Belly bloat. It just sounds awful. The good news is that it’s treatable, once you figure out what’s causing it.
Our digestive process is incredibly intricate. After a meal, acids in the body start digesting the food. Once the food has been chewed, it’s pushed by the tongue to the back of the mouth. From here, muscles move it further down the oesophagus and from there past a one-way valve, which is called the oesophageal sphincter. Once the food is in your stomach, it’s not supposed to move back up again, even if you are lying down, or if the stomach contracts.
Most commonly, bloat can be traced to food itself or issues with your digestive system. The types of food you eat can enable smooth or tricky digestion (and hence; bloating). Cape Town-based nutritional consultant Vanessa de Ascencao explains: “When foods are eaten in the “right” combinations, it moves through the digestive system with ease.”
For instance, she recommends that proteins and starches not be eaten together as these elements deactivate each other and prevent proper digestion of either food. It’s also not a good idea to mix too many fats together at one meal: heavy eating means that your digestive system takes a toll. “Imagine eating a handful of nuts, a teaspoon of olive oil and a slice of avocado all at the same time. Your system is taking in a bunch of fats and oils at one time. Choose one fat per meal,” recommends Ascencao.
When food is not your friend…
We get it! When you’re hungry, your lunch gets inhaled in a matter of seconds. Eating too fast is one of the main causes of bloating. As you wolf down your food, you’re also “wolfing down” large pockets of air that leads to ballooning. You’re also not giving your body enough time to digest the larger pieces of food, so you’re essentially just piling food on food without room and time to properly settle.
Drinking while eating is also asking for bloating trouble. Most carbonated drinks cause bloating, thanks to the carbon dioxide in the bubbles. Now if you pair this with food… just imagine. Rather, eat slowly, chewing your food into digestible morsels and sip your drink afterwards.
Love your salt? Your stomach doesn’t. Salt is a big culprit when it comes to bloating. High-sodium foods cause the body to retain water, which leads to a bloated feeling. Sodium can show up in some unlikely sources, especially in processed foods, so read your food labels. With this in mind, you may want to say no to your usual sandwich for lunch. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control study listed breads and rolls as the number-one source of sodium in the typical Western diet.
In fact, it’s a good idea to give everything you eat a good going-over. Keep a food diary. Particular bloating baddies include greasy, spicy and oily food. Dairy is also a difficult one for some tummies.
Other issues to consider
Food trickiness aside, bloating can also be caused by a malfunction in your digestive system.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a frequent offender. If you have IBS, you might wake up with a flat tummy that distends and blows up as the day progresses. It starts when the normal rhythmic muscular contractions of the digestive tract become irregular and uncoordinated, interfering with the normal movement of food and waste. Symptoms include (besides bloating), spasms, gas and abdominal pain.
- Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine is common in people with IBS. Taking probiotics (“good microorganisms”) could make a significant difference. Ask your chemist or health shop for probiotic products to normalise your gut flora.
- Diverticulitis; a painful digestive disease that happens when small pouches in the lining of the intestine become inflamed. Add wheat-bran and other fibre-rich foods to your diet and keep up your water intake.
It’s easy to dismiss bloating as a small issue, but if it persists and brings on pain, bowel problems, weight loss and blood in your stool – see your doctor immediately.
Ease the bloat
- Eat more raw, fresh foods, especially sprouted foods like legumes and seeds.
- Include other enzyme-rich foods like pineapple, mango, kiwi, pineapple, grapes, avocado, raw honey, bee pollen, extra virgin olive oil, and raw dairy products in your diet.
- Don’t over-eat.
- Chew your food thoroughly.
- Stop chewing gum. Your body produces digestive enzymes unnecessarily because it’s tricked into believing it’s actually digesting something.
- Some research suggests adding Vitamin D to your diet. It’s been found, in some trials, to soothe irritable bowel syndrome (which can cause bloating).