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IBS

Updated 24 August 2018

5 surprising reasons why you might be bloated

Whether it’s simply a bit of discomfort after a meal, or a permanent symptom of a possible food allergy, bloating can be unpleasant.

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It’s easy to recognise bloating. You start the day with a flat stomach, but as the day progresses, you experience a swelling in your belly, you start feeling uncomfortable and you can feel the trapped wind.

According to Health24, bloating occurs because of excess gas in the intestines. There are many possible causes of bloating, from overeating to air swallowing, constipation, hormonal fluctuations, food allergies and IBS.

It is common to associate bloating with obvious culprits such as greasy, fried foods, foods with a high sodium content that will cause water retention, or typically “gassy” vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, or legumes, such as beans.

If you’ve been avoiding the obvious culprits but still experience the bloat, here’s what might be causing it.

1. You eat too fast

Always eating on the run or at your desk? You might not be aware of how fast you are eating. This causes you to gulp down air, which gets trapped in your gut. And it’s not the only reason why eating too fast can cause you to bloat. When you eat in a hurry, you might not be chewing your food properly and your digestive tract has to work harder to process the chunks of undigested food. Eating too fast and mindlessly can cause you to eat more than you realise, which can also lead to bloating.

woman having lunch at her desk while working

2. You opt for low-fat choices

You think you're doing yourself a favour by choosing low-kilojoule foods, such as low-fat, sugar-free cookies, candies or soda. Unfortunately, these don’t do much for the digestive system as the artificial sweeteners in these products can cause bloating. The reason? Your body may have trouble processing artificial sweeteners and they may remain partly or fully undigested, serving as a platform for the fermentation of bacteria, leading to gas and bloating.

Look out for food items containing the following artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, cyclamates and sucralose as these could all potentially cause bloating. 

diet soda

3. You regularly chew gum

What might be good for your breath and teeth might not be so good for your gut.

As you chew gum, you could be swallowing air, which causes your digestive system to trap gas. Some brands of chewing gum also contain artificial sweeteners, leading to further bloating. 

Rely on chewing gum to keep your breath fresh during the day? Keep a travel-size bottle of alcohol-free mouth rinse in your handbag, briefcase or desk, and avoid chewing gum or mints containing artificial sweetener. 

woman chewing a piece of gum

4. You drink a lot of coffee

It’s not always what you eat, but also what you drink that can cause unpleasant belly bloat. If you frequently indulge in cappuccinos or have milk in your coffee or tea, the lactose in the milk could make you feel bloated if you have an intolerance. If you simply can’t stomach your coffee without a splash of milk, but the bloat is simply too bad, try using a plant-based milk, such as almond or soya.

If you prefer your coffee black, but still get bloated, this might be bad news: Black coffee is an acidic drink, which can cause irritation to your stomach, leading to the production of gas. Adding sugar or sweetener to your coffee can make the bloating even worse.

Keep the amount of coffee you drink in mind too, as too much coffee may overstimulate the nerves of your digestive tract, which can lead to bloating. 

If you find that you drink too much coffee and struggle with bloating, cut down the amount you drink, or replace your coffee with herbal tea.

woman drinking coffee during lunch break

5. You might have a food intolerance you are not aware of

If you’ve never been diagnosed with IBS or any significant food intolerances, but yet you experience discomfort from time to time, it might be a sign that something in your diet has a negative effect on your digestion.

According to gastroenterologist Dr Herbie Schneider bloating is a common symptom of IBS and often occurs if the digestive tract can’t process its contents properly.

Try and see whether there is a pattern to your bloating and determine if it occurs after eating certain types of foods. It might be caused by one of the following:

  • Lactose intolerance, which is an intolerance to the milk sugar found in cow’s milk or any other commercial products containing cow’s milk.
  • Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which is common in patients with IBS. Consult your doctor about the use of a probiotic to regulate the bacteria in your gut.
  • Fructose intolerance, which is an intolerance to the sugar found in fruit, honey and some commercial food products.

woman holding stomach

Image credit: iStock