We all want to look our best this summer, even if most of us will be hiding in wetsuits on Irish beaches. Read on for some simple do’s and don’ts to help you beat the bloat this summer and beyond.
What causes the bloat?
Bloating is extremely common and can range from very mild and occasional to extremely debilitating. Some people have to wear different clothes later in the day due to the physical change in body shape. Bloating is often caused by bacteria in our gut fermenting our food and producing gas. This gas can take up lots of space and irritate gut nerve endings causing discomfort and pain. While a healthy microbiome does include lots of bacteria, we need to have the right balance to keep our gut and our immune systems working well.
Many factors can disrupt this delicate balance, including stress, hormones, certain medication and, of course, dietary factors. A diet high in sugar and refined carbs like white bread does not provide enough fuel for our beneficial bacteria to do their job and keep other gut bacteria in check. Our beneficial bacteria need a variety of food high in fibre – prebiotics – like veg, wholegrains and some fruit to survive and thrive and to keep us healthy. Eating a wide variety of different whole foods is key to a healthy gut. You can find ideas on this in our plant polyphenol blog post. But of course, this may not be possible if you find that you feel the bloat all the time.
What can you do about the bloat?
- Rule out something more serious if it persists longer than a month or two or is causing severe discomfort. Visit your GP to rule out any other issue, especially if this is a new symptom for you.
- Keep a food diary to identify triggers. If you find that you are reacting to one or two specific foods, then try avoiding these for 3 or 4 weeks to see if it helps. Apart from certain foods like cabbage and beans that are naturally wind-forming, the most common triggers seem to be white bread, dairy and especially combinations of these like pizza or cheesy pasta. These does not mean that you have an intolerance to these foods or that you won’t be able to eat them again, but eating less of them may be helpful longer term
- Look beyond food. Keeping a food diary may also identify that you are not reacting to food, but reacting to other factors like stress or hormones, which can play a significant role. Bloating can also be caused by medication for example some people develop bloating after taking antibiotics or PPIs (antacids), due to the effect that these medications have on our gut bacteria
- It’s not a very sexy subject, but being constipated i.e. not having at least one bowel movement every day can be a cause of bloating. If this is an issue for you, take some simple steps to keep yourself ‘regular’, like staying well hydrated and eating plenty of veg and wholegrains. These foods provide gentle fibre, feeding our beneficial bacteria and keeping things moving along. One tip if you are a bit sluggish is to eat 2 kiwi fruit and drink plenty of water. Avoid sparkling water and other fizzy drinks though as they can make bloating worse
- Slow down when eating. Our stomach works best with food that has been chewed well, starting the process of digestion in the mouth. Eating very quickly makes it harder for your digestive system to do it’s job properly. In an ideal world, we would all take at least 20 minutes to eat a meal. While this may not always be possible, slowing down and eating smaller portions can help a digestive system under pressure. Allowing yourself to get too hungry can also cause you to eat very quickly, so try to eat smaller meals more regularly to reduce bloating.
- Try increasing your levels of beneficial bacteria. You can start to do this gently by eating some fermented food, like sauerkraut, natural yoghurt or miso paste, or by drinking kombucha. Start with small amounts though as these may increase your bloating if you take too much at a time. Taking a good probiotic supplement can also help, especially if you have been on antibiotics or are taking a PPI (antacid) or if you are constipated. Most probiotic supplements do not have to be stored in the fridge, as the bacteria are freeze-dried during manufacture. If you have tried a probiotic supplement before and found that it did not help or even made things worse, it may be helpful for you to try a probiotic that does not contain prebiotics. Longer term you may wish to rule out the presence of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or to check your microbiome composition
- Sip peppermint tea. Peppermint has been shown to help to relax the gut and reduce spasms associated with IBS and bloating. Try drinking peppermint tea after meals to ease symptoms. While peppermint tea bags are fine, fresh mint is much tastier and may be more effective. Just place some fresh sprigs of mint in boiling water to make your own fresh mint tea. If you prefer cold drinks, allow your mint tea to cool and drink with ice. Ginger is another natural food that can help reduce bloating and this pineapple and ginger smoothie can be an easy to digest snack or breakfast. These won’t resolve the underlying cause of why you bloat but might give you some short-term relief
- Restrict your diet long term by removing lots of food groups, even if taking those foods out worked for someone you know. We are all different. The Low FODMAP diet limits a range of fermentable carbohydrate foods including wheat, lactose, some fruit like apples and some veg especially onions, garlic and asparagus. This can be helpful to relieve symptoms in the short term. But this and other restrictive diets are NOT helpful long term. They can lead to nutritional deficiencies and even lower levels of beneficial bacteria
- Put up with persistent discomfort. There will be a reason why you bloat and this can usually be identified and dealt with. Start with your food diary at home and get help if needed. Breath and stool tests can help to identify the underlying cause of the problem for long term relief
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