An introduction to diet for bloating
Bloating is a common digestive complaint. Although there are a number of common causes from hormones to an imbalance of gut bacteria, we know that food intolerance and sensitivity may also have a big part to play. Therefore, it is often very important to consider making some dietary changes initially in order to assess the positive impact that it may have on your symptoms.
However, it’s not just what we eat but also how we eat which is important when it comes to bloating. Click the link for some top tips which you may not have otherwise considered!
Gluten intolerance is becoming increasingly more common nowadays. We know that it can give rise to digestive complaints such as bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, but actually, in more serious cases it could be mediating a more systemic response, for example also causing flare ups in skin conditions.
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Although not well understood, the process of gluten sensitivity may occur as a result of your body lacking an enzyme required to break down these components. If this doesn’t happen efficiently, then undigested wheat or gluten is forced to travel down into your large intestine where it is then processed by bacteria in a process called fermentation. Excess or abnormal fermentation is more likely to give rise to the undesirable symptoms such as bloating.
With the presence of gluten in the digestive tract there may or may not then also be the activation your immune system. We know that up to 70% of your immune system exists in the gut. Special immune cells are in place to recognise any invaders and in some cases (for reasons unknown) it may be that these cells are reacting inversely to gluten. This can then trigger a response which can result in altered gut contractions or osmosis (a movement in water in a bid to dilute the invader) which give rise to flatulence, diarrhoea and bloating.
Gluten is often hidden in many processed foods, including: breads, cakes, breakfast cereals but also processed meals, meat and packaged goods. By eating fresh, you can make a more valiant attempt at cutting this component out of your diet to see if it makes a difference to those symptoms.
Lactose intolerance is arguably the most common food intolerance, with prevalence ranging from 5-90% across different countries and communities throughout the world. Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. An important enzyme called lactase is responsible for breaking lactose down in the body, allowing it to be properly absorbed.
In lactose intolerance, however, this process doesn’t work so well. People with lactose intolerance are thought to produce insufficient lactase which means lactose isn’t properly broken down. This means lactose can’t be absorbed and carries on down the digestive system, from the small intestine to the large, where it then undergoes fermentation. Here naturally existing bacteria in the gut metabolise lactose, converting it into gas and short-chain fatty acids. ‘Gas’ being the key word! As bacteria attack the lactose, gurgling, gargling, bloating, flatulence and altered bowel habits will most likely ensue and you can end up feeling really quite bloated.
If you suspect lactose intolerance could be a problem, try substituting some dairy products. Butter, yoghurts and many cheeses are lower in lactose so might not be so problematic, but milk is often an issue. Try switching to dairy-free alternatives instead such as soya, nut or rice milks.
FODMAPs are classes of specific, simple, short chain carbohydrates found in a range of different foods including grains containing gluten, certain fruit and vegetable such as cabbage and watermelon and other ingredients such as artificial sweeteners.
Visit our high FODMAPs food page to discover which foods might be worth avoiding.
Then, to get started on making some low FODMAP choices, discover our low-FODMAP shopping list and recipe ideas!
Prebiotics and probiotics
We know that dysbiosis, or an imbalance of the bacteria in our gut can in many cases, give rise to bloating. Therefore, by supporting the good bacteria in your gut, you can hopefully start to keep symptoms under control.
You can do this in two ways:
As well as the common foods triggers as discussed, there may be other foods that also cause bloating – the list really is endless as this is often so individual. Our advice is to keep a food and symptoms diary to try and identify what might be causing you the most problems.
Examples of some other potentially problematic food includes:
- Sugar - Sugar is likely to feed the ‘bad’ strains of bacteria or yeast living in our gut, allowing them to thrive and contribute to unpleasant symptoms such as bloating
- Alcohol - Alcoholic drinks have a similar effect to sugar, as our gut bacteria are able to feed on the natural sugars that they are made up of. Plus, what do we often mix alcoholic drinks with? Fizzy juice! If you’re bloated already the last thing you want to do is introduce more gas!
- Fatty foods – Fatty foods take more effort to digest and can slow emptying of the stomach. This, in turn, can cause bloating and indigestion – especially when eaten in excess. Be sure to include healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds with a healthy balance of protein and complex carbohydrates in your meals.