Bye Bye Belly Bloat
By Mary Hartley, RD
Bikini season is quickly approaching, unless you live in a place where it is already here. What’s worse than a bloated belly in a bikini? Not much. Gas, that can fill the belly like a balloon, comes from intestinal bacteria that breaks down undigested nutrients. Want to shut off those gas-producing microbes? Starve them out!
Although everyone digests food a little differently, we all make gas from our friendly bacteria. They feast on the incomplete breakdown of common carbohydrates that have names like raffinose, lactose, fructose, and sorbitol, and on gluten, a protein that is found in many grains. But you don't have to be at the mercy of your microbes. By knowing the science behind the gas crisis, you can stop belly-aching over gas.
Raffinose is one of the many simple carbohydrates found in a host of plants, including legumes (aka dried beans), cruciferous vegetables, and whole grains. Humans simply don’t make the enzyme to breakdown raffinose and so it moves along to the large intestines where bacteria have a heyday. Beano, the digestive aid, supplies that missing enzyme. To prevent bloating, take Beano with the first bite or avoid high raffinose foods.
Likely suspects: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, rhutabaga, watercress.cucumbers, green peppers, peas, whole grains.
Lactose intolerance, the inability to digest milk products, happens when the body does not make enough of the enzyme to breaks down lactose in milk and cheese. Lactose intolerance affects more than 70 percent of adults worldwide. Lots of Americans suffer needlessly from bloating when there is an easy solution. To beat bloat, switch to lactose-free milk, ice cream, cottage cheese, and half and half. As with Beano, you can prevent bloating by taking a enzyme supplement when eating regular dairy foods.
Likely suspects: Unripened dairy products, including milk, cream, half and half, cottage, ricotta and fet cheese, and foods made those ingredients, as well as ice cream, puddings and yogurts that do not contain active cultures.
Fructose intolerance, the inability to digest the sugar in fruit and corn syrup, is more prevalent than once thought. It may be that eating too much fructose at a time overwhelms digestive capacity. For some folks, giving up regular soda is enough to beat the bloat, while others must peruse ingredient lists to find the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup. In reasonable portions, the small amount of fructose in most fruits is rarely a problem.
Likely suspects: Foods highest in natural fructose are apples, pears, cherries, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, juices and all dried fruit, beets, sweet potatoes and cassava, well as honey and foods from the onion family.
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fruits, wine and beer, but is more often eaten in the form of sugar-free products and dietetic foods. Sorbitol is actually broken down and absorbed, just very slowly. The bloating occurs while undigested sorbitol hangs around in the GI tract. For some people, it takes only 10 grams of sorbitol a day to create bloat As a point of reference, one piece of sugarless gum or candy has one gram of sorbitol.
Likely suspects: sugar-free chewing gum, mints and candy, sugar-free gelatin, pudding, jam and jelly, and foods containing sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, maltitol, and erythritol (i.e. Truvia).
For a subset of the population, the protein in wheat and other grains leads to bloating. Gluten is one of the wheat proteins at fault. A gluten problem may be an intolerance, like lactose and fructose, an immune reaction called celiac disease, or a true allergy. Always see a doctor if you suspect a gluten problem. Gluten is difficult to remove because it is in so many foods.
Likely suspects: Cereal, bread, pasta and pizza, and foods containing gluten such as deli meats, salad dressings, canned soups, ice cream, and more. Read about getting 'glutened' from foods.
Find Your Tolerance Level
Intolerances are dose dependent. Except for celiac disease, small quantities may not cause symptoms, but when eaten frequently over the course of several days, symptoms may occur. If that happens, cut back on the offending foods until the gas is gone and then reintroduce small amounts, if desired, within your level of tolerance.
Do you experience bikini bloat? What causes it for you?