Bloating is one of the most common digestive issues. Studies have shown that over 90 per cent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) suffer with bloating. But, even people who don’t have IBS can experience uncomfortable bloating.
Here, nutritionist and weight loss expert Kim Pearson shares five potential causes of bloating, and what you can do to combat it.
It’s easy to forget, while we are speedily eating lunch at our desk, that the process of digestion actually starts with chewing. Chewing physically breaks down food and combines it with saliva which contains the digestive enzyme amylase. If you’re not chewing your food thoroughly, your digestion can be compromised, which can lead to bloating. Eating too quickly increases your chances of swallowing air which also increases the chances of bloating.
Tackle it: Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing. This will support digestion and reduce your risk of gulping down air. Aim to chew each mouthful of food 30 times, or until it becomes soft with no lumps.
Eat to 80% full
Unsurprisingly, overeating is a common cause of bloating. It takes time for our brain to register that our stomach is full up, so eating too quickly means we can be full before we know it. There are also those times when we find ourselves feeling full but we carry on eating anyway! In these situations, getting up and walking away from the table can give us time to pause and reflect on whether we really want to carry on filling our faces.
Tackle it: As well as chewing your food thoroughly, try pausing and putting down your knife and fork between mouthfuls. Don’t eat until you ‘couldn’t possibly eat another bite’, but instead, aim for a feeling of 80 per cent full.
Balance Your Bacteria
Probiotic ‘beneficial’ bacteria line our gut wall and along with many other important functions, they aid in the digestion of food. A lack of these bacteria can compromise our digestive function and lead to bloating. Many things can cause low levels of these good bacteria in our gut, for example, taking a course of antibiotics, which can kill off good gut bacteria as well as the bad bacteria they’re designed to. In addition to this, pathogenic ‘bad’ bacteria can sometimes reside in the gut, one symptom of which can be bloating.
Tackle it: We can support our beneficial bacteria with fermented foods such as tempeh, miso, sauerkraut and kefir. If you experience bloating alongside other IBS symptoms, it’s worth getting a comprehensive gut health test run to establish whether there’s an underlying cause.
Fluctuations in hormones can be linked to bloating in women around the time of their period. Food cravings associated with this time of the month can also contribute to bloating if you’re prone to overeating, or eating heavier foods that are more challenging to digest.
Tackle it: Make an effort to maintain a healthy diet around the time of your period, as tempting as it may be to gorge on pasta and chocolate. A couple of squares of dark chocolate can often combat chocolate cravings without making bloating worse.
Constipation can trigger bloating due to waste becoming backed up in the bowel. This can lead to gas building up behind the blockage, making the bloating worse.
Tackle it: Ensure you’re eating plenty of fibrous vegetables and drinking enough water. Exercising regularly can also help to get things moving. Avoid relying on laxatives like senna which can be irritating for the gut. If you suffer with chronic constipation, be sure to consult your GP.
Identify Food Sensitivities
For some of us, certain foods can be a trigger for bloating. Heavily processed foods and those containing wheat gluten are common culprits, but different foods can act as triggers for different people so it’s important to identify what’s affecting you.
Tackle it: If you think a particular food is to blame, try keeping a food diary noting down what you eat and when you experience bloating to see if you can link a particular type of food to your bloating. Alternatively consider a food intolerance test which can help you pinpoint the food(s) that you’re sensitive to.
While mild, infrequent bloating is common and unlikely to have an underlying cause of serious concern, certain conditions that cause bloating can be very serious. It’s important to consult your doctor promptly if your symptoms persist or if your bloating is accompanied by pain, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, change in bowel movements, blood in your stools or vomiting.
Kim Pearson is a qualified nutritionist and weight loss expert based on London’s Harley Street. She consults clients in London and internationally via her virtual consulting room. For more information about Kim and the services she offers, visit her website.