Bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort are some of the most common complaints I hear from my clients. Often they are surprised to find out that these symptoms are often related to their food choices and not the amount of food on their plate. That's not to say overeating won't lead to a feeling of fullness and discomfort but for the person that eats well, is mindful of their hunger cues, and lives an overall healthy lifestyle, chronic bloating can be really frustrating. Fortunately, with a little self-awareness and a few tweaks to your food choices, you won't have to suffer forever.
1. Address Food Intolerances. The first step in beating bloat is becoming more conscious of the food choices you make and how they make you feel. If you are curious about food intolerance you should first speak with a dietitian or doctor. They can help you get tested or point you in the direction of appropriate dietary changes. One recommendation might be a simple experiment at home called an Elimination Diet. You will remove common food intolerances from your diet like dairy, soy and wheat for at least two weeks and note any changes in your symptoms. Then, add one food per week back into your diet and note if your symptoms change. If the addition of a food worsens your symptoms you should consider removing it from your diet.
2. Understanding FODMAPS. Gluten is often villainized when it comes to GI troubles but new research shows that symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, gas and constipation may be related to intolerance to a group of foods versus any specific food. This group of foods has been labeled FODMAPS, which is short for "Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccarides and Polyols." It's a mouthful, no pun intended. FODMAPS are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly digested in the small intestine, which leads to IBS-like symptoms. Removing foods high in FODMAPS (like dairy, wheat, beans as well as certain fruits and vegetables) has been shown to decrease such symptoms.
3. Decrease Your Sugar Intake. Whether you have a FODMAP sensitivity or not, it is a good idea to limit the amount of sugar you consume. Excessive added sugars in the diet have been linked to many diseases as well as obesity in general. It is common knowledge that artificial sweeteners can cause abdominal discomfort so it is a good idea to ditch them as well. Plus, gas causing bad bacteria and yeast feed on refined sugars, which can exacerbate bloating.
4. Try a Probiotic. Probiotics are good bacteria that keep your gut healthy and aid digestion. Including probiotics in the diet helps to balance the bacteria in your gut to prevent bloat causing bad bacteria from overgrowth. These healthy bacteria can be found in fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut. If fermented foods are not your thing you can consider a probiotc supplement. Probiotic supplements are especially beneficial after a course of antibiotics, which can decrease your healthy bacteria levels.
5. Feed the Healthy Bacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. Prebiotics are rich in plant-based foods like bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus and artichokes. Note: Most of these foods are on the high-FODMAP list so consume them in moderation if you are sensitive.
6. Aid Your Digestion. Sometimes food intolerance is related to your body's inability to digest a food effectively. When food is not properly digested, it can cause gas to build up in the intestines. The first plan of action is to chew your food well. Many people forget that digestion begins in the mouth and properly chewing your food can be very beneficial. The second plan of action is to consider a digestive enzyme like Enzymedica Digest Gold (there is a variety with probiotics as well). These pills are meant to be taken with meals as they heighten the action of your own digestive enzymes allowing you to digest macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats more easily. The addition of a digestive enzyme can soothe abdominal discomfort and promote GI regularity and nutrient absorption.
7. Understand Indigestion. Acid reflux is more of a symptom than an illness so instead of masking the symptom with medication, consider taking the time to assess the root cause of the problem. Acid-blocking medications can lead to deficiencies in nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, iron and vitamin B12. Long term use of these medications has also been associated with an increased risk of bone fracture as well as bacterial overgrowth due to the alternation of the Ph balance in the stomach. A lack of stomach acid can also cause undigested food to pass into the small intestine, which can increase your risk for bloating. To decrease reflux symptoms without medications you should remove intolerant foods from your diet and also consider natural remedies for reflux such as a digestive enzyme, Enzymedica Acid Soothe or Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).