Stomach bloating describes that mild to moderate discomfort many people feel in their tummy, which can feel like a balloon about to burst. It usually subsides within an hour or so but can flare up for weeks if not months. It is usually caused by a buildup up of gas in the digestive system. The problems are often remedied by cutting out gassy culprits such as fizzy drinks or foods such as beans.
Surprisingly, the condition isn’t always caused by a build up of gas. As nutritional therapist Nicola Shubrook explained, salt is primarily made up of sodium. Sodium encourages your body to retain water, especially around your stomach. This can cause your tummy to swell.
Reducing the amount of salt in your diet can therefore help to beat the bloat. But this isn’t always easy. As registered dietician Anna Taylor pointed out, sodium can be found in a wide-range of processed foods, restaurant foods and convenience foods. “Often, these foods don’t even taste salty, yet they are full of sodium. This is often true when it comes to soups, bread rolls and bagels,” she said.
The NHS outlines several ways people can cut down on the culprit, including these shopping tips:
- Compare nutrition labels on food packaging when buying everyday items. You can really cut your salt intake by checking the label and choosing the pizza, ketchup or breakfast cereal that’s lower in salt. Try choosing one food a week to check and swap when you’re food shopping.
- Go for reduced-salt unsmoked back bacon. Cured meats and fish can be high in salt, so try to eat these less often.
- Buy tinned vegetables without added salt. Do the same with tinned pulses.
- Watch out for the salt content in ready-made pasta sauces. Tomato-based sauces are often lower in salt than cheesy sauces or those containing olives, bacon or ham.
- For healthier snacks, choose fruit or vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks. If you are going to have crisps or crackers, check the label and choose the ones lower in salt. Don’t forget to check the fat and sugars content, too.
- Go easy on soy sauce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt.
The health body also advises overhauling cooking practices to reduce salt intake.
Tips include swapping out salt for black pepper as a seasoning, sprucing up meals with fresh herbs and spices instead and making your own sauces from scratch, using ripe tomatoes and garlic, for example.
It also recommends making “smart choices” if you are eating our or ordering a takeaway.
Think carefully about your toppings if you are ordering a pizza, swapping about meat or dairy foods for vegetable s or chicken toppings, for example.
Checking for food intolerances is another way to address bloating. Common signs of a food intolerance include:
- Your bowel doesn’t empty properly
- The food causes gas to be trapped
- Too much gas is produced as a reaction to the food
The main offenders are wheat or gluten and dairy products, said the NHS. “The best approach if you have a food intolerance is to eat less of the culprit food or cut it out completely.
“Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, noting everything that you eat and drink and when bloating troubles you most. But don’t get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP,” it added
It can also be a sign of an underlying health condition such as irritable bowel syndrome. “The bloating of IBS doesn’t seem to be linked with excess wind. It’s thought to be down to erratic propulsion of contents through the bowel.”
According to Harvard health, other underlying causes include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease, an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.
- Constipation, a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation. “If you’re not emptying your gut, there’s no room in your abdomen, and you’ll have excess bloating,” Dr. Staller says.
- Gastroparesis, a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
- Cancer. Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.
Another potential cause is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), but this is disputed, said Harvard Health. Why is it controversial? “Because we don’t have a lot of evidence about it, we still have a lot to learn about it, and testing [a breath test] isn’t reliable,” says Dr. Staller