Without a doubt, bloating is one of the most common complaints I hear about from my clients. I am regularly asked for diet recommendations for managing gut health and bloating from friends, family and colleagues. Even those without other digestive complains often reference longstanding issues with bloating. Are you wondering why bloating is so common, and if there is anything you can do with your diet to help with bloating? Keep reading!
What is bloating?
In simple terms, bloating refers to the sensation of increased abdominal pressure. Bloating is sometimes accompanied with distention, which describes the same sensation of increased pressure with a corresponding increase in abdominal girth (1).
Although bloating can be very uncomfortable it is often completely normal. Common triggers of bloating include having a large meal, stress, travel, chewing gum, using straws and smoking. Bloating and distension have been reported in up to 96% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and in 20% to 30% of the general population (1). Although normal, up to 50% of people who struggle with bloating report a significant impact to quality of life. Too often my clients with significant bloating describe their symptoms being minimized by health care professionals.
Mild bloating can be part of normal digestion, but when bloating becomes debilitating it can be a sign of a greater health concern. Other health complaints associated with bloating include food intolerances, celiac disease, GI infections and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). If you are experiencing significant bloating, particularly alongside other concerning symptoms such as weight loss, blood in your stool, loss of appetite and ongoing diarrhea you should speak to your family physician.
How to relieve bloating naturally through diet:
As we discussed above, bloating is a natural symptom of digestion, especially after a high fiber meal. If you experience bloating from fiber, you aren’t alone! Fiber provides fuel (food) for our healthy gut bacteria. Fiber is fermented by gut bacteria in the large intestine, which releases gas and can cause bloating. However, if you feel that your bloating is excessive or very uncomfortable, there are strategies you can use to help reduce bloating:
- Eating protein, fat, and fibre at each meal prevents overeating by providing more filling food. Eating very large portions can overwhelm digestion and worsen bloating.
- Incorporating soluble fibre and water into your day works against constipation and bloating. Bloating is the most common symptom of constipation. By resolving constipation, bloating is often eliminated or significantly improved.
- Decreasing your intake of carbonated beverages, as they release carbon dioxide gas and cause bloating.
- Eating slower encourages chewing thoroughly and can prevent overeating and improve digestion. In fact, chewing food thoroughly is often one of the more effective (and simple) strategies I use to combat bloating. Chewing releases digestive enzymes in the saliva and helps to mechanically break down food into very small pieces – making it easier to digest! We are also more likely to recognize satiety (when we are full) when we slow down and are more mindful during meals.
- Lowering the salt in your diet can ease bloating. Salt retains fluid and can expand your digestive tract volume.
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals prevents overeating.
- Limiting certain foods, like excessive caffeine and alcohol, cruciferous (gassy) vegetables including broccoli, onion, asparagus and Brussels sprouts, spicy and fatty foods can help to reduce bloating.
- Ultimately, a low FODMAP diet is the most impactful dietary approach to managing IBS and bloating symptoms (1).
Lifestyle tips to manage gut health and bloating:
- Exercising regularly helps to regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.
- Sleeping enough can help prevent overeating, which can contribute to bloating.
- Managing stress is preventive for bloating because stress is linked to bloating symptoms.
- Hypnotherapy has been proven to regulate bowel movements and decrease bloating with IBS.
- Avoid overly tight clothing which can interfere with digestion.
Best supplements for gut health and bloating:
- Peppermint oil may help with reducing stomach pain and bloating by relaxing the muscles in the bowel wall (2).
- Kiwifruit extract helps to decrease constipation and therefore bloating and gas due to its ability to promote laxation and gastric motility (3).
- Certain probiotic strains may help to reduce bloating. For example, the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010 has been shown to increase (speed up) gastrointestinal transit time (4, 5).
- Ground flaxseed can help manage gas and bloating through management of constipation (6). Work your way up to 2 Tbsp/day gradually (6).
I always recommend making changes one at a time so that you can see what actually helps. Seek support from your doctor if bloating is ongoing or severe, and from a gut health dietitian if you are struggling to identify or manage your dietary triggers.