We all bemoan our bellies at some point, too big, too round, too wobbly. Sound familiar? Bloating though is nothing to do with those extra pounds of stomach fat, it’s just temporary abdominal distention that plagues almost everyone from time to time. It’s a common complaint, affecting between 10% - 30% of adults.
This bloating may feel like fluid but actually it’s just intestinal gas. If medical conditions such as liver or heart problems are ruled out, the most common cause will be difficulty digesting certain foods, food intolerances or irritable bowel syndrome.
The good news is there are some simple, natural things you can do to beat the bloat. Here are 5 great strategies for relief and 5 to help prevent it in the first place:
LET IT ALL OUT: 5 natural bloat relievers
1. Chew some fennel seeds
This is my first and favourite recommendation which will reduce wind and improve digestion. You can get fennel seeds in any Indian store or in the spice section at the supermarket. Simply chew slowly on a few seeds or put them in a cup of boiled hot water for 3-5 minutes and drink slowly.
2. Get to the root of the problem with ginger
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is one of the most commonly used spices for ‘wind in the stomach’. However, it’s key that you use aged ginger (or better still the famous Bentong Ages Ginger) rather than the younger kind as the aged ginger contains significantly more of the active ingredient, the spicy compound gingerol.
If you regularly suffer from bloating, it’s a good idea to incorporate ginger into your cooking as well, particularly for gassy foods such as cabbage, beans and cauliflower. When cooking, boil your food with the ginger root for around 5-10 minutes until you get the pungent aroma.
3. Keep calm and drink chamomile
It is said that our tummies are like our second brain, with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome shown to be strongly associated with our emotional health. So, as well as food, stress and anxiety can be key triggers for tummy upsets.
A hot cup of chamomile tea after a meal is a great way to help you relax. It’s soothing for the nervous system and definitely useful to reduce abdominal wind.
Buy your chamomile in the form of tea bags from supermarkets or health food shops. It’s key to note though that German Chamomile and Chinese Chamomile, (also known as chrysanthemum), are different species, the latter useful for different things such as liver problems. A good organic German Chamomile is the best choice for bloating.
4. Take on board some enzymes
Proteolytic enzymes such as papain from papaya (green is best), or bromelain from pineapple (the best of the digestive easing goodness is in the stem), will help to breakdown protein compounds in food, which when undigested, are a major cause of food sensitivities and digestive problems.
A good alternative would be a digestive enzyme table or a fermented enzyme drink available from healthfood stores and pharmacies. Both will make the digestive process more efficient and reduce the heavy sensation after a big meal.
5. Guzzle some good old good bacteria
Regularly consuming food with active cultures increases the good bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium in the digestive tract. This facilitates efficient digestion and prevents belly bloat.
Great sources of this include plain natural yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha tea and miso.
DON’T LET IT IN: 5 bloat prevention strategies
1. Drop the fizzy pop
A fizzy soda or sweet, fruity drink may taste delicious and refreshing, but your belly may have trouble digesting the fructose used to sweeten them resulting in uncomfortable stomach gas. Air from the carbonation can exacerbate gassiness issues so it’s always best to limit the fizz if you suffer from bloating.
2. Go easy on the greens
Kale, broccoli, and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables, which contain raffinose, a sugar that remains undigested until bacteria in your gut ferment it creating gas and subsequent bloating. These foods are highly nutritious, so don't shun those lovely, healthy greens; just keep your portions in check and steam them to soften the fibre and ease digestion.
3. Get clever with legumes, lentils, peas and beans
These little guys are basically bursts of protein in a pod, but they also contain sugars and fibres that our bodies can't absorb. When they reach the large intestine, your gut bacteria takes the lead and feasts on them leading to gas and a ballooning waistline.
Soaking lentils and beans before you cook and combining them with easily digestible whole grains, like rice or quinoa will help your body get used to digesting them.
4. Ease up on high fructose corn syrup
Processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup will cause intestinal gas. In a 2009 article published in the "Journal of Nutrition," Bernadette Marriott, Ph.D., and colleagues reported that non-alcoholic beverages, such as soda and fruit drinks, and sweetened grain products, such as commercial baked goods and breakfast cereals, are the leading sources of fructose in the American diet. Avoiding these foods can diminish the amount of gas produced in your intestines.
In addition, it’s worth being a bit careful with high-fructose fruit, such as apples, cherries, pears, grapes, raisins, peaches, plums, prunes, watermelon and dates. Too much of these can overwhelm your digestive system's capacity to break down this fruit sugar. Juices made from these fruits and red wine can also be problematic. Again, the bacteria in your colon will feast on undigested fructose and produce gas.
5. Reduce, substitute or supplement your dairy intake
According to the database of the United States National Library of Medicine, approximately 65% of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy.
Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90% of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance arises due to low production of the lactose-digesting enzyme lactase.
These issues can be addressed by avoiding large quantities of milk, yoghurt, ice cream, sour cream, butter and cheese or by substituting them with non-dairy equivalents such as almond, rice, hemp or oat milks. Alternatively, you can take an over-the-counter lactase supplement before eating lactose-containing food. These enzyme supplements eliminate gassiness associated with eating dairy products, enabling you to enjoy and reap the nutritional benefits of these calcium-rich foods.
And so, beating the bloat is a belly problem that has little to do with stomach crunches, planks and push ups. A little bit of TLC, planning and thought can keep these tummy troubles to a minimum… keeping you happily out of gas.