Let’s talk about bloating – almost all of us have experienced this discomfort, nausea and tummy expansion at one point or another. However, while it’s extremely common, not many of us have a thorough understanding of what it actually is, what causes it, whether it’s dangerous and how you can avoid it, in order to ensure it actually is harmless.
Sound like you? Read on!
So firstly – what exactly is bloating?
Bloating can be defined as the swelling of the body, or part of the body, usually because it has a lot of gas or liquid in it. You eat, the stomach becomes full and it expands with gas, liquids or solids. You’ve most likely seen this before – the ‘food baby’ some would call it. However, bloating can cause pain, discomfort and a bit of queasiness. Because this feeling isn’t ideal, we want to make sure that the root cause is not a point of concern. Which leads us to our next question…
What causes bloating?
Bloating can be caused by a wide variety of things – the most common being your diet. One theory states that depending on what food you eat, the bacteria in your stomach changes which leads to excess gas. Some bloat-inducing foods can include:
• Carbonated drinks including alcohol
• Dairy products
• Cruciferous vegetables (cool weather vegetables that have flowers and four petals) such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale
• Garlic and onion
• Carbohydrates – specifically FODMAPs: fermentable oligo, di, mono-saccarides and polyols, a group of carbs that irritate the gut
There are also more serious causes for bloating. If you notice you continuously feel bloated after specific situations (i.e. eating certain foods or drinking too fast) you can alter your habits and see if it goes away. However, if bloating persists and you’re unsure as to why, it may be the symptom of something more serious. Other causes for bloating include:
• Food intolerance (i.e. lactose and gluten)
• Eating too fast/too much
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
• Ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, stomach cancer
• Liver disease
If you experience any of the below additional symptoms you should seek medical help as soon as possible:
• Unexpected weight loss
• Severe abdominal pain
• Blood in your stool or vaginal bleeding
How can I avoid it?
The simple answer to this question is to avoid the things that cause it. As mentioned earlier, in most cases it is self-induced and harmless long-term. However, our bodies are incredibly smart and we should recognise when they are trying to warn us. Being uncomfortable is never fun, especially if you can easily steer clear. So, how can we do this?
We’ve come up with some tips:
1. Eat less at a slower pace and chew! This reduces the amount of air you swallow and gives your belly time to tell your brain when you’ve had enough.
2. Replace bloat-inducing foods. Some experts recommend keeping a food diary to track what you eat and what causes bloating as a result.
3. Do your research. Recognise that everyone is different. What causes bloating for you will be different to what causes it for someone else. Read about different causes and try a variety of options to see what works for you.
4. Take supplements. Some people’s stomachs have a more difficult time breaking down foods than others. You can try to take digestive enzyme supplements, probiotics, etc.
5. Avoid constipation. You can do this by having a high-fiber meal (25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men), drinking lots of water and engaging in physical activity.
Can you wrap this up?
In summary, the most common cause of bloating is your diet. While bloating is usually harmless, you should still avoid it when possible and save yourself the tummy ache. If bloating is accompanied by other more dangerous symptoms, seek medical help straight away and rule out anything serious.