Expert advice on diagnosing and beating the dreaded belly bloat.
By Karen Gordon
Suffering from stomach bloat? If you’re not pregnant and you haven’t just eaten an extra large triple cheese pizza – you might be wondering why your belly feels like it’s about to explode.
Diet and bloating
So what causes bloating? ‘Understanding what may be causing a bloated stomach can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle,’ says Shubrook. ‘There can be many factors at play such as stress, sugar, imbalance in the gut flora (microbiome), medication and food sensitives, to name a few.’
The most common causes are overeating or certain foods, such as high-fat, spicy, or greasy foods and fizzy drinks.
The most common causes – which are not usually serious – are overeating or certain foods, such as high-fat, spicy, or greasy foods and fizzy drinks.
But according to Dr Di Cuffa, even healthy foods, such as pulses, beans, broccoli, cabbage, chestnuts, onions and sprouts can lead to uncomfortable bloating. ‘Swallowing a lot of air can cause bloating, as can constipation,’ he says. ‘Some women also experience bloating before their periods.’
10 ways to beat the bloat
Although bloating will usually get better on its own, Shubrook recommends a few ways to beat belly bloat:
Often easier said than done, says Shubrook, but practising mindfulness or meditation, just 10 minutes a day, has been shown to reduce the stress response in the body, which in turn could ease bloating.
2.Eliminate suspect foods
Food intolerances can lead to stomach bloat, and the best way to rule out certain foods is following an elimination diet. ‘If you suspect a food intolerance, such as gluten or dairy, remove that food completely for a minimum of 21 days and see if your symptoms improve,’ says Shubrook.
‘It’s important that this is adhered to strictly as the body can take a while to remove all existing gluten, for example, and any small amount during that phase could still cause a reaction.
3.Take a probiotic supplement
If you’ve taken several courses of antibiotics, picked up a stomach bug overseas, or your diet has been high in sugar and low in fibre, taking a probiotic is particularly important.
‘Our gut microbiome is very sensitive and certain medications and dietary choices can easily affect bacteria levels, so using a probiotic for four weeks can help to reset this,’ says says Shubrook. ‘Probiotic supplements such as Optibac or ProVen are a stronger dose than a probiotic drink, and may be good as a boost while you make changes to your diet.’
4. Eat fermented foods
It’s also worth adding foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet, because these foods act as prebiotics to the gut bacteria.
5. Fill up on fibre
A probiotic is great for putting the good bacteria back into the digestive system, but we need to keep it there and bacteria loves to feed on fibre. High-fibre foods include fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, oats and potatoes with their skin on.
‘The NHS recommends 30g of fibre a day for adults but estimates that most of us get just 18g, so making a concerted effort to increase fibre may really help,\ says Shubrook.
Sipping on water throughout the day can really help with digestive bloat. ‘Dehydration can cause the digestive system to slow down and may cause bloating, so make sure you are getting at least 5 litres of water a day,’ says Shubrook. ‘Sorry, this doesn’t include tea with milk, or coffee!’
7.Chew your food
Your food should actually be like mush or baby food before swallowing it, explains Shubrook, but all too often we eat at our desks, in front of the TV or in a rush. ‘This means we tend to swallow bigger chunks of undigested food, which can put extra burden on the digestive system and cause bloating,’ she adds.
8.Eat cooked or steamed veg over raw salad
Cooking your vegetables breaks down the structure of the food, and can actually enhance their phytonutrients, making it easier for the stomach to digest them, rather than raw foods which may cause more bloating, says Shubrook.
9.Cut back on salt
This seemingly innocuous seasoning can have a huge impact on your health, so cut back on salt. ‘Salt encourages your body to retain water, especially around your stomach,’ says Shubrook. ‘Not all bloating is caused by gas.’
10.Try the FODMAP diet
If you suffer from IBS, the FODMAP diet can be a good way to see which foods are causing the bloating. FODMAP is an acronym for a range of short-chain carbohydrates and certain foods within these groups can cause abdominal discomfort and are best avoided, says Shubrook.
⚠️ The FODMAP diet is used to identify which foods cause discomfort. It is not recommended as a long-term plan.
When to worry about stomach bloating
While it’s perfectly normal to experience abdominal bloating occasionally, if symptoms persist, get it checked out by your GP, especially if you have other symptoms such as unexplained fatigue or weight loss, fever, difficulty passing or blood in your stools or urine, constipation or diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting, a rash, any allergic reaction, irregular periods or haemorrhoids.
More serious causes for stomach bloating include the following:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Diverticular disease
- Candida – thrush
- Coeliac disease
- Ovarian cancer: bloating can also be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer, so it’s important to be aware of potential signs and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns. Other symptoms include feeling full quickly or loss of appetite, pelvic or stomach pain, needing to wee urgently or more frequently than normal.
- Bowel cancer: symptoms of bowel cancerare numerous and can include bloating as well as fatigue, weakness, changes in bowel habits, diarrhoea or constipation, red or dark blood in your stool and weight loss, advises Dr Riccardo.