When are bloating and gas normal?
It is safe to say that most individuals experience gas or bloating at one point or another. Most of the time, gas and bloating are normal by-products of digestion. Bloating is a consequence of excess gas and air accumulating in the intestines. In comparison, gas is produced when the normal bacteria in the digestive tract break down food. Excess of either can be a result of what you are consuming in your day-to-day diet. Certain digestive system disorders, in addition to other symptoms, can increase gas and bloating.
The majority of the gas you expel each day is made up of oxygen, nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. When gas includes hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, it leads to foul-smelling gas. The frequency of gas and bloating can be controlled by altering your diet. Diets that are higher in fiber foods or foods in the Brassicaceae (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)family are known to cause excessive gas and bloating due to their high sulfur content. Cutting back on these high sulfur-containing foods may help.
Is it just gas or something else?
It is important to know that there may be a more serious cause of abdominal discomfort when symptoms are persistent and frequent with accompanying symptoms such as, but not limited to, abdominal pain, weight loss, or change in bowel habits. These symptoms could be signs of other digestive disorders. Some common causes of excessive gas and bloating are SIBO, food intolerance, or IBS, to name a few. Often, relatively simple changes in eating habits and diet can help lessen these symptoms.
Food intolerances are not to be confused with true food allergies. An intolerance is when people have trouble digesting or breaking down a particular food, this leads to excess gas, belly pain, bloating diarrhea, and sometimes constipation. An allergy triggers an immune system reaction.
SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is a disruption in the normal bacteria in your small intestine. SIBO can cause many bothersome symptoms, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea, and is not easily treated by simple dietary changes. That is why it is crucial to distinguish the cause of gas and bloating.
What to do about it?
There is no cookie-cutter solution for treating gas and bloating. The goal is to identify triggers and possible causes to be able to help alleviate symptoms.
There are many nutrition-related factors that can have an impact on bloating and excess gas. Therefore some dietary changes can play an essential role in helping to relieve these symptoms. Eating more slowly to ensure food is adequately chewed allows for less air to be swallowed; thus, less gas will be in the intestines. Avoiding or limiting gas-producing foods and carbonated beverages can help relieve some uncomfortable symptoms.
One well-known dietary factor linked to bloating is poor absorption of a group of short-chain carbohydrates. These are called FODMAPs, fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Foods high in FODMAPS create over fermentation of gut bacteria leading to gas production and bloating. A diet low in FODMAPs can reduce bloating and gas build-up.
Other simple lifestyle modifications can help lessen gas and bloating. Exercise improves gas clearance and stress. Adding even small periods of exercise can help push gas through your system and ease bloating. Stress management techniques, like yoga or meditation, can help keep you from unintentionally swallowing air when talking or when nervous. Stress is one of the leading causes of GI disorders; the mind and gut connection, we can save this for another topic.
2 day Low-FODMap diet example:
● Breakfast: Spinach, feta, pine nut omelette
● Snack: Berry smoothie
● Lunch: Tuna & sweet potato served with a green salad or steamed vegetables
● Dinner: Stir-fried tofu and veggies with teriyaki sauce (carrots, broccoli, green beans) with rice noodles or rice
● Breakfast: overnight steel cut oats with nuts
● Snack: Rice cake with peanut butter
● Lunch: Quinoa salad with chicken, zucchini, and radishes
● Dinner: Beef stew
Nanayakkara WS, Skidmore PM, O'Brien L, Wilkinson TJ, Gearry RB. Efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for treating irritable bowel syndrome: the evidence to date. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2016;9:131-142. Published 2016 Jun 17. doi:10.2147/CEG.S86798
Harvard Health. 2021. Feeling gassy — is it ever a cause for concern? - Harvard Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/feeling-gassy-is-it-ever-a-cause-for-concern-2019090917599>.
Health & Wellness Services. 2021. Let it rip. [online] Available at: <https://www.colorado.edu/health/2019/03/14/let-it-rip>.