Everything You Need to Know About Bloat - Part 2
Bloating is a normal part of digestion but sometimes it can be uncomfortable, when it doesn’t really have to be.
Here are 3 common reasons why we experience bloating from time to time, and what we can do about it to relieve discomfort:
1) Simply eating
The basic anatomy of how the food we eat becomes digested and can turn into bloating is as follows:
First, it goes into our stomach where it is broken down into smaller pieces, and that then goes on to our small intestines where the nutrients get absorbed for our body to use. Whatever doesn’t get absorbed then moves on to the large intestine, which is also called the colon, and this is where a huge colony of healthy bacteria lives. Those bacteria then eat that undigested food as food for themselves then creating a by-product, which is gas. That can be often why we experience bloating a little while after we’ve eaten something. So in the case that you’re feeling a little bit of discomfort from the gas that’s produced, there are 4 foods that you can consume that might actually help.
- Ginger, which is a prokinetic meaning it helps to promote the movement of our digested tract, and that can help to relieve any pain from built up gas. Ginger is great to add to curries or smoothies or just to some hot water.
- Fennel seeds are another one. They contain a compound called anethole which can help in relaxing our digestive tract, releasing gas, and also reduces inflammation. Fennel can be added to teas but also to soups or salads.
- Peppermint has been found to have a calming effect on the digestive system, and most of the research on the effectiveness of peppermint has been in relation to peppermint oil extract, but there is some anecdotal evidence that peppermint tea might also work. A quick note to anyone who is pregnant however: be cautious with or avoid altogether these herbal medicines unless small amounts have been approved by your doctor or midwife.
- Kiwis contain an enzyme called actinidin that helps to break down food which can positively impact our gut, and promotes bowel movements as well as relieve pain from distention.
2) Undigested Carbs
Food is incredibly nourishing of course but some of them can promote gas and discomfort if our bodies have a hard time digesting them. Take for example legumes; some people just have a hard time digesting beans or lentils, and it can definitely be a cause of bloating. This is because legumes contain a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides. For the most part, oligosaccharides cannot be broken down by our digestive tract so it moves onto the large intestine where it feeds and supports the growth of those beneficial bacteria. Beans and lentils are great for our gut health but it can make us feel unpleasant because of the gas that is produced. So if you’re having trouble enjoying legumes, just consider adding them more slowly. Start with eating only a couple of spoonfuls consistently for a few days before gradually increasing to larger quantities. This gives our bodies time to adapt and adjust. If larger beans are the cause behind your discomfort, you might want to consider switching to smaller legumes like lentils because they actually have a lower oligosaccharide content. That can also help ease our bodies into enjoying legumes more often. Another tip would be to always rinse them well if you’re using canned or jarred legumes. When using dry legumes, consider soaking them first. Even something like lentils, which traditionally do not require soaking, can benefit from it. The oligosaccharides leach into the soaking water, and then when you drain them off you would be washing some of them away.
Oligosaccharides are just one type of carbohydrate that come from a group of carbs that are known as FODMAPs. Those can promote discomfort as well especially in individuals with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). For some people, certain FODMAPs are poorly digested and end up as food for those gas producing bacteria in the large intestine. Think of lactose and dairy for example, which can cause a lot of digestive issues for people with a lactose intolerance. A low FODMAP diet can actually help to identify which foods can cause intolerances for you. But we would only recommend using such a diet under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Just be aware that a low FODMAP diet restricts a lot of super nourishing foods, and is only meant to be followed for a short period of time.
Chronic constipation is one of the most common digestive problems that affects hundreds of millions of people everyday globally, and it often goes hand in hand with abdominal pain and bloating. So if you’re not going to the bathroom as often or as comfortably as you would like, there are 4 things that can help:
- Fiber. It is the king of digestion, and it can only be found in plant-based foods. There are 2 types: soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers are those that dissolve in water or swell up and create a gel-like substance. This helps to soften stools, which makes bathroom trips more comfortable. Think of how oats soak up the milk that they’re cooked it to make a thick and creamy porridge, or how chia seeds expand and absorb the water that they’re soaking in. Some soluble fiber also gets eaten by the bacteria in our large intestine, which helps to ensure that we have a healthy colony down there. Insoluble fibers on the other hand do not get eaten by the bacteria in our colon, and don’t really swell either. What they do is help bulk up stool which tends to help in moving things along. They can be found in plenty of plant foods like green beans, nuts, corn and zucchini. Together, both fibers help to keep us comfortable and regular.
- Water. It is VERY important to enjoying high fiber foods so that our bathroom visits are less unpleasant. If we increase our fiber intake without also increasing our fluid intake, this can actually cause constipation. For most adults, it is good to aim for about 1.5 to 2 liters of fluids everyday, which can sound like a lot but it’s only about 6 to 8 cups. If you enjoy soups and smoothies they can also contribute to our fluid intake for the day.
- Walking. A lot of us I’m sure are guilty of sitting down for long hours for our work, and just like we are sitting still, so is our colon. Enjoying physical movement can work wonders for our digestion and also help to relieve abdominal bloating. Research suggests that even a 10 to 15 minute walk after meals can really help.
- In recent years there has been more and more research emerging that outlines the importance of the gut-brain access: essentially a two way communication network between our digestive system and our brain. Psychological or social can actually cause digestive problems and vice versa. When we become stressed enough to trigger our fight or flight response, our digestion can slow down because it tries to divert energy towards whatever the perceived threat is, and this can definitely cause digestive discomfort. So exploring stress relieving techniques might really help. Hormone fluctuations can also influence how our digestion functions, and while a small amount of emotional stress or monthly hormonal fluctuations around menstruation are completely natural, having them an excess isn’t.
- Salt. Eating too much of it is another reason we can often feel bloated because salt makes our bodies retain or hold onto water, and that excess water weight can sometimes feel uncomfortable. The remedy, which does sound a little counterintuitive, is actually drinking more water. This is because water helps to flush the excess salt out of our system.
- Swallowing air. By now we’ve learned that a lot of the gas in our bodies is produced by the bacteria in our colon, but did you know that a lot of it also comes from the air that we swallow? It is suspected that we swallow at least one if not multiple liters of air in a day. It can be swallowed when we eat too quickly for example, when we drink carbonated beverages, when we drink through straws or when we chew gum or suck on hard candies. At the very least, eating more mindfully and taking the time to eat slowly and chew well can all really help.