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Smart eating plan: Eat to beat bloating

If bloating is getting the better of you, follow Aquarius nutritionist Michelle Gelok's smart eating plan

Eat to beat bloating
Image Credit: Getty images
Simple strategies like sitting down to a meal and taking your time to eat, instead of eating on the run can help decrease bloating.

If your quest to get swimsuit ready for the summer has seen you hitting the gym and trimming back on junk food, nothing can be more frustrating than having a full, bloated belly despite all your hard work and effort. A bloated stomach can be uncomfortable at the best of times, but throw a beach and swimsuit into the mix and you've got yourself a combination that can leave you feeling self-conscious and anything but gorgeous.

Stomach bloating is the commonterm for the build-up of gas and airin the stomach and intestines, whichcan cause your stomach to distend and swell out. Not to be confused with abdominal fat, which can only be decreased through proper diet and exercise, stomach bloating is temporary, although it may occur frequently.

It is often accompanied by uncomfortable abdominal pains, and a feeling of fullness, and is relieved by passing gas, or having a bowel movement.

Research shows that certain foods and dietary strategies can play a big role in both causing and preventing stomach bloating. Follow these tips to find relief from stomach bloating.

1. Go easy on gassy foods

There's a reason why some foods can cause stomach bloating, and others don't. Certain foods, including beans, lentils and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower contain a type of sugar called raffinose that can be difficult to digest. In the body, raffinose is broken down in the large intestine by bacteria, which produces gas as a by-product. For some people, this excess gas means uncomfortable stomach bloating.

If you're prone to stomach bloating after eating beans, legumes or vegetables, the good news is you don't have to avoid them all together. After all, many foods that contain raffinose, also rank pretty high in terms of nutrition. In fact, beans, legumes and cruciferous vegetables are all high in disease-fighting antioxidants and fibre; their consumption has been shown to lower the risk of certain diseases, including cancer.

To prevent stomach bloating after eating these foods, try slowly incorporating them into your diet. Start with a ½ cup (125ml) serving a few times a week and gradually increase the number of servings until your body can adjust to the compounds that can cause gas buildup and bloating. If you cook with canned beans, be sure to rinse them thoroughly under running water to help wash away some of the sugars that can cause discomfort.

2. Skip carbonated drinks

Not surprisingly, carbonated beverages, such as soda and sparkling water, are some of the most common culprits of stomach bloating. Carbonated beverages release carbon dioxide gas, which can get trapped in your stomach and cause bloating and feelings of fullness. If bloating is an issue, try swapping carbonated beverages for still water with a slice of lemon or lime, or opt for a glass of water with a splash of pure fruit juice.

3. Nix the sugar-freechewing gum

Sugar-free gum can be a major cause of stomach bloating for two reasons. Not only can chewing gum cause you unconsciously to swallow air that can get trapped in your stomach, but also many sugar-free products, including gum, contain sweeteners called sugar alcohols that can cause bloating.

Sugar alcohols are chemically different from both sugar and alcohol, and while they do occur naturally in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables, including berries, apples, and plums, they are often added in large amounts to sugar-free products. When used as a low-calorie sugar substitute in sugar-free foods, sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol are well known to cause bloating and even have a laxative effect. As a result, many health recommendations suggest limiting your intake of sugar alcohols. For this reason, the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends consuming no more than ten grams of sugar alcohols daily to avoid discomfort, while other recommendations suggest fewer than two servings per day of food containing sugar alcohols. Most sugar-free chewing gum has about two grams of sugar alcohol per piece, while a small scoop (125ml) of sugar-free ice cream can have upwards of eight grams per serving.

4. Slow down

Sometimes bloating can be caused by something as harmless as unconsciously swallowing air. Eating too quickly, not chewing your food properly, drinking through a straw and talking while eating can all cause you to swallow air, which can lead to bloating. Simple strategies like sitting down to a meal and taking your time to eat, instead of eating on the run can help decrease bloating. Eating more frequent, smaller meals instead of two or three big meals a day can also help decrease bloating.

5. Rule out an allergy or intolerance

If you suffer from severe, consistent stomach bloating, it may be a sign of something more serious. Stomach bloating is a common symptom of some allergies and food intolerances, including coeliac disease and lactose intolerance.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body has a severe reaction to gluten, a protein found in many grains, such as wheat, barley and rye, that causes damage to the small intestine and reduced absorption of vitamins and minerals. While symptoms vary from person to person, one of the most common symptoms is abdominal bloating and discomfort.

Once a proper diagnosis has been made, following a strict gluten-freediet will provide relief from symptoms such as bloating.

In the case of lactose intolerance, the body has insufficient enzymes to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and milk products. As a result, undigested lactose stays in the gut and gets broken down by bacteria, which causes gas and bloating. Luckily for people with lactose intolerance, supplements are available to provide this essential enzyme.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a bowel disorder characterised by abdominal pain and discomfort, can also cause severe abdominal bloating.

Often, in the case of an allergy, intolerance or IBS, stomach bloating is accompanied by stomach cramps, pain and diarrhoea. To avoid unnecessarily eliminating otherwise healthy foods, it's important to get a proper diagnosisfrom a doctor before changing your diet if you suspect you suffer from one of these conditions.

6. Gradually increase fibre

The health benefits of fibre are well known - it can help lower the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes - it also plays a role in weight control. Fibre can help or hinder stomach bloating too.

While getting enough fibre can actually help prevent stomach bloating by keeping things moving through your digestive tract and preventing constipation, suddenly increasing your fibre intake can have the opposite effect and causea full, swollen belly.

If you're trying to bulk up on fibre, do so gradually to prevent uncomfortable side effects. For example, if you're just starting to eat whole grains, start with one serving a day, a few times a week. Be sure to divide fibre-rich foods between all meals and snacks, instead of eating them all at once. If you're increasing your vegetable intake, consider opting for cooked instead of raw veggies at first until your body gets used to processing more fibre.

And finally, drinking enough fluids is essential when boosting your fibre intake; aim for at least six to eight glasses of water per day.

7. Try a natural remedy

It is believed that certain foods can help relieve bloating by helping with digestion, and affecting bowel motility.

Preliminary studies suggest both pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that can assist with digestion, and decrease bloating. Pineapple, which has reportedly been used for centuries in Central and South America to treat indigestion, contains bromelain, while papaya contains papain. Both of these digestive enzymes are available in supplement form, although more research is needed to establisha standard recommended intake. Speak to your doctor before taking digestive supplements that contain bromelain, as some evidence suggests it may interact with certain medications, including antibiotics, blood thinning medications and sedatives.

A mounting body of evidence also suggests that peppermint maybe effective at easingstomach upset and bloating. In fact, onestudy from Italian researchers foundthat peppermint oil was effective at reducing symptomssuch as bloating in70 per cent of people with irritable bowel syndrome. Add this green leafy herb to your diet by chewing on sprigs of fresh mint after meals, or adding it to beverages, such as tea and ice water.