By Alyssa Burnham, ND (Naturopathic Physician at Wise Woman Wellness)
Bloating is a very common condition that most people experience at some point. When you’re bloated, your stomach feels tight, full, and sometimes painful.
Often, we feel bloated after a large meal, and the discomfort is only short-term. Other times, bloating is related to an underlying health condition, and can cause severe symptoms that negatively affect quality of life.
Keep reading to find out more about bloating, its common causes, and how you can prevent it.
Bloating refers to an excess of gas in the gut. Gasses such as oxygen, CO2, methane, and nitrogen enter the gut as you swallow air, and through the fermentation of foods in your large intestine.
A number of factors can cause increased gas in the gut.
- Constipation. This is one of the most common causes of bloating. The longer the stool sits in the colon, the more time it has to ferment, resulting in more gas.
- Food intolerances. Certain foods, such as lactose or gluten intolerance can cause gas and bloating.
- Volume of food. Eating too much or eating too quickly can also cause uncomfortable gas and bloating.
- Foods high in fat. Fatty foods are often high in sodium resulting in gas and bloating.
- Poor gut health. Imbalances of the gut microbiome, aka the ecosystem of bacteria that lives in your gut.
- Physical and mental factors. Stress, anxiety, weight gain, and changes during the menstrual cycle can also alter gut health and cause gas and bloating.
In some cases, bloating is caused by severe medical issues like infection, bowel obstruction, liver disease, or cancer. If you are experiencing chronic and painful bloating, it is important to identify the underlying cause with a medical expert.
Bloating treatment typically begins with changing your diet. Limiting foods that trigger bloating is essential. Certain foods contain high amounts of non- or poorly digestible compounds that lead to increased gas. These foods include:
- Beans and lentils. Swap these for grains, meats, or quinoa. If you are going to eat beans, try soaking them or choosing easier-to-digest varieties such as pinto or black beans.
- Carbonated drinks. Instead, choose flat water or herbal tea to avoid gas.
- Wheat. This can be tricky to avoid, but you can incorporate several gluten-free alternatives into your diet, such as pure oats, quinoa, buckwheat, almond flour, and coconut flour.
- Broccoli and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and brussel sprouts. While nutritious, these can trigger bloating for some. Instead, consume more spinach, sweet potato, and water-based vegetables like cucumber.
- Onions and garlic. To avoid excess gas, add flavor to your food with fresh herbs, or the green parts of scallions and chives.
- Dairy. If your bloating is caused by lactose intolerance, swap for lactose-free products such as coconut, almond, or cashew milk.
- Sugar alcohols. Xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol are all heavily associated with excess gas. Swap for sweeteners that are easier to digest, such as stevia, monk fruit, or honey.
- Avoid salty foods too often. High sodium intake has also been found to lead to water retention and the gut and bloated sensations.
- Reduce consumption of fatty foods. High amounts of fat in the intestine also retain gas, leading to bloating. This is why you may feel bloated and uncomfortable after a fatty meal. These include fried foods, fast food, chips, chocolate, and pastries.
Lifestyle changes to prevent bloating also include eating foods that support regular bowels and prevent constipation. To reduce constipation, increase fiber consumption. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are all high in fiber and will help to keep things moving.
As well, be sure to drink adequate fluids. This looks like about 2 liters of water a day.
It should be noted that adding fiber to your diet too quickly may worsen constipation at first, so add it gradually.
It’s also important to exercise regularly. Whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming, or jogging, try spending at least 30 minutes a day moving to maintain healthy bowels.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits and can help promote healthy levels of bacteria in the gut. Although more studies are needed, some research suggests probiotic consumption can reduce bloating.
You can take probiotics in pill form, or consume probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso. If you try supplementing with probiotics, stick with a strain for at least 4 weeks to discern whether it has a beneficial effect on you.
It should also be noted that probiotics are not always recommended for bloating, like in cases of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) for example. Working together with a qualified healthcare practitioner is recommended to avoid making matters worse – we can help!
Eating large volumes of food in a short amount of time is almost sure to leave you feeling bloated. Your stomach becomes stretched, leading to the pooling of gasses and solids inside the gut. Eating too quickly also can cause you to swallow too much air and is a possible cause of bloating. Furthermore, if the foods contain poorly digested carbs, your body will produce more gas.
Instead, focus on eating mindfully and enjoying every mouthful. Paying attention to our hunger and fullness cues is the first step in mindful eating. Slow down, place your fork down in between bites and chew thoroughly. Avoid eating whilst distracted such as scrolling on your phone or watching TV to prevent overeating.
As you can see, a wide variety of foods can influence bloating. Stop guessing and start journaling! Keeping a detailed food journal can help you determine which foods are triggers for you. After a few weeks of logging what you eat and drink, you may be able to pinpoint what exactly causes uncomfortable bloating.
Be sure to also note things like any stressors (work load, family troubles, etc.) you’re experiencing in the journal since stress can be a major contributor.
If bloating is more than a rare occurrence for you, getting proper GI testing is necessary. As mentioned earlier, these natural treatments and lifestyle changes may not suit everyone. A common symptom of bloating could be a larger issue in your intestines such as leaky gut, SIBO, IBS, IBD, and parasites.
Functional stool testing can determine what is really going on and can help to formulate a proper treatment plan. Your natural health practitioner can then help address underlying causes and steer you in the right direction.
There are many steps you can take to reduce the discomfort of bloating. Taking a mindful approach to diet and lifestyle is a great first step. But if your bloating persists for over a week and is consistently painful, talk with us – a qualified practitioner will help get you the proper testing necessary to further identify the root cause and get you bloat free for good!
Niu HL, Xiao JY. The efficacy and safety of probiotics in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: Evidence based on 35 randomized controlled trials. Int J Surg. 2020 Mar;75:116-127. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.01.142. Epub 2020 Jan 31. PMID: 32014597.
Clevers E, Nordqvist A, Törnblom H, Tack J, Masclee A, Keszthelyi D, Van Oudenhove L, Simrén M. Food-symptom diaries can generate personalized lifestyle advice for managing gastrointestinal symptoms: A pilot study. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2020 Aug;32(8):e13820. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13820. Epub 2020 Feb 7. PMID: 32031756.
Misselwitz B, Butter M, Verbeke K, Fox MR. Update on lactose malabsorption and intolerance: pathogenesis, diagnosis and clinical management. Gut. 2019 Nov;68(11):2080-2091. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318404. Epub 2019 Aug 19. PMID: 31427404; PMCID: PMC6839734.
McKenzie YA, Bowyer RK, Leach H, Gulia P, Horobin J, O’Sullivan NA, Pettitt C, Reeves LB, Seamark L, Williams M, Thompson J, Lomer MC; (IBS Dietetic Guideline Review Group on behalf of Gastroenterology Specialist Group of the British Dietetic Association). British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence-based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults (2016 update). J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016 Oct;29(5):549-75. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12385. Epub 2016 Jun 8. PMID: 27272325.