Bloating is an incredibly common digestive upset and unfortunately for some, it can experienced on a daily basis. Aside from the uncomfortable (an sometimes painful) physical symptoms like cramping, constipation and diarrhoea, a swollen belly can also drive a lot of emotional and self esteem issues.
Bloating is caused by a build up of fluid and/or gas in the digestive tract that is often triggered by certain foods that are difficult to digest. Dr. Sue Shepherd collectively termed these foods as FODMAP, which is an acronym for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols.
FODMAPs are unable to be effectively broken down and absorbed through the small intestine. As a result, they continue through the digestive tract to the large intestine where millions of bacteria await them to break them down through the process of fermentation. The fermentation produces gas resulting in bloating and other digestive upsets.
To effectively minimise and manage bloating it is important to understand the foods that contain FODMAPs and recognise the ones you’re most sensitive to. That’s why I’ve broken down some of the more commonly consumed FODMAP foods.
Fructose is a type of sugar that is present in fruits. It can contribute to bloating when there is a higher ratio of fructose to other sugars like glucose. Fruits with a higher fructose ratio include apples, pears, watermelon, mangoes and dried fruit. Some fruits such as apples and pears contain both fructose and polyols increasing the FODMAP load and can result in more severe symptoms for some people.
Dairy is a nutritious and protein rich food source, however it can be a big culprit of digestive upsets due to a disaccharide called lactose. In order for our bodies to digest lactose we need a special enzyme called lactase. In this instance, much of the digestive process is left to our gut bugs through fermentation.
Foods such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and black-eyed peas are a great source of fibre, protein and nutrients as well as bloat-inducing galactans. Humans lack the enzymes needed to break down galactans into digestible components. Therefore, we require the work of our gut flora, once again.
Naturally occurring chemicals such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol are sweet to the tongue, but not so sweet to our bellies. Their poor absorption through the small intestine means they have very minimal affects on blood sugar levels. Thus, they’re a great sugar alternative for diabetics and people who want a low calorie options, however they can cause a lot of bloating. These are commonly added to confectionary and chewing gum.
Veggies from the allium family (onion, garlic, leek) and cruciferous family (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower) are rich in fructans. Again, humans lack the tools to effectively break down these veggies resulting in fermentation and gas production. Yet, it’s important to note that these foods are also fantastic prebiotics; foods that support the growth of the good bacteria in our digestive tract.
Whilst FODMAPs can be a big driver of bloating and digestive upsets, they can also be extremely nutritious and important components of a healthy balanced diet. For this reason, it isn’t recommended to eliminate all FODMAP foods from your diet as this could result in nutrient deficiencies.
Rather familiarise yourself with foods high in FODMAPs and identify the ones that you are most sensitive to, as you may not be affected by all of them. Keeping a food and symptom diary is great way to identify these. Once you know your triggers, eat them in moderation. You might also find that the more you eat those foods, the more tolerant you become and vice versa. Furthermore, working on increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut will help the digestive process and reduce bloating.
Words by Stephanie Malouf.
Stephanie is a Sydney based Accredited Nutritionist. She holds the philosophy, “being healthy is about finding the perfect balance between feeling your best without feeling deprived”. Stephanie also believes that you aren’t what you eat but rather what you absorb. Thus, optimising digestive function in addition to nutrition is a key focus in her practice.