With warmer weather upon us we often become more conscious of our belly weight dragging down the “spring” in our step. But this need not be so. With a few tried and tested practices, you can say goodbye to the bloat and welcome the summer with your abdominals ironed down and ready for the sunshine.
1. Stop Milking It. You know the story. But just in case… It is estimated that 75% of adults are unable to produce lactase. Lactase is an enzyme produced by the small intestine to break down lactose. When it is not produced in enough quantities, lactose is not properly digested and moves into the bowel producing havoc such as wind, gas and bloating.
Solution: Often people with lactose intolerance can digest a small amount of dairy such as that found in hard cheeses or yoghurt with active cultures. However if you suspect you are unable to digest dairy then switch to a dairy free milk alternative.
2. The Usual Culprit. In coeliacs, gluten, the main protein found in wheat, triggers an autoimmune response in the body which destroys the tiny villi lining the small intestine leading to poor nutrient absorption and inflammation. In non-coeliacs, gluten intolerance may produce similar symptoms whilst not as severe. Research suggests that a large percentage of the non-coeliac population may not digest gluten as well as we once thought. Whether this is because we inherently should not be eating as much gluten as we currently do or whether it has something to do with the way the agriculture industry has modified grain production sources for maximum production and no regard to quality is still being debated.
Solution: Choose gluten-free grains such as rice, millet, barley and amaranth or reduce your intake of whole wheat products to just one meal a day.
3. Airy Encounters. The technical term for this is aerophagia and it can happen when you eat or drink too quickly because as well as swallowing your food and drink you swallow too much air. Given the air you swallow is mostly nitrogen, it is not soluble so you either burp it up or it makes its ways to your abdomen resulting in distension and unfortunately (for everyone) eventually results in wind.
Solution: Slow it down and enjoy taking pleasure in your meal without feeling the need to gulp it down with air. Avoid being a sensational slurper when engaging in beverage consumption, not using a straw and slowing down when drinking can often help this.
4. Ban the Bubbles. Fizzy drinks contain carbon dioxide gas which can start to start to “party” away in the stomach – a “swell party” is often the literal result. Cold fizzy drinks are even worse as the gas carbon dioxide expands in a warmer body temperature.
Solution: Choose plain water over carbonated and jazz it up with a slice of lemon or lime.
5. Sweet Enough. Sweeteners such as sorbitol and malitol occur naturally in fruits, wine and beer, but are more often consumed in the form of low-carb or sugar-free products and diet foods. These sugar alcohols are broken down and absorbed, just very slowly. Bloating occurs while undigested sugar alcohols hang around in the GI tract. Likely suspects include sugar-free chewing gum, mints and candy, sugar-free gelatin, pudding, jam and jelly, and foods containing sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, malitol, and erythritol.
Solution: Stick to stevia as a natural no calorie sweetener and shy away from processed foods where these sugar alcohols are likely to be found.
6. Battling Broccoli. Foods such as broccoli, legumes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and onions are notorious for their supercharged gas producing powers. This is due to their content of an indigestible sugar called raffinose. Methane-producing bacteria in the colon feed on raffinose and release gas in the process.
Solution: Gently steam your cruciferous vegetables to improve their digestibility. Experiment by eating very small amounts of these veggies (e.g. 1/2 cup) every day and gradually increasing your intake to build tolerance. Soak your legumes well before cooking, discard the water when the legumes have boiled over once (to remove some of the resistant starch) and add seaweed (wakame or kombu) to the boiling water to improve their digestibility.
7. Fabulous Fiber. But the right type. Soluble fiber (found in oat bran, beans, peas and most fruits) dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines. Insoluble fiber(found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables) does not dissolve in water and passes unchanged through the intestines, producing less gas and therefore less bloating than soluble fiber.
Solution: If you have not been used to eating much fiber, start with a low dose and gradually increase it to allow your intestines and gut bacteria time to adjust. My favourite types of fibre include slippery elm, flaxseed meal, chia seeds as well as whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Also ensure that you are drinking plenty of water. A healthy digestive system should be more than capable of dealing with the 30 grams of dietary fiber per day adults are recommended to consume.
8. Stress “Busting”. Stress is often linked to digestive disorders and gut discomfort. It also does a fairly good job at wearing away our intestinal lining, contributing to “leaky gut” and associated bloating and abdominal discomfort. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol may also cause your body to retain fluid, by depleting levels of good bacteria in your stomach that help with digestion and by slowing down the digestive process.
Solution: Take a few deep breaths before your meal, sip on some chamomile or valerian tea in between meals and reconsider your caffeine fix if you feel that is contributing to your anxiety levels. If you believe your anxiety is adversely affecting your daily life be sure to address it by seeing a professional therapist.
9. Water Restrictions. Liquid can dilute stomach acid needed to break down food – leading to poorly digested food fermenting and causing bloating.
Solution: Leave a 30 minute gap before and after meals to give your food a chance to make it to the stomach and for digestive enzymes to not become too diluted in the process.
10. Unlikely Suspects. Some vegetables that are often found in our daily salads can be unlikely bloating triggers. Red capsicums, unpeeled cucumbers and carrots have tough cellulose fibres which some people can find difficult to digest.
Solution: Chew your vegetables completely — at least 20 times per bite. Peel and de-seed cucumbers and try fermenting your vegetables which will break down their tough fibres, making them easier to digest.