Did you know that you can eat your way out of that horrible bloated feeling? You know the one: your clothes feel two sizes too small, and your gut swells like you’re about to birth that alien baby. You feel both pain and pressure, as if you were a human balloon blown up to bursting point. Oh, and don’t forget the double-edged sword of passing gas: any sense of relief is often tempered by the anxiety of letting loose in the wrong place at the wrong time (see: the office Christmas party, an important work meeting, that third date with someone you’re actually into). These 4 simple foods can prevent bloating and stop the discomfort in its tracks in time for the holiday competitive overeating season.
Just as there’s no cure for the common cold, doctors haven’t yet learned the exact causes of bloating. Current theories include poor gut motility, which is the term for how our intestines move food through our bodies; hypersensitivity (a fancy word for having a sensitive stomach); and food intolerances and allergies. (Fun fact: women report experiencing more bloating than men, a fact attributed to our reproductive hormones.)
Some people suffer more serious symptoms with their bloating, such as diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding, and abdominal cramping. If this sounds like you, you might have a serious digestive illness, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or celiac disease. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment before taking our advice here.
If you’re among the 10−25% of healthy people who experience regular bloating, you can do something about it by taking a closer look at what and how you eat. Bloating is almost always worse after a meal − especially the large, rich ones I call “two-buttoners” for the number of buttons I have to undo on my jeans. Certain foods, however, can increase gut motility, thereby preventing gas from building up uncomfortably. Here are four foods known for their bloat-bashing powers:
Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles of the small intestine, which keeps them mobile and less likely to get constipated. Think of peppermint oil as yoga for the gut, keeping it fit and flexible. Whenever I feel bloated, I make a cup of peppermint tea − it really works! You can also add mint leaves to a glass of tea or lemonade, as well as infusing your water with it.
Since peppermint can also relax the esophagus, people with acid reflux may feel some irritation after drinking peppermint tea. Instead, they can take capsules designed to release peppermint oil only when it enters the small intestine. These also work well, although they’re not as warm and soothing as a hot cup of mint tea after an indulgent meal.
2. Kiwi fruit
Kiwis contain an enzyme called actinidin that digests dairy and meat proteins, helping to move digestion along and prevent bloating. A 2013 study found that constipated people felt less bloated than a control group after eating this enzyme. Kiwis are an excellent addition to salads, smoothies, fruit salsas, and yogurt parfaits, and they are delicious on their own.
Ginger contains oils that have been used for centuries to stimulate digestion. Researchers have found that ginger can increase gut motility in healthy people, and in one study ginger even reversed constipation in rats. You can add ginger to stir fries and soups or eat it in crystallized form (but only occasionally − crystallized ginger has a lot of sugar). I like to boil it to make a delicious herbal ginger lemon “tea.” Here’s the recipe:
- boil ½ cup of chopped ginger in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes, then strain
pour liquid into pitcher with 2 cups water, ⅓ cup of lemon juice, and ⅓ cup honey (optional)
- Since lemons have antibacterial and antiviral properties, ginger and lemon are a two-for-one combo, boosting your immune system while getting rid of your bloating. I drink ginger lemon tea all the time − hot, iced, and in my water. If you struggle to get enough water each day, unsweetened ginger−lemon-infused water is an easy way to make water more enticing to drink.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that live in our guts and aid digestion. Two common probiotics, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, are found in dairy products, especially certain brands of yogurt.
If yogurt gives you abdominal pain or bloating, however, kefir (kuh-FEER) is a great replacement. Kefir is made by adding yeast and lactic acid bacteria to milk; it tastes like yogurt but still has milk’s liquid consistency. Even better, it has more probiotics than yogurt. Try using kefir in place of buttermilk in bread and cake recipes, or on its own in soups and salad dressings, smoothies, or even ice cream! Mix it with kiwi fruit in a parfait and top it with fresh mint leaves to get a delicious anti-bloating trifecta. You can find kefir in the dairy aisle, either next to the yogurt or with soy, rice, and other kinds of alternative milks.
Other foods may help prevent bloating, but there’s less scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Nevertheless, you may want to try incorporating cilantro, honeydew melons, bananas, turmeric, onions, and garlic into your diet. However, be wary of advice urging you to eat diuretics like lemons or lemon juice, cranberries, and cucumbers. Bloating is not caused by excess water weight: this is a popular myth that has been busted by the medical experts. Feel free to flavor your water or ginger tea with lemon juice if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to lessen your bloating symptoms on its own.
How to eat to prevent bloating
Now that you know what to eat, let’s talk about how to eat. While I’m confident you know the basics − if you can read this, you know how to chew − many of us eat in ways that encourage bloating. How? We eat too quickly. You can inhale a lot of air along with your food if you’re shoving in forkfuls and not taking the time to chew. To prevent bloating, try to avoid snarfing down 10-minute lunches at your desk or eating on the run. Instead, take your time to chew each bite completely before swallowing.
Chewing gum also causes bloating for the same reason − it introduces air into your gut. The more you chew, the more you inflate. So eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and ditch the gum if you want less bloating in your life.
Foods that cause bloating
Now that you know which foods can reduce or prevent bloating − and how to eat them − don’t sabotage your efforts by eating foods that can cause bloating. One of the most popular over-the-counter anti-gas medicines is called “Beano” for a reason: beans are one of the biggest culprits. Beans contain complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides (all-eh-go-SACK-a-rides) that are difficult to digest.
Oligosaccharides aren’t the only criminal carb: an entire group that hinders digestion have been lumped together in the acronym FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols). High-FODMAP foods include legumes, dairy products, and most grains. You can find a comprehensive list online, and you may want to eliminate or reduce your intake of these foods to see if it makes a difference. Keeping a food diary for 1−3 weeks is a great way to identify which foods exacerbate your bloating. If you fill it out honestly and regularly, you’ll have an excellent idea of what you’re eating, how much of it, and how you can improve your diet in ways that will make you feel much better.
By eating foods known to reduce bloating and cutting back on foods that make it worse, you’ll be well on your way to turning those “two-buttoner” meals into “all buttoned up.” Don’t forget to take your time and chew!