If you ever had trouble zipping your pants up after eating, chances are you're probably bloated. Having a full belly can be uncomfortable, but luckily there are ways to reduce it.
If you're bloated, it's likely the result of gas and air trapped in the GI tract, which can come from the food you eat or by swallowing too much air from excessive gum chewing or smoking.
Gender may also have something to do with it. According to a 2008 population-based study, 19% of questionnaire responders experienced bloating, with more women than men reporting the condition.
However, bloating doesn't have to be a common issue and luckily there are ways to reduce it by making different lifestyle choices. Here are some remedies you can try at home to prevent a bloated belly.
One way to reduce bloating is to include more fiber in your diet from fiber-rich foods like whole-wheat bread, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. The American Heart Association Eating Plan recommends 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.
However, before you start gorging on lentil soup, know this: If you're not used to eating loads of fiber, you should gradually add these foods to your diet in order to avoid an upset stomach.
You should also be cautious about eating certain fiber-rich foods as they can cause bloating and cramping for some, says Jesse P. Houghton, MD, FACG, the senior Medical Director of gastroenterology at South Ohio Medical Center. These foods include:
"Since these foods are healthy and high in fiber, don't automatically avoid them. Rather, be aware of how your symptoms are affected by them," says Houghton. "If you notice that you have an increase in cramping or gassiness, then you may want to limit your intake of these foods."
It's also worth noting that a high-fiber, protein-rich diet has been shown to cause more bloating than a high-fiber, carb-rich diet. So what you eat with those high-fiber foods may matter.
According to the FDA, over 70% of sodium intake comes from prepackaged and prepared foods. Foods high in sodium can lead to salt and water retention, and a 2019 study linked high-sodium diets to more bloating.
Therefore, to prevent excess water retention and bloating, avoiding salty foods is vital.
Various types of sugar, like fructose from fruit and lactose in dairy, may cause bloating, so it's important to avoid them if they're causing you discomfort, says
Bryan Curtin, MD, MHSc, a gastroenterologist and Director of the Center for Neurogastroenterology and GI Motility at Mercy Medical Center.
"As we get older, some of us will lose the capacity to digest large amounts of certain substances, particularly sugars. Lactose intolerance is the most common of these, but you can also become intolerant to fructose, fructans, sucrose, maltose, and other substances," Curtin tells Insider.
Approximately 65% of the population worldwide is lactose intolerant. Meaning that their digestive tract has a difficult time breaking down lactose into simple sugars. And undigested lactose ends up moving to the colon, where bacteria break it down, resulting in gas and water. This gas and water buildup can then cause flatulence, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bloating.
Even substituting sugar for sugar-free sweeteners doesn't stop bloating. Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in snacks, soda, diet products, and sugar-free gums. Sorbitol, in particular, tends to be poorly digested.
"Other products that can cause gas, bloating, and loose stool include foods containing sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, fructose, and sorbitol," says Houghton.
Always read food labels and check for these ingredients to prevent bloating.
Houghton cautions that carbonated drinks like soda can cause bloating and gassiness. And because it has caffeine, soda can also lead to dehydration, which in-turn can cause constipation and subsequent bloating.
"Adequate hydration is essential to help alleviate constipation. Your colon's primary purpose is water resorption. If you are already dehydrated, this can result in very hard dry stools building up, being difficult to pass and causing bloating," says Curtin.
Using peppermint, such as in peppermint tea, can also help to relieve bloating. Peppermint helps with indigestion by relaxing stomach muscles, which helps move food through the stomach faster. A 2014 article found menthol also displayed anti-inflammatory properties that can maintain digestive health.
"I prefer supplements that contain peppermint oil, which is a natural smooth muscle relaxer and can calm the gut in addition to oregano oil, which is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and weak antibiotic that can keep levels of bacteria in the small intestine low," says Curtin.
Probiotics are "good bacteria" that are important in maintaining a healthy bacterial environment in the gut and in facilitating digestion. A 2011 and 2013 review both found probiotics helpful in relieving gastrointestinal problems such as bloating.
This is because the food you eat also becomes food for trillions of bacteria in the gut. When bacteria eat food that's hard to digest, they end up producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane gas. However, the Probiotics Council says studies show the good bacteria from probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are helpful in decreasing both the frequency and amount of gas in the gut.
You can find natural probiotics via fermented foods or supplements. Some examples of natural probiotics are:
Exercise can help to lower gas buildup in the stomach, according to the GI Society.
"Bloating can be a sign of gut stasis. Plain old-fashioned walking is the best [exercise]. We evolved to be in motion way more than we currently are with today's technology," says Curtin.
Recommended exercises to reduce bloating include:
Exercise can relieve bloating by helping to push food across the digestive tract, thus removing waste in the gut. Per the Mayo Clinic, you should exercise before you eat. Also, it's important to eat carbohydrates and protein-rich foods within two hours of working out.
In most instances, bloating is a relatively manageable condition. However, there are some warning signs that you should immediately seek medical attention.
"If conservative measures fail to control bloating, it is worthwhile seeing a primary care doctor or gastroenterologist for further evaluation, particularly if the bloating is accompanied by physical distention of the stomach, abdominal pain, or nausea," says Curtin
A GI doctor may find that your bloating is an underlying cause for another condition, like irritable bowel syndrome or more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.
Houghton also adds that unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool or black stool, persistent vomiting, or severe abdominal pain are severe symptoms that require a doctor.
People should remember that bloating is common, and only on rare occasions may develop into a more serious medical concern.
Being conscientious of your dietary choices can help to reduce bloating. Be aware of how your food and beverage choices may affect your body, especially if you're consuming a lot of dairy products, soda and carbonated beverages, and certain vegetables or beans with high fiber content.
The causes of bloating vary widely, but if the condition is affecting the quality of your life or accompanied by other symptoms, such as severe pain, nausea, vomiting, or weight loss, Curtin says to see a healthcare provider.
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