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Diet and Lifestyle Habits to Prevent Bloat

By Kaori Kay Cheslock, RHNC

Hot summer weather has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!

As challenging as it has been over the past few months, it seems like we have navigated the largest obstacles of 2020 so far, building many skills that will help us move forward in the future. Today we’re learning how to adjust to the new normal, with respect and cautiousness, while slowly getting our life back together. We have come very far as a society, and are proving every day that we can always find new ways to cope with the changing environment, by using the tools we have and being creative with respect, kindness, and compassion.

With an eye to optimism for the road ahead of us, why not take full advantage of the beautiful weather and sunshine of summer to celebrate the hard work we’ve put in so far.

As many provinces expand their encouraged activity list, you may be planning to go on small trips and engage in new activities this season. A few of the more popular summer activities are going camping, swimming in lakes, or taking part in any kind of water activity – presenting imminent opportunities to don a swimsuit. 

For many, something that is ingrained in the back of our mind is the dreaded “bloating”! We feel you. Today, we’d like to focus on the topic of bloating – to explore what it is and why this happens, as well as how to prevent it from happening on a special day. The goal is to have you enjoying every moment of your summer days, with the confidence of looking and feeling good!

First off, what is bloating?

Bloating occurs in your abdomen and it happens when your gastrointestinal tract is filled with air or gas. You may notice that your belly looks swollen or misshapen, sometimes you can experience sharp abdominal pain. You feel full and tight as if you just had a big meal. And at times it may be uncomfortable or painful. As well as clothes may fit tighter than usual.

What are the symptoms and causes? 

Burping frequently or experiencing abdominal rumbling or gurgling typically top the list of initial complaints. Common symptoms of bloating also include stomach pain, discomfort, and release of gas. 

There are a variety of possible reasons and causes for abdominal bloating. Fluid retention or gas production from eating a specific food (or drinking a specific drink) for example. Overeating in general, acute or chronic stress, and indigestion from consuming something your body is sensitive to are also common culprits.

It can be due to irritable bowel syndrome or infection that you may need extra attention. When bloating/ excess gas production is severe, you may have symptoms including a loss of consciousness, blood in your stool or vomit, noticeable weight loss, unexpected vaginal bleeding, nausea, excessive/uncontrolled vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, or fever. If you experience any of these severe symptoms above, we recommend seeing your doctor. 

However, mild bloating is a common occurrence for many people and there are key steps you can take with your diet and lifestyle to prevent and/or treat the ailment.

What to do to prevent bloating?

Avoiding certain items/ categories of food that could cause abdominal bloating and pain or introducing food that can fight to prevent it are the most effective courses of action. 

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Avoid Spicy Food. The capsaicin in some spicy foods can irritate the lining of the stomach or intestines, which may have a laxative effect in some people as the meal makes its way through their digestive system
  • Avoid Greasy Food. Fatty foods like bacon, sausage, and oily dishes may also cause bloating because they are slowly emptied from the stomach. They don’t necessarily produce gas, they just hang around in the gut longer and increase the feeling of fullness. Many fried foods are low in fibre and take longer to digest.
  • Monitor Your Response To Legumes. Beans have high fibre content and contain sugars that the body can find it difficult to break down. Beans may cause bloating because they contain oligosaccharides as well, which are sugars that the body can find it difficult to break down.
  • Monitor Your Response To Cruciferous Vegetables. Kale, broccoli, and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables, which contain raffinose — a sugar that remains undigested until bacteria in your gut ferment it, which produces gas and, in turn, makes you bloat
  • Monitor Your Response To Dairy Products. About 75% of the world’s population can’t break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. This condition is known as lactose intolerance. If you’re lactose intolerant, dairy products can cause major digestive problems. Symptoms include bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea.
  • Minimize Artificial Sweeteners and Avoid Taking Unfamiliar Vitamin Supplements. Since our body has trouble digesting sugar alcohols, additives, and fillers found in some supplements, our gut bacteria works overtime and the byproduct is often excess gas.
  • Drink Plenty Of Water. This  helps to reduce constipation, and supports smooth body functioning overall.
  • Eat A High Fibre Diet. In combination with adequate hydration each day, prioritizing a diet high in fibre supports healthy digestion and elimination.
  • Consume Peppermint Tea or Eat Peppermint Leaves. Peppermint isn’t just reserved for minty fresh breath—it may also help relax the gastrointestinal tract and alleviate bloating. 
  • Avoid Carbonated Beverages And Beer. The carbonation in sparkling water is excess air, which you swallow when you drink it. And beer… well, we ask you to trust us with this one.
  • Last But Not Least… Avoid any alcoholic drinks as well as eating at least two hours before bed to give your digestive system a rest.

Now, we also need to cover one of the very common digestive problems called IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) to round out our discussion on bloating. Over 75% of the population in the US has this problem (very likely a similar statistic in Canada), and most of them are undiagnosed. You may want to take a closer look at your digestive system (with the help of a specialist in the area) if your bloating is persistent and of serious concern.

What is IBS?

IBS is an inflammatory bowel disease and the symptoms vary from individual to individual. The duration of GI (Gastro Intestinal) symptoms normally lasts about 3-4 days each month. The symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Severe IBS can cause intestinal damage in rare cases. IBS isn’t related to the risk of gastrointestinal cancers, however, it can impact largely in your everyday life. If you have IBS, you will benefit from learning about FODMAPs food as well as low-FODMAPs diet.

Avoiding FODMAPs foods:

FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols) are short-chain carbs that are resistant to digestion. They are not absorbed in your bloodstream. They don’t change the structure and reach the far end of your intestine where most of your gut bacteria live. Gut bacteria use FODMAPs food for fuel, producing hydrogen gas and can cause digestive symptoms. They also produce liquid into your intestine, which is a cause for diarrhea. The low-FODMAPs diet (which is not intended to be followed long term, but rather exploratory to help you identify specific food triggers) can help improve the symptoms for people with IBS.

Foods High in FODMAPs

FRUITS 

Apples, applesauce, apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, cherries, canned fruit, dates, figs, pears, peaches, watermelon

SWEETENERS 

Fructose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol

DAIRY PRODUCTS

Milk (from cows, goats and sheep), ice cream, most yogurts, sour cream, soft and fresh cheeses (cottage, ricotta, etc) and whey protein supplements

VEGETABLES

Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, fennel, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, shallots

LEGUMES

Beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans

WHEAT

Bread, pasta, most breakfast cereals, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, crackers, biscuits

OTHER GRAINS

Barley and rye

BEVERAGES

Beer, fortified wines, soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, milk, soy milk, fruit juices

It’s also important to note that FODMAPs foods have a lot of health benefits and are considered healthy foods. This is one of the main reasons this diet typically is not intended for long term use. We should not avoid the above mentioned foods completely, except people with FODMAPs sensitivity where doing so may be advised by your Doctor or Dietitian.

An important takeaway from nutrition science is that most food items have both benefits and toxicity… ill effects and toxicity being a concern if certain foods are over consumed. We want to emphasize that the key to staying healthy is to ensure your diet has moderation and balance at the forefront. 

If you have issues digesting certain foods, we recommend that you investigate which ones specifically, from there, you can decide if it is in your best interest to remove – or simply lessen the amount consumed – to find that healthy balance with your body.

Do note that there is no “magic food” in existence that will take you to your health goal. Accordingly, it’s very important to learn how different quantities of different foods work with your body. As a final word, please don’t be afraid to consume the above listed foods, unless you have the sensitivities or allergies. Once you have a sound understanding of how nutrition works, it will definitely help get you ready for swimsuit season! Building this understanding is our goal with these blogs.