Expert advice on how to get rid of a bloated stomach.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Rhalou Allerhand
Suffering from a bloated stomach? If you’ve ever been to an all-you-can-eat buffet or drank too much beer you’ll be familiar with abdominal bloating – when your belly feels full and tight. But unless you’re pregnant or you’ve just eaten an extra large triple cheese pizza – you might be wondering why your stomach feels like it’s about to explode.
Abdominal bloating is often due to a build up of gas somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, which causes the belly to feel uncomfortable and look larger than usual. But how can you reduce the dreaded belly bloat and when is it the sign of something more serious?
Bloated stomach causes
What causes bloating in the stomach? Understanding what may be causing your abdominal pain and bloating 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 sensitivities, to name a few,’ she explains.
Common stomach bloating causes include the following:
- Trapped wind
- Swallowing air
- Food intolerance
- Coeliac disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Bloating can also be a direct result of the type of food or drink you consume during the day. Pizza, pasta and bread are all obvious culprits, but eating an excess amount of one type of food or simply high fat, spicy or greasy foods can be a trigger. Fizzy drinks are another offender.
However it’s not just junk food and carbs that lead to stomach bloating. According to Dr Di Cuffa, even healthy foods can produce gas during digestion that contributes to bloating, including pulses, beans, broccoli, cabbage, chestnuts, onions and sprouts.
Many women also notice bloating before their period. This is partly due to oestrogen causing fluid retention and partly because the higher progesterone level in the second half of the cycle slows bowel activity down, leading to constipation.
How to get rid of a bloated stomach
Abdominal bloating usually gets better on its own after a few hours. But if it’s really bothering you or keeps recurring, Shubrook recommends the following 10 remedies to beat belly bloat:
Practising mindfulness meditation for just 10 minutes a day has been shown to reduce the stress response in the body, which in turn can ease abdominal bloating. Research into the benefits of meditation have reported improved memory, greater emotional intelligence and increased creativity as well as better stress management, so learning to meditate could benefit your overall health as well as your gut. To get started, read our beginner meditation tips.
- Eliminate suspect foods
Food intolerances can lead to stomach bloating, and one way to rule out certain foods is to follow 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,’ suggests Shubrook.
The foods should then be reintroduced, one at a time, monitoring for symptoms that show a reaction. ‘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,’ adds Shubrook.
Always check with your doctor before starting an elimination diet as restricting food groups can cause a nutritional deficiency and in cases of genuine allergies, dietary elimination needs to be carefully controlled.
⚠️ Elimination diets are not appropriate for children or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding unless you have been advised by a medical professional.
- 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 or making sure probiotics are included in your diet may help.
‘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.’
💊 As an alternative to nutritional supplements, making sure your diet includes natural probiotic foods is an easy way to naturally reduce bloating.
- Eat fermented foods
Foods such as yoghurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut all contain a healthy dose of probiotics as they are naturally fermented foods. These supply the gut with some healthy bacteria.
Prebiotics are also essential as they are the foods that we as humans may not digest but that our healthy bacteria thrive on – they are found in foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, berries, greens, tomatoes and asparagus. Of course some of these foods may be associated with bloating. Work out which prebiotic foods do not make you bloat and include them in your diet to encourage good gut health.
- 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 try to fill up on fibre to boost your digestive health. ‘Making a concerted effort to increase fibre may really help,’ says Shubrook.
- Stay hydrated
Sipping water throughout the day can really help with digestive bloat. Dehydration will reduce the ease of transit through the digestive system, so make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. If you’re in a hot climate or exercising, remember to replace any lost fluids so you do not get dehydrated. Coffee can also be dehydrating so try and minimise caffeine and opt for water as much as possible.
- 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.
Enjoying un-rushed and mindful mealtimes is good for digestion, so don’t skip breakfast, schedule in a lunch break and take your time with your food. Swallowing a lot of air while eating also traps gas in the gut, so trying not to talk while eating can help.
- Eat cooked veg over raw salad
Cooking or steaming 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.
- Cut back on salt
Salt can have a huge impact on your gut health and can also lead to raised blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, so cut your salt intake back. ‘Salt encourages your body to retain water, especially around your stomach,’ says Shubrook. ‘Not all bloating is caused by gas.’
According to the NHS, adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around 1 teaspoon.
- Try the FODMAP diet
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (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 (sugars) and certain foods within these groups can cause abdominal discomfort and are best avoided, says Shubrook.
The FODMAP diet is used under expert care of dieticians or nutrition specialists to treat IBS or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It can be a difficult routine to stick to and is not suitable long-term as it eliminates many major food groups, so discuss the FODMAP diet with your GP or a dietician before proceeding.
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. Red flags to watch out for include the following symptoms:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weight loss
- Difficulty passing stools
- Blood in your stools or urine
- Allergic reactions
- Irregular periods
While occasional stomach bloating is unlikely to be linked to an underlying health condition, if you have any concerns make an appointment with your GP. More serious causes for stomach bloating can include the following:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disorder that involves inflammation of the gut.
Diverticulitis is a condition where multiple weak points develop in the muscular wall of the colon that can lead to abdominal tenderness or bloating.
Candida, also known as thrush, is an overgrowth of yeast-like fungus (medically known as Candida albicans) that can cause stomach bloating.
- Coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease where the body produces antibodies that attack itself, caused by gluten intolerance.
- 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 cancer are 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. Make an urgent appointment with your GP if you are concerned.