Many of us have experienced bloating at one time or another, the sensation when your stomach is full and bloated. For some people, however, the discomfort caused by chronic bloating can interfere with daily life.
Bloating is common and affects up to 30 percent of the general population. Among people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), more than 90% report having bloating.
The good news: In many cases, simple changes in diet can reduce or even resolve uncomfortable bloating. The key, however, is figuring out what your bloating triggers are.
What is bloating?
Bloating is a recurring feeling of fullness, pressure, or trapped gas in the upper abdomen (eg, stomach area). In some cases, it is accompanied by abdominal distension, a measurable increase in abdominal circumference. Abdominal pain, gas, and burping may also be present.
Symptoms may worsen over the course of the day or they may be triggered by eating a meal. Often the bloating goes away overnight.
The most common cause of bloating is air, or gas, trapped in the intestinal tract. What you eat – and how you eat – can lead to a buildup of intestinal gas.
Other causes of bloating include inflammatory bowel disease, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine (SIBO), gluten intolerance (celiac disease), and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Chronic constipation, stress, and certain medications (eg, aspirin, antacids, anti-diarrheal medications) can also contribute to bloating.
Diet strategies to avoid bloating
Although bloating can be caused by an underlying medical condition, it is most often the result of what you eat and / or the way you eat. Your first line of defense is your diet.
Avoid overeating. Eating large meals, especially fatty meals that slowly empty out of your stomach, can make you feel bloated. To eat smaller portions, serve meals on a breakfast-sized plate (seven to nine inches in diameter) instead of a plate.
Check your hunger level halfway through your meal. You have eaten enough when you feel full but not full.
Slow down your eating rate. Eating fast can contribute to bloating by overeating you. It takes about 20 minutes for the appetite hormones to kick in and tell your brain that you have eaten enough.
Eating too fast also increases the amount of air you swallow, which can cause bloating. To eat slowly, put your knife and fork down after each bite and chew well.
Chewing gum, sucking on hard candy, and drinking through a straw also increase the amount of air you swallow.
Increase fiber, water. If constipation is the cause of your bloating, increase your intake of foods high in insoluble fiber, the type of fiber that holds water and adds bulk to stools, helping them pass through the colon more quickly.
Wheat bran, 100% bran cereals, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain rye bread are great sources of insoluble fiber. Apples, berries, kiwis, pinto beans, green peas, sweet potatoes, avocados, and prunes are also decent sources.
The fiber must absorb water in order to function effectively. Drink nine cups (women) and 12 cups (men) of water each day.
Try lactose free. If you are lactose intolerant, the natural sugar in cow’s milk, which consumes more lactose than your small intestine can digest, can cause bloating, abdominal pain, distension, gas, and loose stools.
If you think lactose may be involved, switch to lactose-free milk and yogurt to see if your bloating symptoms improve. Hard cheeses (eg, cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan) are low in lactose.
Consider a low FODMAP diet. If you have IBS, bloating can be triggered by a group of poorly absorbed carbohydrates called FODMAPs. (FODMAP stands for fermentables, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.) By the way, lactose is a FODMAP.
When FODMAPs move through the small intestine, they suck in water. Once in the large intestine, intestinal bacteria ferment FODMAPs, which produce gas. Too much water and gas in the intestinal tract can cause symptoms of IBS such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea.
To determine which FODMAPs you are sensitive to, you need to cut out foods high in FODMAPs for a short time and then, one at a time, get the FODMAPs back into your diet.
Consult with a dietitian who is familiar with low-FODMAP meal planning – as well as the reintroduction and strategic testing of FODMAPs – to ensure you are following a balanced diet.
When to consult a doctor
If dietary changes don’t reduce your bloating, see your doctor. It’s important to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
Leslie Beck, a dietitian in private practice based in Toronto, is the Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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