We all know the feeling – you’ve been eating healthily and keeping fit, but somehow your stomach is still bloated and uncomfortable. But there are ways you can combat it…
Did you know?
Women’s colons are 10cm longer than men’s, in part to allow for extra nutrients to be absorbed during pregnancy and child rearing. While blokes have a smooth, horseshoe-shaped colon, women’s are more tangled, making digestion harder work.
1. Avoid eating late in the evening
"The digestive system is primed to work best during the day time, and slows down its digestive functions at night," says Jeannette Hyde, Nutritional Therapist and author of The Gut Makeover.
"We have evolved to eat in daylight – it wasn’t until relatively recently in human history that we had light at night to cook and eat at a time that isn’t our natural rhythm."
Always leave a couple of hours after dinner before bed.
"Contractions that move food along the digestive tract slow down at night, meaning you can have digestive issues, wind and bloating if you eat close to bed time," says Jeannette.
If your body is trying too hard to digest that midnight feast, it will also have less time to focus on the purpose of sleep, namely healing and rejuvenating your body.
2. Eat less sugar
Sugar gets the blame for a lot of things, and disrupting gut health is one of them.
"It isn’t known exactly why sugar can lead to an imbalance of beneficial bacteria and non-beneficial bacteria, and bloating, but it’s worth keeping as a treat," explains Jeannette.
But don’t replace sugar with unhealthy sugar substitutes.
"Artificial sweeteners, such as those contained in diet drinks, have been shown to cause an unbalance of bacteria in animals, so may be worth avoiding if you want a flat tummy," warns Jeannette.
3. Fast for at least 12 hours
"Having a fasting stretch of 12-14 hours between dinner and breakfast can promote weight loss and encourage beneficial bacteria to thrive in the gut which can improve metabolism and balance hunger hormones," says Jeannette.
"It’s easy to do if you are eating nice and early – say 7pm for dinner and then just having water between then and a 7am breakfast the next day."
4. Go for fermented foods
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso paste are having a heyday because of the tummy-loving bacteria they contain. Kefir, a milk drink, makes an easy addition to your diet.
"It contains billions of beneficial bacteria that help redress the balance between friendly bacteria and non-friendly bacteria," says Jeannette.
"It’s a staple in Eastern Europe, tastes like a slightly fizzy drinking yoghurt and is delicious blended with fruit."
● Try The Collective Kefir in Mango ’n’ Turmeric, and Coconut ’n’ Honey, £1.50 from Sainsbury’s.
5. Do some detective work
If your tummy feels like a hard, inflated drum after a pizza or a bowl of pasta, it may be worth avoiding gluten for three weeks, and noting if you are less bloated during that time.
"This is called an elimination diet, and can provide useful information for you to tailor your diet long term," explains Jeannette. "Try reintroducing some wheat again and see what the reaction is."
You can also do this with any other foods you suspect might be a problem. Keep a food diary by writing down all the foods you eat, and then any symptoms of bloating and when they appear. That way you may discover a pattern and find out which foods are behind the bloating.
6. Eat a rainbow of fruit and veg
"Often when people have chronic bloating they become nervous of many foods and cut out lots that contain fibre," says Jeannette.
"For long-term gut health, it’s vital to include lots of different vegetables and some fruit."
We all have about a kilo and half of bacteria in the digestive tract, mainly in the colon.
"For good health, your colon needs to be thriving with lots of different types of bacteria, and the way to promote it is to feed the bacteria with many types of fibre-rich foods."
When to see your GP
Bloating is often nothing to worry about, but it’s essential to see your GP if it persists.
"Women often dismiss persistent bloating as being something less sinister and don’t go to their doctor," says Louise Bayne, CEO of ovarian cancer charity Ovacome.
"But it’s an important indicator of ovarian cancer. GPs will typically see just one case of ovarian cancer every five years so they may not link bloating to the disease."
As a result, some women are treated for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or menopausal symptoms. If your bloating carries on for more than three weeks, ask your GP for a CA125 blood test, which detects levels of a protein that may indicate ovarian cancer.
The Collective’s Kefir, £1.50, will be available in Sainsbury’s, Ocado and Waitrose
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