, one needs to see a doctor as it could be linked to a serious medical condition like liver disease, IBS, heart failure, issues with the kidney and also some types of cancer.