There are many reasons why having gas or being bloated can be a big inconvenience. Gas of course can interfere with many professional and social atmospheres, and also put us in potentially very embarrassing situations. Bloating can additionally make us feel heavy, weighed down, and can make our clothes feel very tight and snug, sometimes even painfully so. Being bloated can of course even alter your mood, making you feel sluggish and inactive, as well as unattractive.
However, while we may look upon both bloating and gas as minor inconveniences, and usually treat them as jokes, for many people who experience both consistently, it is of course part of a larger health problem and both are common symptoms of indigestion itself. In that sense, they need to be looked at more critically and the root causes should be properly examined in order to avoid both from occurring, as well as to fix the underlying issue itself.
As mentioned above, having the occasional gas or bloating can be short term ‘inconveniences’ for many people, and both are usually over within a day or so. There are some remedies when they do occur sporadically mentioned below. However, when experiencing both in the long term, it is important to understand what could be causing the symptoms, and to how to prevent them from occurring by understanding and examining the root cause(s).
What are some of the main causes of both gas and bloating?
Carbonated beverages: This one is probably the most obvious cause of gas or bloating and is of course a much more immediate effect of consumption rather than a consistent and underlying indigestion issue. However it can still cause both bloating and gas, so it should be considered and ruled out before going forward. Carbonated drinks, whether it is coke, sprite, fanta, etc., can cause immediate bloating that can last hours. Try to avoid carbonated beverages as most contain far too much sugar and caffeine anyways, and instead opt to flavour your water with natural ingredients like berries, or lemon and mint and skip the gas and bloating!
Too much sodium: While sodium belongs to a group of minerals classified as electrolytes, diets that are too high in table salt can have very serious consequences, such as high blood pressure. Gas or bloating can often be another side effect of diets too high in sodium, and it is best to use high quality salts (such as sea salts) whenever possible, and to limit the intake in general. Instead, try using less salt and a wider variety of spices instead to flavour your meals and keep them interesting. Also it is important to keep our sodium levels in check by consuming enough potassium, which regulates sodium in our bodies, so limiting salt and increasing potassium is also very helpful.
Drinking too much water or liquids with meals: While the consumption of water is vital to our well being and overall health, there are actually times when it can have a less than desirable effect on us. Drinking water while we eat is one of the times it can lead to indigestion, or more specifically, gas and bloating. When we eat meals, our stomachs secrete hydrochloric acid to digest and break down the foods. When we drink too much water or any liquids while we eat, it can dilute this stomach acid, interfering with its ‘job’ and causing indigestion. For that reason, it is best to consume water or liquids before and after eating, rather than during. A few sips with a meal can be fine, of course, but avoiding a large intake is ideal in order to avoid any potential digestive difficulties.
Eating too quickly or not chewing thoroughly enough: People tend to eat food far too quickly, and one unfortunate consequence of that is indigestion as the food particles leave the mouth too large. The undigested food can usually even be seen in the stool itself! Digestion begins in the mouth, and for that reason it is important to actually take your time when eating, and to chew your food thoroughly to make sure it is in a state to go on to the next phase of digestion, as well as be ready for the nutrients to be properly absorbed. When eating food, avoid watching TV or being on your computer (whether for work or for social), as you can be more tempted to eat without paying attention to how you are doing it or how fast you are going, and it is difficult to break old habits when distracted. Instead, try to focus solely on the food, and eat it thoughtfully. A good way to test this strategy is by eating sesame seeds. They are so small that for many people who eat too quickly or do not chew food thoroughly enough, they can actually be swallowed whole! It is a shame as they are very nutritious and contain a high amount of calcium, but you can use them as a test. Simply sprinkle some on your meal, and next time you use the bathroom, you can see if they are present in their entirety in your stool. If so, hopefully it will serve as a good reminder to chew slowly and thoroughly!
Improper food combining: For many people, gas and bloating can be symptoms of improper food combining. Proteins take much longer to digest compared to carbohydrates. So, for example, when eating a steak, feeling very full, and then eating a peach as something sweet right after, the peach is ‘waiting for its turn’ in terms of digestion, and can actually begin fermenting, causing both gas and bloating, as well as heartburn or acid reflux. This is the general idea and reasoning behind eating salads before a main course. When you eat the salad first or as an appetizer, you are eating the food that is easier to digest and that moves much quicker, as well as contains enzymes (assuming the salad is one packed with raw vegetables and fruits) that aid in the digestion, before the heavier, and usually protein-heavy, meal. Or if you would like to eat something easier to digest, such as a fruit, after a large meal, aim to space it out so the digestion process of the meal is already on its way and it will not interfere.
