Bloating is extremely common for both men and women and can be very uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing! One of the most common questions I get in practice is how to prevent bloating. Prevention of bloating starts with understanding what causes bloating in the first place. Everyone is different, some things cause bloating in one person and not in another, which is why it is so important to determine which are bloating triggers for you.
Here are the 16 most common causes of bloating I see in practice:
1. Eating too fast
When you eat fast this causes you to also swallow excess air. Slow down with your eating, aim for 20 chews per mouthful of food and try to become more mindful at meals. Not only will this cut down on the excess air you are taking in, but will also allow for you to enjoy your meal even more when you slow down.
2. Carbonated beverages
Step away from the fizzy, bubbly, and foamy beverages. These types of beverages are pumped with air, which leads to air in your belly when you consume them. Avoid the carbonated waters, beer, champagne, soda, sugar-free soda, etc. and stick to plain water or liquids without bubbles.
Carbohydrates hold onto water when they are stored in your body, so when you eat more carbohydrates you may feel heavier and puffier. This is because for every 1 gram of carb that is stored, 3-4 grams of water is stored along with it. So say you eat 1/2 cup of oatmeal that has 30 grams of carbs. Well this means you are also going to hold onto up to 120 grams of water. Cut back on the carbohydrates to ditch some of the water weight and puffiness. Read about this here.
When you are dehydrated, this causes your body to hold onto every last drop of water you have, meaning water retention throughout your entire body and puffiness. Other signs of dehydration include thirst, decreased urination, and puffy fingers (ie rings get tighter).
5. Raw vegetables
Raw vegetables, especially the cruciferous type such as Brussels sprouts, contain types of carbohydrates that are hard for your body to digest. If you find you get super bloating after eating certain raw veggies, take note of these particular veggies that bloat you out and try cooking them a bit. Cooking breaks down the hard to break bonds in foods, allowing for your body to not have to work so hard to break them down, leading to less gas production and bloating.
6. Lactose intolerance
Just about everyone has some degree of lactose intolerance. As we get older we lose our ability to breakdown lactose, the main sugar in milk. Because we can't break this down, our body will still try very hard in doing so, which can result in stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. If you find you have one or more of these symptoms when you eat dairy, try to avoid dairy and stick to non-dairy sources such as nut milks or coconut based products. If you can't give up cheese then go for harder, aged cheeses which will have the lowest amounts of lactose in them.
Well this one isn't super surprising, but I wanted to add it to the least to remind you of this one! Beans contain a type of carbohydrate that is hard for your body to breakdown, leaving much of it for the bacteria in your gut to feast on and in doing so they release gases which causes bloating and gas in your stomach. Try soaking dry beans first which should help decrease the amount of the hard to digest carbohydrate they contain.
Taking antibiotics disrupts your gut because it kills off the bad bacteria (which we want!) but also kills off some of our good bacteria (not good) leading to an imbalance of your natural gut flora. This leads to an increased ratio of gas producing microbes, which then causes the undesirable side effects of gas bloating, and also maybe diarrhea and/or constipation. If you absolutely have to take antibiotics, start taking a probiotic daily to maintain a healthy gut flora and to prevent some of those side effects.
If you have a wheat intolerance or Celiac's disease, one very common symptom is abdominal bloating. Pay attention to how you feel after eating wheat products, also try cutting them out for a week or two and see if this cuts back on bloating.
10. Drinking through a straw
Drinking through a straw causes you to swallow excess air with every sip, skip the straw and take normal sips from the cup!
11. Not moving after eating
If you sit or lay down after eating, this is going to stall the digestion process. Instead get up and go for a short walk, or at the very least stand for a few minutes. Movement will greatly help to get your digestive tract moving and to move food faster through your stomach to be processed. Movement also decreases blood sugar after meals and helps to transport the calories to muscle rather than to be stored. Read more about this here.
12. Artificial sweeteners
The chemically manufactured sweeteners are hard on your gut and your gut tries very hard to break it down, leading to gas and a bloated belly. The artificial sweeteners include saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (sweet 'n low), acesulfame, and neotame. Artificial sweeteners are most commonly found in anything marketed as "sugar-free" or "low calorie" so be weary of any products that have this designation.
13. Sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are not the same thing as artificial sweeteners but they too can cause stomach bloating and gas. Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed (if at all) and are very hard to digest, leading to gas production and bloating from the bacteria trying to break them down. Sugar alcohols can occur naturally in foods, but are most commonly chemically manufactured. If you consume products that contain sugar alcohols and have bloating, try cutting them out completely for a couple of weeks and see if that helps. Read more about them here.
14. Chewing gum
When you are chomping down on gum this causes you to swallow excess air, which leads to excess air in the belly too. The type of gum you are chewing can also make the swelling worse due to sugar alcohols and/or artificial sweeteners that may be present (as discussed above). If chewing gum is a habit of yours, cutting back and this should greatly improve a swollen stomach.
15. Too much fiber too soon
Fiber is amazing for your health and is one of the best ways to prevent constipation. HOWEVER, it is very common to overdue fiber especially if you didn't eat much fiber in the first place. Start small, aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber per day but start with 5 grams for one week and work your way up.
Fructose malabsorption, or the inability to fully breakdown fructose, is a common finding in many individuals. Foods high in fructose include apples, pears, bananas and honey. Try cutting back on high fructose foods and see if this helps with stomach swelling.