Bloating is typically defined as when your abdomen feels full and expanded. It is a transient experience that is usually caused by an excess of gas build-up or some kind of disturbance of the muscle of the digestive system.
Often there is a level of discomfort that occurs alongside this. In some cases, people experience this discomfort due to sensitivity even without the physical symptoms of bloating like expansion.
Narrowing it down further though, bloating is not necessarily the same as water retention, although the terms are often used interchangeably. And it also has nothing to do with levels of body fat either.
The below points are areas to be aware of that can make a significant difference in the frequency, duration and impact of bloating.
High FODMAP foods are foods that are rich in fermentable carbohydrates that can lead to a build-up of excess gas production. Obviously, this gas production can lead to bloating.
Not everybody is sensitive to FODMAPs. And among those who are, often it is only a couple of FODMAP groups that are particularly relevant.
But if your bloating is impacting your quality of life, it could be worth looking into the Low-FODMAP diet and the steps associated with that. If you specifically wanted to know the FODMAP content of different foods, we also have a comprehensive list worth looking at.
Fitting into this category also includes lactose intolerance, since lactose is one of the FODMAP food groups.
A non-comprehensive resource for identifying high and low FODMAP foods can be found below.
There are a few aspects to consider when it comes to food volume.
One is that if you eat a large volume of food in a single sitting, you will also have a large volume of food in your stomach. That could contribute to a “bloated” feeling.
If there are any FODMAP triggers (or some of the other points that will be touched on later) within that meal, then the larger volume will likely mean you are consuming more of those triggers.
Spreading your intake out over smaller more frequent meals can help offset this.
Beyond this though, eating a large volume of food overall can also contribute to bloating. A lot of people find that they bloat less when they are consuming less total food than when they are consuming more total food.
Eat Slowly and Chew Thoroughly
Chewing your food more thoroughly makes the digestion process easier, since the food is already more broken down.
It can also indirectly reduce total food volume consumed for a lot of people as well too.
Some high fibre foods are consistently linked with bloating such as cabbage, beans and lentils for example.
Common advice for managing bloating also involves increasing fibre intake. And there is some merit to this that will be discussed in a later section.
While there is merit to that advice, it can be detrimental and actually CAUSE gas and bloating.
Increasing fibre too quickly, or just going excessively high fibre in general (e.g. >70g of fibre per day) is very likely to contribute to bloating and gas.
If you are going to increase fibre, it is best to do so in a slow and steady fashion.
Peppermint oil has a muscle relaxant effect on the intestines. This relaxation allows trapped gas to pass which helps to reduce bloating and other IBS symptoms.
A 2019 meta-analysis that included all the current research on peppermint oil and IBS showed that IBS symptoms became 44% less common for those in the peppermint oil group, in comparison to placebo.
The recommended dosage is 0.2ml to 0.4ml of peppermint oil 3 times a day, 30-60 minutes before eating.
Probiotic supplements can help reduce gas production and bloating in some people.
A systematic review on the topic from 2013 concluded that probiotics significantly outperformed placebo for reducing bloating.
Not all the studies indicate that probiotics are beneficial for bloating though. The type and dosage are likely important.
Carbonated Beverages and Chewing Gum
Carbonated drinks can contribute to a build-up of gas in the body which can contribute to bloating.
Chewing gum often results in swallowing air, which can also play a role.
If bloating is a major concern, it could be worth limiting these things.
Other Medical Considerations
It is beyond the scope of this post, but there are a lot of medical situations that also are worth ruling out as potential causes. Some options are:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Liver disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, or stomach)
- Some medicines
Depression, anxiety and stress can also play a significant role due to the gut-brain connection as well.
If somebody is constipated, that is a major explanation for the bloating.
The stool can get backed up in the large intestine, which by itself can create feelings of bloating and discomfort.
But in addition to that, excess gas can build up behind the stool.
Fibre, fluid and exercise are the front-line treatment options for constipation.
If those do not work – taking the next step will be to look into options such as:
- 5-10g of psyllium husk (or Metamucil) per day
- 2x kiwifruit per day
- 10-20g of flaxseed/linseed per day.
If you want to understand why those options are so effective, this post on the topic is worth reading.
Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol are notorious for contributing to bloating. These ingredients are technically high FODMAP as well.
They are often added to lower carb/sugar products as a way to sweeten products without adding additional carbohydrates or sugar. Maltitol in low-carb protein bars is a great example of this.
Some people are more prone to symptoms than others, but in large serving sizes symptoms are a pretty common occurrence for most people.
Some level of bloating is very normal. Most people will experience bloating to a certain degree on a semi-regular basis.
If it is happening excessively frequently and is severe enough to impact your quality of life, taking some of the steps outlined above could be well worth the effort.