We’ve all experienced how bloating and gas can be very uncomfortable and even at times embarrassing. Typically, these symptoms are a reaction to something we ate and go away on their own. However, if they become more of a daily occurrence it might be a sign that your digestive system is out of balance. There are three major reasons for bloating and gas: food intolerances, poor secretion of digestive juices and imbalance of the gut bacteria.
Food intolerances can cause bloating and gas
Almost any food can disagree with us. However, here are the food that are known to cause bloating and gas”:
- lactose – the sugar from dairy
- fructose – sugar that can be found in fruits, honey, syrups etc.
- sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol
- most of the cabbage family – broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower
- grains and cereals
- beans and legumes – As a rule of thumb, the smaller the bean the easier it is to digest. So lentils and mung beans are going to be easier to digest than, let’s say, lima beans. Also, you can improve digestibility of legumes by soaking them in water overnight.
If you suspect food intolerance, pay attention to when the symptoms occur. Maybe even keep a log for several days to see if there is a pattern. Then test it out by avoiding those foods for a week or two to see if symptoms improve. If you find that too many foods cause you bloating and gas you might need to rekindle your “digestive fire”. Read on!
Lack of “digestive fire” – less efficient digestion
Some people have something that can be called sluggish digestion. Typically, there is less than optimal secretion of digestive juices which makes the digestion and absorption process go slower and less efficient. As a result, bacteria in the gut has a chance to “enjoy” your food a little too much. It is really them, the bacteria, that make us gassy! This often happens as we age but young people can have issues as well. Here is how you can help out your digestive system:
- To begin with, make your foods easier to digest. Avoid raw vegetables and fruits, enjoy them cooked instead.
- Reduce or avoid other foods that are hard to digest in general, see the list above.
- Avoid drinking lots of water with meals. Drink your liquids in between meals. Water dilutes digestive juice and slows down the whole process.
- Stimulate your “digestive fire” with bitter taste. I know it might sound like some kind of folk medicine and it is! People have used this approach for thousands of years and now the science can confirm and explain why it works. Bitters enhance almost all aspects of digestion, especially stimulating the secretion of digestive juices. Enjoyed cooked vegetables like arugula, dandelion greens and bitter melon. Alternatively, try digestive aperitif like Swedish Bitters , Digestive Bitters or Angostura. You can add 1 tablespoon (or less if too bitter) of the bitters to a glass of still or sparkling water and enjoy before dinner.
- And finally, you can try carminative herbs and spices. Carminative herbs have volatile oils that help eliminate gas and reduce bloating. You can use them in cooking as spices, for example fennel seed, coriander seed, dill seed, cardamom, cumin, caraway, or anise. Alternatively, you can take them as a supplement after meals or as an herbal tea.
Imbalanced gut bacteria
Another reason for gas and bloating is imbalance of your gut bacteria. Your bacterial composition is very susceptible to change. Many drugs especially antibiotics will affect it, as well as an illness or a major transition in life like menopause. To help your flora rebalance add fermented foods to your diet. Please do it slowly, gradually increasing the amount. You can try fermented dairy like plain yogurt, sour cream or cream fresh, kefir. In addition, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables are an excellent choice. Here are some recipes. If you are not into fermented foods you can always supplement with probiotics.