You know that feeling when your tummy is so swollen that you feel like you have to unbutton your jeans, and nothing feels comfortable except for sweatpants? The answer is most probably yes. That feeling is bloating, and it is very common. It is usually caused by excess abdominal gas. While it may feel very uncomfortable, the causes of bloating are usually relatively harmless. If you tend to feel bloated often, it may indicate that a change is needed in your diet or lifestyle and for that, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. These are five common causes of bloating and how to treat and prevent it.
1. Lactose intolerance
One of the most common causes of bloating is an intolerance to certain foods, and the most popular culprit is probably lactose. According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 65% of people worldwide are not able to fully digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found primarily in milk and dairy products.
Lactose consists of two sugars, made up of one molecule each of the simple sugars glucose and galactose. People who suffer from lactose intolerance lack the enzyme called lactase, which helps break down and digest lactose. Without sufficient lactase, the lactose moves through your gut undigested and causes various symptoms, such as abdominal cramps, and you guessed it, bloating.
How to treat it
If you don’t want to abstain from dairy, there are various over-the-counter products that contain the necessary enzyme for breaking down lactose. However, this isn’t a foolproof solution for everyone who’s lactose intolerant, according to Mayo Clinic.
Moreover, if you are not diagnosed with lactose intolerance and are suspecting the issue may be a different type of food, you should consult your physician about an elimination diet or another solution. Before your scheduled visit, keep a food diary for at least a few days and pay attention to which foods are triggering your symptoms.
2. Eating too much fiber
Although fiber boasts of having many health benefits like reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure and has a generally positive effect on bowel movement, eating too much of it can cause bloating. That is true especially if you have just recently added or increased your fiber intake. Fiber is not digestible by the human intestine, therefore fiber-rich foods move through the digestive system slowly, and any undigested parts are a feast for gut bacteria, which produce gas as a byproduct. And if there is excess fiber, there can be excess gas. Foods that are known to be very high in fiber include beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, and whole wheat products.
How to treat it
If you believe that you are experiencing bloating due to extra fiber in your diet, you might need to limit the amount you’re consuming. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following amounts of daily dietary fiber intake:
- 25 g per day for adult women.
- 38 g per day for adult men.
- Less fiber after age 50 (21 g for women, 30 g for men).
- More fiber when pregnant or lactating (at least 28 g per day).
If your doctor has recommended adding more fiber into your diet, make sure you start slow and gradually build up how much you consume. This will help your gut and gut bacteria get used to the new fiber and may prevent bloating.
3. Swallowing air
Swallowing air happens naturally when eating and drinking. But in some instances, we can swallow excess air, which leads to gas and bloating. The technical name for it is aerophagia. One of the causes of aerophagia is eating too quickly. It can take 20 minutes for the brain to receive the message from your stomach saying that you’re full.
In that time, a fast eater can make themselves bloated and uncomfortable by overeating before the brain gets the message. Other causes of swallowing extra air include smoking, chewing gum, and hyperventilating, which can happen during an anxiety or panic attack.
How to Treat It
The first step is trying to identify the source of your aerophagia. You may try to cut back on smoking and chewing gum if any of those are a habit. Eating more slowly is key to gulping down less air, and has other health benefits as well, so trying to make that a habit is worthwhile. It may take a while until it comes naturally; mindful eating can be a great way to start.
If you suspect anxiety could be the reason for your aerophagia, it is best to talk about the issue with a healthcare provider. Steady, slow, deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth can not only prevent aerophagia but also help resolve the attack.
FODMAPs are certain carbohydrates found in specific foods. These short-chain carbs are resistant to digestion. Instead of being absorbed into your bloodstream, they reach the far end of your intestine where most of your gut bacteria reside. The bacteria then feed on them, and for some people, this can cause fluid buildup, gas, and bloating.
FODMAPs can be found in some fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy – asparagus, garlic, pears, mangoes, peaches, wheat pasta, and rye bread are examples. Another common FODMAP culprit known to cause bloating are artificial sweeteners. Popular sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin can often be found in diet products such as diet soda or gum.
How to Treat It
You can try a low FODMAP diet. This type of diet has mostly been studies in patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). According to studies, about 75% of people with IBS experience major reductions in symptoms and impressive improvements in quality of life thanks to a low FODMAP diet. In this case too, it would be a good idea to keep a food diary to track down the food that affects you and ask a dietitian or doctor if FODMAPs might be to blame. When it comes to diet soda or other diet products, check the label. It’s likely they contain some kind of artificial sweetener.
5. Too much salt
Sodium, the primary mineral salt is composed of, is one that the body needs in order to regulate blood fluids and prevent low blood pressure, among other health functions. However, most of us consume too much of it. Excess salt causes the body to retain water, predominantly around your abdomen, which causes a heavy bloated feeling.
How to Treat It
It’s not just the saltshaker you should avoid: it is likely most of the salt you consume comes from prepackaged and fast foods. Check food labels for the sodium levels they contain. it’s estimated that your body only needs 186 mg of sodium per day to function properly.
However, it would be near impossible to consume such a small amount and still meet your energy needs and get the recommended intake of other important nutrients. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that healthy adults consume 1,500 mg (1.5 grams) of sodium per day.
If you are feeling bloated already as a result of too much salt, an easy fix is to drink water. That may sound counterintuitive, as you’re already feeling overloaded with fluid, but the water will help you to flush out the extra sodium, which is the cause for water retention in the first place.