Whole-person integrative medicine focused on healing you in mind, body and spirit. It's more than fixing what’s wrong. It’s about celebrating what’s right and making sure you’re on the path to a healthier, stronger you.
Having a bloated stomach is an all-too-common symptom many of our patients are experiencing these days which can feel annoying and uncomfortable. If your tummy frequently feels distended and blah, you probably want to know what’s causing it and what you can do to alleviate it.
Bloating can be caused by many different things and sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint the problem. Ultimately, bloating is caused by an excessive build-up of gas in your digestive system, which can cause uncomfortable swelling and fullness especially after eating. Your colon, or large intestine, is home to many bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Imbalances in your gut microbiome can develop over time due to poor diet, stress and overuse of antibiotics or other medications. This may lead to an overabundance of unhealthy microbes in your gut that may act upon foods and food particles that were not fully digested in the small intestine. Undigested proteins or certain fibers from complex carbohydrates may become fermented, which leads to gas production. Some gas is normal, but some people may produce more gas than others depending on their digestive function and the overall health of their microbiome.
In many cases, bloating can be reduced – or even eliminated – with some of the following simple suggestions. I typically recommend a two-pronged approach: 1) Try to identify and eliminate/reduce possible triggers; 2) add daily practices that can help diminish your symptoms. If your digestive concerns have become severe or chronic, be sure to consult with a doctor or dietitian to help you uncover what may be triggering them.
- Lactose (milk sugar) intolerance - Lactose intolerance can occur if your body does not produce enough lactase enzyme.
- Gluten intolerance - Gluten is protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and products made from these flours which may be difficult for some people to digest.
- High FODMAP foods – FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are types of carbohydrates found in a wide variety of foods such as onion, garlic, apples, etc. Excessive fermentation of these carbohydrates in the small intestine may be caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO). SIBO and SIFO can present as excessive gas and bloating soon after meals and result in a distended, pregnant looking abdomen. It should be diagnosed by a physician and properly treated.
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli/cabbage family) and other foods like beans or whole grains may tend to cause more gas/bloating in some people. If so, reduce intake and/or try to eat them with things that may help aid their digestion. For example, using a carminative spice like cumin can help reduce gas/bloating caused by beans, or soaking grains overnight before cooking can improve their digestion. Most people need not completely omit these nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods completely from the diet because we also need them for gut health and regularity. But if you’re new to eating these higher fiber foods, the body may need some time to gradually build up tolerance to them.
- Eggs - Some people have trouble digesting the sulfur found in eggs or they may be sensitive to components in the white, yolk or both.
- Ultra processed carbohydrates (refined grains and sugars) - These foods tend to ferment easily in the gut and can contribute towards the overgrowth of candida.
- Isolated (“functional”) fibers - These are commonly added to highly processed foods such as energy bars, yogurt, ice cream, breads, cereals, etc. to boast on the label that they are “high in fiber.” Some examples of isolated fibers are inulin, chicory, and polydextrose. While fiber-fortified foods can help boost your overall fiber intake, be cautious because many tend to be foods that are not very nutritious in other ways.
- Sugar alcohols (xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, or erythritol) - These are often used in products that may claim to be sugar-free or low in sugar. They're fine for most people in small amounts, but may cause gas, bloating and/or a laxative effect in some people especially when consuming high amounts.
- Artificial sweeteners - These have been shown to have a negative impact on the microbiome. It’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Take three to five deep breaths before beginning to eat each meal. This helps to stimulate your vagus nerve, which innervates your digestive system and shifts your body from “fight or flight” mode to “rest and digest” mode. Sitting down to eat, looking at your beautiful meal and enjoying its delicious smell also prepares your digestive system to “receive it” better.
- Chew food thoroughly. Setting your fork down between bites can help slow down the rate at which you are eating and cause you to swallow less air with the food. Eating too fast and gulping down foods may cause you to swallow too much air. Saliva also contains enzymes that help you digest food, especially carbohydrates. Eating fast or lack of saliva impairs your chances of digesting carbohydrates properly.
- Eat smaller meals. Eating too much can overload the digestive system.
- Eat more cultured and fermented foods. Foods like yogurt (preferably plain, low sugar), kefir, kombucha, miso, apple cider vinegar, lactofermented pickled vegetables, kimchi and sauerkraut contain healthy bacteria that can help repopulate and rebalance your gut.
- The following culinary herbs/spices may help reduce gas and bloating when incorporated into cooking or enjoyed as a tea with a meal: mint, basil, parsley, rosemary, anise, caraway, coriander, fennel seeds, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon.
- Try a digestive enzyme supplement with your meal. These typically contain protease (enzyme that breaks down protein), amylase (enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates) and lipase (enzyme that breaks down fats).
- Probiotic supplements can help improve the bacterial environment in the gut, which may help reduce symptoms of gas and bloating.
- Take a walk after eating. Gentle exercise after eating can improve circulation throughout the body and can help with bowel regularity.
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps prevent dehydration, lubricates the gut and helps dietary fiber to properly do its job.
About the Author
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD, is an integrative dietitian culinary nutrition expert with nearly two decades of experience working towards improving the health of others. She is passionate about educating others how to harness the healing power of food and healthful lifestyle changes.