Eating a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains can contribute to weight loss and successful management of chronic diseases like diabetes and congestive heart failure. Enough fiber can also improve gut health and prevent constipation (which is often a side effect of medications, certain medical conditions and pregnancy). However, these foods can sometimes lead to bloating, gas, and other abdominal discomfort.
So, how do you make healthy food choices while maintaining the ability to safely go out in public? Understand the facts.
Where does intestinal gas come from?
About half of the gas in the digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is produced by bacteria in the gut to help digest food. If your body doesn’t break down and move the food efficiently, the gas builds up in your intestines causing bloating and discomfort.
How to prevent or reduce bloating and gas:
- Chew your food completely. Remember how half of the gas in your system comes from swallowed air? An easy way to reduce the amount of air swallowed while eating is to slow down and chew your food thoroughly. Doing this helps your stomach acids perform their role more effectively and can dramatically reduce the amount of bacterial gas formed.
- Take small bites. Taking small bites reduces how much air you swallow and decreases the amount of work required to digest the food that reaches your intestines. Smaller pieces of food = less work = faster digestion.
- Avoid overeating/eating too fast. If you eat faster than your body can digest, or if you stuff your stomach to the point of feeling sick, you will surely experience inefficient processing and a build-up of gas. Try to eat more slowly. Your body will feel full faster and you can avoid several digestive discomforts.
- Balance out your meals. Try to balance the amount of protein and fat in your meals. Eating too much protein can add stress to the digestion process leading to gas, bloating and even constipation. Not eating enough fat can also cause bloating and constipation because fat helps stimulate the digestion process and move food through your body.
- Increase vegetables gradually. Significantly increasing your vegetable intake overnight can be shocking to the system and result in bloating and gas. If you currently eat one vegetable a day, try increasing to two vegetables a day and let your system adapt. After a week or so, try adding a third serving of vegetables to your daily intake.
- Slowly increase fiber: Dietary fiber refers to the edible parts of plants or carbohydrates that cannot be digested. You can find fiber in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. Increasing the amount of high-fiber foods you eat ultimately improves digestive health. However, too much of an increase at one time can cause excess gas and bloating. Just as with adding vegetables, add more high fiber foods a little at a time and give your body a chance to adjust. At the same time, drink plenty of water because liquid helps push fiber through the digestive system. Note: The Institute of Medicine says women need 25 grams of fiber per day, and men need 38 grams per day.
- Try eating a prebiotic food or taking a probiotic supplement: The bacteria produced in your digestive system serves an important purpose – it helps break down food. If your body doesn’t have or produce enough “helpful” bacteria, you can take a probiotic supplement or increase your intake of food known to have probiotic properties. Dr. Mark Graves, an internal medicine physician at Deaconess Clinic, wrote a helpful blog about prebiotics and probiotics.
- Take Beano®: Beans and lentils contain indigestible sugars called oligosaccharides. Beano contains an enzyme that helps with digestion of oligosaccharides. Ingesting the enzyme before eating can help break down the beans and speed up the digestion process. Efficient digestion = less gas.
A note about beans – Dry beans that are soaked before cooking have significantly fewer oligosaccharides and are a better choice than canned beans. If you need to use canned beans, rinse them thoroughly to remove the oligosaccharides found in the canning liquid.
By following these tips, you’ll hopefully have a healthier gut while not alienating friends, family and coworkers!