Bloating, gassiness, and abdominal discomfort aren’t limited to the occasional holiday feast. It can happen even if you haven’t eaten a large meal. In some cases, bloating can even cause distention, or a perceptible swelling of the abdomen.
Bloating and gas are usually not signs of a serious health problem. They're tied to what and how you eat, so a few simple changes may help.
Keep Bloating at Bay
Here are three common causes of bloating, and how you can avoid them.
- Overeating is probably the most common cause of bloating. Smaller portions should ease the pain.
- Eating rich and fatty food can make you feel uncomfortably stuffed. Fat takes longer to digest than protein or carbohydrates, so it keeps the stomach full longer. Avoid bloating by limiting fats in your everyday diet.
- Eating too fast adds to the risk of bloating after a meal. The remedy is simple -‑ eat more slowly. Satiety signals can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain and ease your appetite. Many weight loss experts believe that eating slowly helps prevent overeating.
The second most common cause of temporary bloating is gas in the abdomen. About half of gas in the digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is produced by bacteria in the gut that help digest food. If the gastrointestinal tract does not move it through efficiently, gas builds up in the intestines, causing bloating and discomfort.
If you often experience bloating caused by gas, avoid these habits that make you swallow more air:
- drinking through a straw
- chewing gum
- guzzling carbonated beverages
- sucking on hard candy.
Some people swallow more air when they’re nervous. It’s possible that practicing ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, may help reduce excess gas and bloating.
Avoid Bloat-Inducing Foods
Difficult-to-digest foods can cause gassiness and bloating. These are some familiar culprits.
- Beans and lentils are very healthy foods that contain indigestible sugars called oligosaccharides. These sugars must be broken down by bacteria in the intestines.
- Fruits and vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, prunes, and apricots. These items contain sugars and starches that may cause gassiness and bloating, even though these foods are good for you.
- Sweeteners can also cause gas and bloating. Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener, can’t be digested. Fructose, a natural sugar added to many processed foods, is hard for many people to digest. To avoid bloating, be aware of these sweeteners in the foods you eat and limit the amount you consume.
- Dairy products can be a source of intestinal distress and bloating if you have trouble digesting lactose, or milk sugar.
- Whole grains, recommended for their many health benefits, can sometimes cause bloating and gas problems. One reason whole grains are so healthy is their high fiber content. But fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate. Abruptly increasing the amount of fiber you eat can cause gas, bloating, and constipation. Nutritionists recommend slowly adding more fiber into your diet to allow your body time to adjust. At the same time, drink plenty of water with high-fiber foods, says nutritionist Joanne L. Slavin, PhD, RD, professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota. “All fiber absorbs water,” she says. Drinking liquids helps fiber move through the digestive system and prevents bloating and constipation.
When to Ask Your Doctor About Bloating
Temporary bloating is common and nothing to worry about. But if you’re troubled by bloating on a regular basis, talk to your doctor.
Physical obstructions such as scarring of the stomach opening can make it hard for food to pass through the digestive tract normally. If your doctor diagnoses a physical obstruction in the stomach or small intestines, surgery may be needed to correct it. Bloating can also be caused by impaired muscle function in the digestive tract. When muscles that normally move food along don’t work properly, gas can build up in the small intestines, causing bloating. In some cases, gas in the intestines may go the wrong way, returning to the stomach.
Persistent bloating or distention may also signal potentially serious conditions, such as enlargement of one of the abdominal organs or a malignancy.
What Else You Can Do About Bloating
If eliminating or reducing consumption of hard-to-digest foods doesn’t solve your frequent bloating problem, there are over-the-counter medications that might help. Look for a pill or liquid containing alpha-D-galactosidase, an enzyme that breaks down indigestible sugars in beans and vegetables. Tablets or capsules containing simethicone can also help alleviate symptoms of excess gas.
If you smoke, intestinal distress may be one more reason to quit. Smoking has been linked to bloating, heartburn, and other digestive problems.
Fortunately, bloating is rarely a symptom of serious trouble. For most people, the most effective prescription for bloating is simple: control portion sizes, go easy on fats, and eat slowly enough to give your body time to signal when you’ve had enough. These sensible remedies should keep you from feeling overstuffed and bloated.