As a nutritionist who specializes in digestion and gut health, it's the number one topic of conversation in my office. It's awkward, annoying, confusing, and disempowering. But it's also preventable, predictable, and even kind of... normal.
Today I'm answering common questions about bloating that you might be too shy to ask. You might be surprised by what you learn.
1. What exactly is bloating? What causes it?
Most of the time, bloating is due to a build-up of gas created during digestion. Cute, right?
In this case, the cause is usually an imbalance of gut bacteria, food sensitivities, lack of digestive enzymes, or a combination of these factors.
Sometimes, though, bloating can have a more serious underlying cause such as gastrointestinal diseases or ovarian issues. If you experience sudden and persistent bloating, be sure to talk to your doctor first before jumping to conclusions or eliminating foods from your diet.
2. What foods are the worst for causing bloating?
Foods high in fermentable carbohydrates are most likely to lead to bloating. Fermentable carbs (also called FODMAPs) are found in common, healthy foods like fruits (especially apples and pears), gluten, dairy, garlic, onions, beans, and more. You can see a full list here. If you react to these foods, it may be related to an underlying bacterial imbalance in your gut.
Low fiber diets can also lead to bloating, since fiber is required to keep things moving and prevent constipation. Ensure adequate, consistent fiber intake by filling your meal plan with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. You know, the good stuff.
3. Can you get bloated even when eating a healthy diet?
In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear is “Why this is happening when I eat so healthy?!” Surprisingly, many people start experiencing bloating after they “clean up” their diet!
Often, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits that we love are high in both FODMAPs and fiber. Suddenly increasing fiber intake can cause temporary bloating. If you’ve recently made changes to your diet that led to bloating, give your body a week or two to adjust. If the issue is persistent, you might consider nutritional counselling.
4. Do lifestyle factors play a role in bloating like sleep, exercise and stress?
All of these factors play a huge role in bloating! During stressful times, your body actually produces fewer digestive enzymes.
Think about it: if you're about to run from a bear, the last thing your body cares about is whether you digest and absorb all the nutrients from that lasagna! Try to slow down and eat meals sitting at a table, away from screens to reduce mealtime stress.
Low-intensity exercise can be very helpful to reduce bloating. A gentle yoga class or walking a few miles per day will stimulate digestion and help keep things moving, preventing uncomfortable gas build-up.
5. Once you are bloated, what are the best ways to de-bloat? Are there any magical foods or tricks?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and sadly, there is no magical cure-all. But you're not helpless either. Ginger, fennel and peppermint have been shown to help with various digestive symptoms. Try a tea containing one or all of these tasty ingredients.
Going for a long walk can help ease bloating too. An after-dinner walk with a cup of tea in-hand is a great habit to form for optimal digestion.
6. Is bloating normal? Or is it something I should worry about? At what point should I consult with a healthcare professional about bloating?
It might come as a surprise to learn that, to an extent, bloating is normal!
Everyone will experience gas as a by-product of digestion sometimes. In fact, if you’re chasing perfect digestion or a perfectly flat tummy, you're probably just going to stress yourself out. And that stress leads to even more bloating!
If your bloating is new, or if it’s very painful you should talk to your doctor. Once you know that it’s not related to a serious underlying condition, consider nutritional counselling.
7. Parting words of wisdom: What's your best advice to beat the bloat?
Get to the root cause!
Food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances, and enzyme deficiencies can be helped by the right nutrition and supplement protocol. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s important to make sure you identify the true cause for you. Start keeping a food diary to see if you can get to the bottom of your trigger foods.
In the meantime: buy some tea, and start taking long walks.