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Nutritional Therapist at Lepicol, Hannah Braye, reveals everyday habits that are making you bloated...
Bloating is a commonly reported digestive issue, with up to 15-30% of the general population experiencing discomfort. It can be both painful and embarrassing, and can significantly impact on quality of life and confidence. Bloating is a physical clue that our digestive system isn't working quite as it should be. This can be for a variety of reasons, including a number of common everyday habits.
1. Not chewing properly and eating to quickly - Does anyone else remember their grandparents making them chew their food 30 times before swallowing? Whilst as a kid this seemed pretty tedious, they were actually talking a lot of sense. Eating too quickly and not chewing properly can significantly contribute to bloating and other digestive symptoms. Chewing helps to mechanically break down food and release digestive enzymes such as amylase in saliva. Bypassing this important stage of digestion puts more pressure on the rest of the digestive tract, meaning food may sit longer in the gut fermenting and producing gas. Inhaling your food also means you are likely to swallow more air, only adding to the problem. Try to chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing, and put your cutlery down between each mouthful.
2. Not eating mindfully - Similarly, eating on the go, in front of the tv or at your desk in front of a computer also has a detrimental effect on digestion. The cephalic stage of digestion starts in the brain and occurs even before food enters thestomach. It results from the sight, smell, thought or taste of food and stimulates around 20% of the digestive secretions needed to digest a meal. When we are focused on other things rather than our food, the cephalic phase is inhibited which can contribute to bloating. Start to view your meal times as a time for mindfulness, where you give your food the attention it deserves. Turn off the tv and computer and get away from your desk at lunch. Focus on the anticipation of eating along with the flavours, textures and smells or each mouthful.
3. Not drinking enough water - Constipation and sluggish bowel are commonly associated with bloating. We need to stay well hydrated in order to soften our stools ( of which are made up of water), making them easy to pass. Aiming to drink around 2 litres of water a day is recommended, along with daily gentle exercise to help get things moving.
4. Drinking too much liquid with meals - However, whilst staying hydrated throughout the day is important, a common mistake people make is to consume too much liquid just before or with their meals. This can dilute stomach acid, which is needed to break down food (especially proteins) and kill pathogenic microbes. Low stomach acid is a common cause of bloating and reflux, as food may sit in the stomach for longer periods, so avoid drinking large quantities of liquid for around 30 minutes before and during meals.
5. Eating foods you are intolerant to - Some people associate their bloating with eating certain foods. Foods most commonly reported to exacerbate symptoms are wheat and dairy, so if you are eating buttered toast for brekkie, a sandwich at lunch and cheesy pasta for dinner, you may well be overwhelming your system. Alternatively, if you seem to react to a variety of different foods (even some of the healthy ones), then it may be certain types of fermentable carbohydrates known as FODMAPs which are causing the issue. Consulting a registered nutritional therapist, who can lead you through an elimination and reintroduction diet and advise on further steps to support the health of the gut is advisable if you suspect hidden food intolerances.
6. Holding on to stress - Our digestive system is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress, as it is linked to the brain via the vagus nerve. When we are stressed we produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes and our gut bacteria can be negatively affected, increasing the risk of bloating. Remember to take time out for yourself, for example by doing gentle exercise such as walking and yoga, breathing exercises or meditation, and get a good night's sleep. Talking to a professional who can advise on relaxation techniques and/or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has also been shown to be beneficial for those with digestive issues.
7. Eating too late at night - In recent decades the average time people eat their evening meal has gotten considerably later. Whilst this may allow you to work late or pack more social events into your evenings, eating too close to going to bed puts additional strain on the digestive system, which should be using the overnight period to repair and carry out much needed spring-cleaning (a process known as autophagy). Emerging evidence suggests that having a longer over-night fast of 12-16 hours (known as time-restricted feeding), could have a number of digestive and other health benefits. This may mean bringing your evening meal forward a few hours and delaying breakfast slightly.
8. Not looking after your gut bacteria - Fibre plays a number of important roles in digestion, helping to form stools, remove toxins and importantly, provide a food source for beneficial species of bacteria in the gut. Eating a diet low in fibre can starve our friendly bacteria, allowing more pathogenic strains (which produce a lot more gas) to thrive. Those suffering with bloating and other digestive symptoms are often found to have dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in the gut). Increasing fruit and vegetable intake and taking a gentle fibre supplement such as Lepicol, a 3 in 1 combination of psyllium husk fibre which contributes to the maintenance of normal bowel transit, 5 live bacterial strains to help rebalance gut microflora and the prebiotic inulin (a food source for beneficial bacterial species) is therefore recommended. When increasing fibre, either through diet or supplements, it's advisable to do this gradually over a period of time, as overwhelming the system too quickly could exacerbate bloating in the short-term.