Here are 12 tips to reduce bloating and improve gut health
Bloating is a common digestive complaint where you experience fullness and swelling in the abdomen which usually occurs after eating. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing and at times, painful. If you’re feeling bloated and gassy, the good news is there are lots of dietary and lifestyle measures you can take to prevent these unpleasant symptoms. Here are 12 tips to reduce bloating and improve gut health.
What causes bloating?
Bloating occurs when there is a build-up of gas in the intestines causing a distension of the abdomen, resulting in your tummy feeling full and swollen.
- One of the primary causes can be eating your food too fast, making you swallow excessive air. The air gets trapped in the gut and has nowhere to go; this is when bloating occurs.
- Poor digestion and gut function are other driving factors for excess gas and bloating. When your gastrointestinal muscles don’t work efficiently or there is inflammation in the gut, your digestion can become impaired.
- An overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Most of the bacteria in your gut are beneficial; however, when there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, it can cause fermentation and the release of excess gases which typically brings on bloating.
- Constipation (hard stools and not passing a bowel motion every day) can block up your intestines and lead to abdominal pain and bloating. When stools sit in your colon for too long, they over ferment and create more gas.
- Poor diet (one that is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and trans fats) can destroy the “good” bacteria in your gut, creating an environment in which undesirable bacteria can grow and proliferate. This can be incredibly damaging for your body, causing bloating, constipation, gas and a host of other health issues.
- Food intolerances can also trigger bloating as the immune system abnormally reacts to the food particles, creating inflammation, trapped gas and poor bowel emptying.
The importance of gut health
70% of your immune system cells reside in the gastrointestinal system and 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut. An unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation, poor immune health, low mood, anxiety and autoimmune conditions. The gut comprises of around 100 trillion microbes which are made up of hundreds of bacterial species whose main job is to digest food, extract nutrients and produce vitamins. These beneficial microorganisms also help protect you from pathogens and assist your immune cells so they can work effectively.
How to reduce bloating and improve gut health
- Keep a food diary to note what foods you’re eating and the reactions you’re having. It’ll enable you to pin-point the foods which are causing you to bloat.
- Stay away from sugar, sweeteners, junk and fast food, coffee and alcohol as they all contribute to bloating. Sugar in particular feeds bad bacteria and yeasts in the gut, helping them to grow and reproduce. Some fruits such as apples, pears, mangoes, banana and grapes can cause bloating as they contain fructose which some people find hard to digest. Fructose is a type of naturally-occurring sugar found in fruit and most root vegetables.
- Eat organic and whole foods, and don’t combine proteins and starches in the same meal. Proteins (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans) and starches (potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, cereals) digest at different rates and require different digestive environments; proteins require an acidic environment to be digested (in the stomach) whereas starches need an alkaline environment (in the small intestine). Proteins take longer to digest than starches and therefore need to be eaten separately otherwise there is more strain on the digestive system which can lead to flatulence, bloating and indigestion.
- Never eat fruit after a meal as it digests more rapidly than other foods because of its higher water content and simple sugars. Digestive discomfort such as bloating and flatulence can occur when the breakdown of fruit is slowed down by the presence of other food.
- Chew your food properlyand eat slowly as this will help you digest food better, reducing bloating and preventing you from swallowing excess air.
- Control your portions to prevent overeating and also avoid eating late at night as it compromises digestion. When you’re asleep, your digestion naturally slows down so eating just before bed can cause indigestion, bloating, heartburn and reflux.
- Avoid consuming foods known to cause bloating, including gluten, wheat, sugar, dairy, beans, legumes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions and artificial sweeteners.
- Pass on dessert as it can hinder digestion of your main meal. Sweet treats and puddings can slow down digestion and cause bloating.
- Steer clear of coffee as it can aggravate your intestines, promoting inflammation and muscle spasms. Instead, drink a cup of peppermint tea after a meal to aid digestion. Peppermint, known as the stomach healer, works by relaxing intestinal muscles and reducing inflammation in the abdomen.
- Don’t drink carbonated beverages as the bubbles create trapped gas. Chewing gum is another bad habit which can cause bloating as it makes you swallow extra air.
- Probiotics help to replenish your gut flora, reduce inflammation and increase the amount beneficial bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are a supplement which you can buy from a health shop. There are different types of probiotic; some contain one or two strains of beneficial bacteria, whereas others contain multiple strains. Each strain exerts a specific action; some aid digestion, others stimulate the immune system, support genitourinary health and alleviate diarrhoea. The best strains of probiotics for bloating are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium infantis.Consult with a Nutritional Therapist to get correct probiotic and dosage for your needs.
- Bitter herbs such as Gentian, Ginger and Dandelion stimulate digestive processes including the secretion of gastric juices, stomach acid and bile which help break down the food you eat so it can be properly digested. Fennel and Chamomile are other digestive herbs that help relax digestive muscles, relieving gassiness and constipation. Herbs can be taken as a tea, liquid extract, tincture, tablet or capsule. Consult with a Herbalist to find the correct herbal formula for you.
Beat the bloat
Making a few small changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on your gut health and digestion, helping you to beat the bloat. Keep a food diary to monitor which foods are causing the issue, chew your food properly, avoid eating proteins and starches at the same meal, and stay away from gluten, dairy, sugar and coffee. Probiotics and digestive herbs can help improve digestion and replenish your gut bacteria so you can eat with peace of mind.