It is true, bloated bellies and parties are not the best match. But looking better on the beach or party is not the most important reason to beat the bloat.
Solving the mystery of your bloated belly once and for all will make you much healthier, too.
Accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers says the most common reason for a bloated tummy is eating foods that aren’t digested properly.
“They then travel to the large bowel and are fermented by the bacteria in our gut causing bloating (and large amounts of gas),” she says. “The other reason is constipation.”
Figuring it out
Start by eliminating other possible causes of bloating by seeing your doctor for some tests including coeliac disease and food allergy tests. “If they return normal, then see a dietitian who can guide you through an elimination style diet to identify problem foods,” says Rose Chambers.
Could your bloated belly be due to a food allergy?
It is not common to get a food allergy as an adult but not impossible either.
A blood test or simple skin prick test can determine whether your immune system is reacting to certain proteins in food. Common food allergens for adults are egg, wheat, dairy, seafood and tree nuts.
“A gluten ‘allergy’ is known as coeliac disease and can also be tested with a blood test,” she says. “Lactose however is milk sugar and we can be intolerant to it but not allergic.”
How to get things moving
If you do think you have sluggish digestion, Rose Chambers says you should start by looking at the “golden trio” which are fibre, fluids and movement.
Ask yourself: Are you getting 30 grams of fibre, having at least 1.5 litres of fluid and moving enough every day?
How much fibre is enough?
Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fibre per day and at least 30 grams per day for men.
Rose Chambers says great high fibre foods include wholegrains like brown rice and oats, some fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. “Make sure to increase your fibre intake slowly because going from a low to high fibre diet straight away can cause a lot of bowel discomfort,” she says.
Exercise every day
Making sure you exercise every day speeds up the time it takes food to move through our intestines. “This limits the amount of fluids reabsorbed back into the body and can help prevent stools from getting dry,” says Rose Chambers. “Getting your heart rate up also stimulates blood flow and muscle movement which can also help move food through the intestines more efficiently.”
Can too much fruit cause fermentation or bloating?
“Fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose and some of us can ‘malabsorb’ fructose, which means we don’t digest and break down those sugars properly,” says Rose Chambers.
“These sugars then move to the large bowel and are fuel and food for the bacteria there who ferment those sugars, releasing an excessive amount of gas which causes bloating. We all have different tolerance level to fructose; some people are very sensitive and can’t eat any fruit at all, others can eat a couple of servings of fruit per day but any more than that and it causes bloating. Some can eat fruit freely and have no reaction whatsoever.”
Drink, drink, drink…
“Drinking water can help if you’re dehydrated as it can help to keep stools healthy and moving through your system quickly,” says Rose Chambers. “Aim to drink water mostly away from your meals so as to not dilute down stomach acids which help to break down your food. Also, avoid bubbly water like soda or mineral water which will only add to the gas in your intestines.”
Avoid alcohol and carbonated drinks for a flat tummy
The bubbles in any drink, from soda water, diet drinks, full strength soda or alcoholic drinks like beer or champagne can cause bloating from ingesting the gas bubbles in the drinks,” says Rose Chambers. “Diet drinks also add to the mix artificial sweeteners which are often indigestible sugars that can also cause bloating. Drinks like beer which also contains residual yeast and grains as well as some gluten do also contribute to bloating for some people who are sensitive.”
Alternative drinks to sip
“Peppermint and ginger tea may help by making your fluid intake more interesting but they also have some research to show that they can help with digestion,” says Rose Chambers.
Helpful foods to beat belly bloat
Rose Chambers says some research shows foods such as pineapple which contains a natural digestive enzyme, probiotic-rich plain yoghurt and some fermented foods such as pickles and kefir, along with parsley may help with digestion, reducing bloating and creating healthy bowel motions.
Problems foods that can lead to bloating
Foods that also may be a problem include protein bars and protein drinks, diet drinks and diet foods and sugar-free chewing gum and sweets using sweeteners such as sucrolose, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, isomalt and xylitol, says Rose Chambers.
The power of probiotics
Rose Chambers says probiotics may be helpful with bloat but it really depends what’s causing the bloat. “Begin by eliminating other causes of bloating and constipation,” she says. “You can use natural food sources of probiotics like fermented foods and plain yoghurt in your diet. A probiotic supplement may help but you’re best to speak with a health professional first to make sure you are taking the right strains of bacteria.”
Other things that can help
Slow down. Eating food quickly causes us to gulp down more air so eating slowly and thoughtfully can help. “By slowing down eating, you also tend not to overeat as it gives your brain enough time to register that you’re satisfied, which can also help reduce the bloat,” says Rose Chambers.
“Eat small and regular meals through the day also helps to support our digestive system because it is better equipped to deal with smaller portions of food at a time,” she says.
Avoid eating too much fat as it slows down digestion
Avoid doughy white carbohydrates. “Think pizza, processed cereals and Turkish bread as they tend to make us feel sluggish and don’t contain enough fibre, which slows digestion,” says Rose Chambers.