Time to rethink that morning green smoothie.
Summer is here, ladies and gentlemen. As the sun starts to come out of hiding (missed you!), so do your legs, your arms, your shoulders, slivers of your back, and eventually your tummy. As much as we detest the idea of having to “get ready” for “beach season,” the fact of baring all sometime soon beside a body of water remains. But for some of us, no matter how many miles we run, crunches we do, greens we consume, and carbs we don’t consume (ugh), there’s still (always) bloat.
The truth is, there’s nothing inherent or natural about bloat, and there are small dietary changes you can make to cut it out of your life (and finally see those abs you’ve been working on for so long). OK, OK, you’re such a healthy eater and can’t remember the last time you drank soda, what could it possibly be? Right? Unfortunately our digestive systems are sensitive, and some of the “healthy” habits you’ve developed over the years may be the culprits of unwanted abdominal pain and belly bloat. Like what? Read on.
Um, are you telling me that my daily kale salad filled with protein, iron, antioxidants, and basically magic is making me bloated? Maybe. Kale is high in something called fructans—fiber molecules found in carbohydrates that cannot be absorbed by the small intestine. This means these molecules get relocated to the very end of the digestive system, where they are fermented by bacteria and cause all sorts of abdominal pain, including—you guessed it—bloat. And while we’re talking about fructans, we’ll also quickly mention that Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans, certain grains, onion, and garlic are also high in them, so if you notice any tummy relief from taking a break from kale, try lightening up on some of these guys as well.
Fruit after meals
Patting yourself on the back for ordering the fruit plate for dessert rather than that warm, melty cookie? Not so fast. One of the reasons why fruits are praised as a healthy food group is because they offer a lot of good (an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers) without a lot of bad. You see, the sugars in fruit are super easy to digest; they essentially become an instant source of energy for your body to burn. However, when you eat fruit after a meal, your body cannot tackle them until it has finished digesting the rest of your meal. This forces those sugars to sit in your stomach for too long and eventually start fermenting (yuck), which produces hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is responsible for abdominal pain, cramping, other forms of gas(...), and bloat. Lots of bloat.
Probiotics are made up of different strains of bacteria, which feed the healthy flora in your gut and create a strong, diverse, vibrant microbiome. They are one of the top five health recommendations any holistic doctor will give you to help with almost any health issue. Bloating and abdominal pain is one of the symptoms probiotics can help alleviate, but, at first, they can actually make it worse. Depending on the current state of your microbiome (read: if your gut bacteria has been out of balance for a while), implementing a daily probiotic with multiple strands of bacteria can lead to bloat, gas, and cramps as the strands work to balance out the bacteria and pH levels of the gut. If the discomfort is too painful or uncomfortable, you can find probiotics that offer one single strand of bacteria and slowly work your way up to a more diverse one. Otherwise, stick with it (bloating symptoms should go away in anywhere from two to four weeks), and put away your crop tops for a couple of weeks.
Whether you drink it because of the taste, because you’re a proud vegan, or because dairy makes you feel icky, nut milk may be the culprit of some of the belly bloat you’re experiencing. Many almond milk brands these days use carrageenan, a thickening agent that has been found to cause all sorts of gastrointestinal issues (as serious as stomach ulcers) and can cause bloating for many people. Good news is you don’t have to go running back to the cows, as there are now plenty of brands making dairy-free milks that are also carrageenan-free (just peep the ingredient list first). And if all else fails, we know you’ve been wanting to try making your own for years now, so whip out that Vitamix.
Chewing gum is a triple threat when it comes to belly bloat. To start, as you’re smacking your gums, you’re also swallowing a good amount of excess air that has been found to cause both abdominal pain and bloating. At the same time, this chewing mechanism signals to your body that food is coming, stimulating the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid that will then sit there all dressed up with nowhere to go. This not only can cause bloating, but also can interfere with your ability to produce stomach acid down the line when food actually IS on its way (causing, you guessed it, more bloat). Lastly, If you’re over the age of thirteen and you’re chewing gum, chances are it’s sugar-free gum. But that sugar-free stick of entertainment keeping you focused and your hand out of the office candy jar is most likely made with something called sorbitol, a sugar-based alcohol that takes an extremely long time for your body to digest. As it sits there slowly digesting (and some of it can go completely undigested), it acts as an agent for bacteria to ferment and hydrogen gas to be produced, along with a variety of discomforts in the tummy.
OK, maybe not the healthiest on the list, but most likely something you enjoy every single day. Coffee can overexcite the digestive tract and cause spasms in the bowel that lead to belly bloat. Also, because coffee is highly acidic, it can cause inflammation in the stomach lining (or, if we’re technical about it, gastritis), which aggravates the stomach. Side note: These symptoms can be caused by coffee alone. Don’t even get us started on the cream, syrups, and sugars that you might mix in your mug.