Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Summer 2012
|Follow our five strategies to help you win the war on bloat.|
From time to time, we all feel an uncomfortable sensation of fullness, even if we shy away from calling it what it is: bloat. Often, we'd rather not even talk about it. Happily, you don't have to tell your friends and family about your problem to find relief.
Bloating is most often caused by intestinal gas building up in the digestive tract. "Some people feel full. Some are gassy and pass a lot of wind," says Gary Luckman, M.D., of DigestiveCARE in Plantation, Florida. "None of these signs is necessarily serious or abnormal, but they can be embarrassing or make one uncomfortable."
Some of his patients swear their abdomen gets bigger, Luckman says. They claim "they have difficulty closing their pants, or their waistline feels uncomfortable." But he believes that's more a matter of perception than reality. Luckman points to foods as the main culprits, especially fruits (apples, apricots, bananas, figs, pears, prunes, raisins, watermelon), vegetables (asparagus, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, onions), high-gluten foods (bagels, pasta, pretzels, wheat germ), dairy and sorbitol.
For Karen (not her real name), a 54-year-old teacher in Satellite Beach, Florida, the big triggers are dairy, bananas, fried chicken, fried okra and caffeine. Even though she avoids them, her sensitive gut still causes her to experience abdominal bloat almost every day. "My stomach wakes me up in the morning," she says. "It's like having an alien jumping around in there."
Although bloat may be a nuisance, it's rarely serious. (See "When to Worry," below, for exceptions to this rule.)
|5 ways to beat bloat|
You may be able to prevent or, like Karen, reduce bloating with these five simple strategies:
- Modify your diet. Keep a food diary—it can help identify your particular offenders. Try substituting soy, rice, coconut or almond milk for dairy. And drink plenty of water. Karen tries to drink 64 ounces a day. "If I feel particularly bloated, I drink more," she says. Other common causes of bloat include chewing gum and carbonated drinks, especially those with high levels of fructose or sorbitol.
- Watch your fiber. "Fiber can very often help move things along, but too much can cause bloating, especially rougher fiber like 100-percent bran and prunes," Luckman says. "We recommend Metamucil and Benefiber." On the other hand, insufficient dietary fiber also can lead to bloat—as well as another problem, constipation.
Men under 50 should aim for 38 grams of total fiber per day; for women under 50, shoot for 25 grams. For men and women over 50, the recommendation is 30 and 21 grams per day, respectively.
- Get moving. Regular exercise helps stimulate the passage of gas through the digestive tract. Karen walks, swims or takes an exercise or yoga class most days. Although she occasionally reaches for Mylanta, she says, "I try to just use natural things like fluids and exercise."
- Try over-the-counter remedies. Products that contain digestive enzymes (such as Lactaid and Dairy Ease) may help if dairy products are causing your bloat. Some people who have strong reactions to beans and vegetables swear by Beano. Others find that probiotics, which are benign bacteria abundant in most yogurts, bring relief, Luckman adds.
- Slow down. Rushing to get through a meal by wolfing down your food also can lead to bloat. Instead, remember what your mother always told you—take your time and savor every bite.
When to Worry
If you routinely experience gas and abdominal bloating, speak with your health care provider, especially if you're also experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stools or dark, tarry-looking stools
- Heartburn that's getting worse
- Weight loss
These symptoms may be signs of several conditions, including celiac disease (an autoimmune malady marked by sensitivity to gluten); lactose intolerance; inflammatory bowel disease; gastroparesis, which affects diabetics; or ovarian cancer, which Luckman says is difficult to diagnose early: "It's subtle, slow-growing and doesn't have a lot of symptoms."