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What causes bloating?

Bloating occurs when your gastro intestinal tract becomes filled with air or gas. There are many possible causes for this, from the food that you eat, to swallowing air like when you chew gum, overeating, weight gain, constipation and menstruation in some women. There are other, medical reasons too such as lactose intolerance, reflux, gut or pelvic inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, some cancers, mental health disorders or medicines.

Whether you suffer from bloating is often a question of lifestyle factors and luck. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who encounter regular bloating, you’ll know how uncomfortable it can be. And, you’ll have probably experienced accompanying symptoms such as stomach pain, burping, gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or heartburn. If ongoing bloating is hampering your wellbeing, please pay a visit to your doctor for a proper diagnosis and help.

Bloating foods to avoid

Mention bloating and a number of foods and drinks immediately come to mind. While different foods can affect people in different ways, here’s a list of typical bloating foods to avoid and reasons why.

Beans + lentils – both contain certain types of sugars, known as FODMAPs (more on them below) that are fermented in the gut and contribute to excessive gas production. The best options to try are black beans, pinto beans and lighter coloured lentils.

Wheat + gluten cereals – if you suffer from coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, wheat, barley and rye are very problematic for your digestive system. Wheat also contains FODMAPs. Luckily there are now plenty of alternatives to wheat, such as quinoa, buckwheat, tapioca, chickpea flour, millet, corn and teff.

Dairy – people who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest the sugar in milk products. Eating dairy can leave them feeling bloated along with other digestive problems. Sometimes butter or yoghurt is tolerated by lactose intolerant people, or you can try alternative milks made from soy, rice, oats, almonds or coconuts.

Onion + garlic – again, FODMAPs are the culprit here. Instead, try other herbs and spices for flavour.

Cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale can also be problematic due to FODMAPS. Enjoy spinach, rocket, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers instead.

Beer + carbonated drinks – beer contains the double whammy of fermented grains such as barley and wheat as well as the gas from the fizz, whereas soft drinks contain just the gas that can get trapped in your intestines and cause bloating. Opt for non-carbonated alternatives.

Sugar alcohols – these types of sweeteners include xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol which are all FODMAPs. Stevia is a great alternative.

So, what exactly are FODMAPs?

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols”. These are carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion. They travel to the far end of your intestine where most of your gut bacteria reside. Here they are used for fuel, but this process produces gas as a by-product.

For most people, FODMAPs are perfectly healthy and simply feed the beneficial digestive bacteria in your gut without causing any problems. However, in sensitive people, FODMAP foods can cause real discomfort as well as bloating, cramping, flatulence and diarrhoea.

Common FODMAPs include fructose (in fruit and table sugar), lactose in cow’s milk, fructans in grains, galactans in legumes, polyols such as sugar alcohols.

Foods that are suitable to eat on a low FODMAP diet

These foods are usually given the green light for people on a low FODMAP diet so they’re a great place to start if you’re experiencing bloating and other digestive troubles.

  • Meat, fish + eggs
  • Vegetables such as capsicum, carrots, spinach, potatoes and root veg, tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, spinach, zucchini and radishes.
  • Fruits such as berries, citrus, kiwi, melons (except watermelon), unripe bananas, passionfruit.
  • Nuts + seeds (except cashews and pistachios)
  • Fats + oils
  • Herbs + spices
  • Sweeteners such as maple syrup and stevia
  • Dairy such as hard cheese, brie and camembert, and lactose-free products
  • Grains such as corn, oats, rice, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca
  • Beverages such as water, tea and coffee

Foods that may relieve bloating

Thankfully, there are a number of ingredients have been shown to assist in relieving bloating and its associated symptoms. They do this by either promoting regularity, preventing fluid retention, or enhancing gut health, all of which can help prevent bloating.

Good options are vegetables like avocado, celery, cucumber, asparagus, rhubarb and fennel. Fruits include berries, banana, pineapple, apple, papaya and kiwi. Yoghurt is also considered an anti-bloating food. Spices are ginger and turmeric. And as for drinks, try peppermint tea, green tea or kombucha.

Too busy to cook anti-bloating foods? Try Dietlicious

When I’m too busy to cook, I fall back on healthy meals from Dietlicious. I love that their chef’s cook everything from scratch using only wholefood ingredients with no additives or preservatives. Below are a few meals from their menu that contain plenty of ingredients in the low FODMAP diet and “foods to relieve bloating”. Do make sure you check the ingredients list though as some contain small amounts of onion and/or garlic for flavour or in the dressings. This may not suit if you’re highly sensitive to those “bloating foods to avoid”.

Asian Chicken Salad

Smoked Salmon + Potato Salad

Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Vege Tikka Masala

Chicken with Mediterranean Vegetables + Black Olives

Thai Red Curry with Salmon, Sweet Potato, Beans + Peas

Moroccan Chicken with Roast Sweet Potato + Sauteed Capsicum

Other lifestyle tips that may help bloating

As well as bloating foods to avoid, you could try these techniques that may help relieve a distended and sore tummy.

  • Yoga poses, in particular you may like to try child’s pose, happy baby, seated spinal twist or lying on your back and bringing your needs to and from your chest.
  • Going for a walk as the movement can assist your belly and get your mind off it too.
  • Abdominal massage, which can move the gas around and out.
  • A warm bath is soothing. Add some Epsom salts for deeper muscle relaxation.
  • Sip on peppermint or ginger tea.
  • Essential oils such as ginger, chamomile or peppermint diluted and rubbed on the tummy.

As a final word of advice, just remember that everyone’s body is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling digestive issues. If you can’t get your head around identifying your trigger foods, then consider working with a health practitioner who can guide you towards a more settled tummy and better all-round wellbeing.