Chronic abdominal bloating is one of the most common things I come across in my clinical work and it’s something that can be really uncomfortable and annoying if you suffer from it all the time. To help you get to the bottom of what’s really behind it, so you can actually start to address it, I’ve put together my list of the most common diet and lifestyle causes of recurrent bloating…
Eating foods you’re not able to digest properly (food intolerances)
Some people find certain carbohydrates, like lactose and fructose, hard to digest. Lactose is found in dairy products and fructose is found in fruit and processed foods (in the form of high fructose corn syrup). Microbes ferment carbohydrates that you’re not able to digest properly and this is a major cause of gas and bloating!
Proteins, such as gluten, found in wheat and some proteins in milk, certain vegetables (like broccoli and cabbage) and grains, nuts, seeds and beans (that haven’t been soaked in water) can also cause gas and bloating for some people.
I’m not suggesting you cut all of these foods out of your diet. The idea is to observe your own bodies’ reactions to these potential trigger foods to help you figure out whether any of them could be a problem for you. Everyone is slightly different in terms of what foods they can tolerate so the first step to test this is to keep a food diary, observe how you feel when you eat these foods and write down whenever you have symptoms / a reaction. This should help you start to see a pattern with certain foods.
Eating foods that help feed bad bacteria and yeasts
Diets high in refined carbohydrates (white pasta, bread, cakes, crackers etc), starchy foods, sugar and yeast-rich foods (beer, wine, bread) all feed bad bacteria, produce gas and contribute to abdominal distension.
Drinking tap water containing chlorine over decades may inhibit good bacteria to some degree. There is also evidence to suggest that eating meat from animals that have been fed antibiotics can kill off good bacteria in the digestive tract and encourage the growth of harmful microorganisms.
Not eating enough of the foods that support digestive health
Foods that improve digestive health include vegetables rich in soluble fibre and probiotic-fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso and kefir. Prebiotic foods like artichokes, oats, garlic, leeks, onion and asparagus are also important for gut health (they help to promote the growth of live bacteria).
You’ve got an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut AKA “Dysbiosis”
Too much bad bacteria and an overgrowth of yeasts and moulds in the gut is extremely common these days and a major cause of bloating. When you have fewer good bacteria in your digestive tract it also weakens your immune system and you’re more vulnerable to picking up food bugs.
The way you’re eating
Eating too fast, not chewing your food properly, overeating and drinking too much liquid with meals can all make you bloated. If you’re always rushing your meals and gulping down food you’ve got a much higher chance of causing an overgrowth of bad bacteria and becoming chronically bloated.
Other things you’re putting in your mouth
Chewing gum and fizzy drinks are notorious triggers for bloating.
Artificial additives in food
Sorbitol, xylitol and malitol (sugar substitutes in sugar free and diet products) frequently cause bloating.
You’re very stressed
The stress of modern-day life can have an extremely negative impact on your digestion. Stress stimulates our body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism which springs into action causing our bodies to basically stop digesting. Stress diverts blood away from the intestine, interferes with absorption of nutrients and decreases digestive enzyme secretion making it harder for you to break down your food properly.
Your body isn’t producing enough digestive juices
When you don’t produce enough bile, hydrochloric acid or digestive enzymes food isn’t properly broken down in your digestive tract. Food that would normally be digested and absorbed in your upper intestines instead passes through undigested into your colon where it ferments and produces gas. The main causes of this are stress, eating things that cause damage to the lining of the digestive tract and nutritional deficiencies (for example, if your diet is low in B vitamins or zinc it’s difficult for your body to produce enough hydrochloric acid).
Side effects of medications
Long-term use of Antibiotics, NSAIDS (painkillers like Ibuprofen and Aspirin) and the oral contraceptive pill can all disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in the GI tract, leading to bloating.
Not drinking enough water or eating enough soluble fibre and the poor diet habits outlined above can all lead to slow digestive transit, constipation and increased fermentation, gas production and bloating.
Nb. If your bloating is accompanied by other symptoms, such as loss of appetite or change in bowel movements, or if you are concerned about any of your symptoms you should consult your healthcare provider.