By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD for YouBeauty.com
It’s finally fall, which means it is time to get excited to pull out our autumn scarves and slip back into our skinny jeans. But just when you thought you were safe ("Phew! The pressure of bikini season is over!"), there is a chance that as you tried to zip up your jeans, you came in contact with an uncomfortable obstacle – bloating.
We’ve all experienced it – that sensation of fullness and swelling in the abdomen. This feeling is not only physically uncomfortable but also may affect our mood and self-esteem. So why does it happen and how can we stop it?
We all will experience bloating from time to time. Often caused by natural processes during digestion, bloating is typically triggered by the accumulation of fluid or production of gas in the body. However, bloating is not always caused by too much gas, but rather, how the body handles that gas.
Now for the good news: The occasional puff up can be reduced through some wise food choices and lifestyle changes. To ward off the inflation, try these bloat-blocking foods to feel like yourself again.
Rice (fully digested carbohydrates): Some foods, especially certain carbohydrates, are either indigestible or only partially digested in the gut. These foods can cause gas buildup and therefore bloating. According to American College of Gastroenterology, rice and rice flour make a good substitute for starches such as wheat, oats, corn and potatoes. Rice is fully digested in the small intestines, giving it the least potential to form gases in the gut.
Banana (potassium): Bloating is not always gas-related. High sodium intake could be the culprit. Hiding in most of today’s processed foods and restaurant items, sodium attracts and retains water in the body. Potassium on the other hand, can help counter sodium’s role. Maintaining your overall potassium-sodium level is important for water balance. If your bloat is a result of yesterday’s salty dinner, try adding sliced banana to your morning oatmeal for some balance.
Yogurt (probiotics): The basics of beating the bloat with yogurt is to first make sure you're choosing a yogurt that has active cultures. Regularly consuming yogurt with active cultures increases lactobacillus and bifidobacterium – the “good" bacteria – in the digestive tract, which facilitate efficient digestion and prevention of belly bloat. The best source is plain, non-fat or low-fat yogurt. If you need a bit of sweetness, mix in fresh fruit at home rather than grabbing flavored yogurts.
Herbal tea (antispasmodic): Researchers from the University's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory found that peppermint activates an "anti-pain" channel in the gut that soothes inflammation. For quick relief, sip a peppermint tea to help relax the digestive tract and return to normal peristalsis, aka muscle contractions.
Cucumber (natural diuretic): If you’re already bloated, cucumbers can make a great tummy-flattening snack. The high water and low fiber content of these tasty vegetables can cause increased urination, which in turn, makes you feel slimmer.
Papaya (papain): A 2009 study showed that raw papaya contains a white, milky substance called papain and when ripe, the fruit is moderately laxative and helps in the movement of the bowels. Although it is not the most popular or readily available fruit, papaya may be worth considering. Try using fresh papaya slices in a breakfast smoothie.
Remember, foods affect different bodies in different ways. If you are concerned about how often you feel bloated, try keeping a food diary to identify specific foods that you should avoid. Occasional bloating is normal, but if it occurs chronically, bloating can be a symptom of a more serious health problem. If your problem is chronic, or if you are experiencing a severe increase in gassiness or distention, you should talk to your health care practitioner right away.
Hadley Hickner contributed to this column.