Low stomach acid levels: Another reason why gas, bloating, and general indigestion could occur, could be related to low hydrochloric acid levels. Every time we eat something, our body releases this stomach acid in order to break down the food and continue in its digestion. Too much alcohol, overeating consistently, as well as a diet very high in protein are just some of the possible causes of low stomach acid levels. When this is the case, every time a person eats food, the low stomach acid levels secreted are not enough to properly break down the food, and can of course cause indigestion.
Eating too late at night: Eating late at night can be the cause of feeling tired in the mornings, having interrupted sleep, headaches, as well as gas and bloating. When you eat large meals late into the night, it is much more difficult for you body to properly digest it, and you are essentially keeping your liver on ‘overtime’ and the food may not be digested optimally, causing feelings of gas and waking up bloated first thing when you wake up.
Uncooked beans: This is a more specific cause, but still one that is a common reason when people experience gas or bloating. Many people cook beans without actually allowing them to be fully cooked, and this can often give beans (or legumes) a reputation of causing gas notably, as well as being hard to digest. However, it can be the cooking itself that is the problem, rather than the beans. This is why it is best to rinse and then soak your beans over night, which softens them significantly and also reduces the cooking time, and then cook them on medium heat with a lid on until they are soft enough to break apart in your mouth without much effort. Lentils do not require such a long soaking process, but it is still important to make sure they are thoroughly cooked as well. If you are also not accustomed to eating beans, it is best to introduce them well-cooked and slowly into your diet, in order to allow your body time to adjust to the food!
Constipation: Constipation can affect people in many different ways. For some it’s a once in a while problem, and for others it can be a chronic issue that must be resolved by examining the root causes. Either way, constipation causes both gas and bloating, and only once it is resolved will both begin to disappear. While there are many potential causes for constipation, making sure you are getting enough fibre in your diet is key in terms of a preventative approach.
For times gas and bloating do unfortunately occur, there are as well some other ways to deal with the problem immediately, while still aiming to incorporate the long term preventative solutions mentioned above.
Steeped ginger tea: On top of its various health benefits, ginger is often known as one of the best ways to reduce nausea or motion sickness. Ginger root is also very effective in eliminating or relieving various forms of gastro-intestinal issues. Ginger is often used as a way to actually eliminate intestinal gas as well as inflammation. While you can incorporate it into many meals, a steeped ginger tea is quick way to alleviate some of the symptoms related to indigestion. Simply remove the peel of a piece of ginger root with a spoon, slice the root into thin pieces or grate it, add it to a pot with hot water with the lid on over low or medium heat, and steep it for 10 to 15 minutes and drink as warm as possible. During the summer you can also make this in a larger pot with more ginger and water, and once it cools down, keep it in glass bottles in the fridge to have on hand.
Diluted apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is a type of vinegar that is made from apples and tends to have a slightly pale or somewhat amber color to it. The unpasteurized version also includes a type of foggy strand-like substance at the bottom (usually can be seen through a bottle) that are strands of the mother bacteria used to make it in the first place. Apple cider vinegar is most often used as an ingredient in salad dressings, but is also known and used to reduce bloating as well as gas. Apple cider vinegar, like lemon juice, also mimics hydrochloric acid, so can help in the digestion of different foods as well. It is important to make sure to always dilute apple cider vinegar when using it directly, as it is strong and can irritate the esophagus and damage tooth enamel. Simply dilute a teaspoon in about one or two cups of water and sip on it throughout the day to reduce bloating and gas. While apple cider vinegar does have a strong taste that may not seem pleasant for many, diluting makes it much lighter, and you can simply add more water to keep the taste neutral and pleasant. You can also drink a smaller amount before meals to promote digestion, which of course can then reduce any potential bloating or gas that would have been caused by indigestion.
Now that we have looked at just some of the reasons that gas and bloating can occur, by taking the preventative measures mentioned above and limiting carbonated beverages and liquids during meals, sodium intake, avoiding eating too quickly as well as too late, aiming to incorporate proper food combining within all of our meals, cooking beans properly and incorporating high amounts of fibre in our diets, we can aim to eliminate these unpleasant side-effects of improper digestion, and incorporate some natural remedies when they do occur, and keep both side-effects limited!
Photo courtesy of Pop Sugar