It's not exactly the daintiest topic in the world, but it's certainly something everyone's experienced-- that sensation of pressure inside the abdomen, sometimes coupled by swelling in the belly. You know, bloat.
Most of the time, bloating is caused by seemingly benign actions. Maybe you drank out of a straw earlier that day. Maybe you ate your lunch a little too quickly. Maybe you munched on just a bit too much raw broccoli for a snack. Kristi King, a registered dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains that bloating itself is more of a feeling -- that pressure in the lower part, and sometimes upper part, of the abdomen -- while the actual sensation of a "swollen" belly is called abdominal distention.
Bloating is most often a result of gas or increased salt intake. When it's the latter, the culprit is eating too many sodium-heavy foods, which leads you to retain water, King explains. But bloating can also be triggered by excess gas, which is caused when particular foods you eat sit in your stomach or aren't digested properly. The bacteria that live in the gut hone in on the sugars in those foods, breaking them down and producing gas, which can lead to bloat.
To beat bloat, King suggests several easy tips. For starters, quit smoking. Bloat can occur when you suck in the excess air as smoke is inhaled from the cigarette. In the same vein, eating more slowly could also help; when a person eats rapidly, he or she takes in more air with each bite -- and that air gets trapped in the stomach and has to come out some way. Ditto with drinking through a straw; it leads to more air being trapped inside your stomach. Taking probiotics to maintain a good balance of good gut bacteria could also help relieve abdominal discomfort (though King recommends talking to your doctor about this approach), as might drinking water, since it helps to move the digestion process along. Exercise is another way to beat bloat.
"The gut is the second brain of the body; it's going to react to any kind of stress and anxiety that the body might be experiencing," King tells HuffPost. "Exercise can help to increase blood flow to various parts of the body, including the gut, so exercising on a regular basis -- 30 to 60 minutes every day -- might help with reducing bloating as well."
If you find yourself frequently experiencing abdominal discomfort, it could be a good idea to keep a food diary to track what you eat and how those foods make you feel, she says. And in general, certain foods are more bloat-inducing than others. Some of the more common culprits include:
Cruciferous vegetables. Greens like broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage contain sulfur and a carbohydrate called raffinose, both of which are hard for the body to break down. Cooking helps to break these compounds down, though, so while it's certainly healthy to eat your greens, cooking these particular vegetables first could help to reduce bloating. Baked beans are another bloat culprit.
Dairy. Dairy doesn't cause bloating for everyone, but many people have some kind of lactose intolerance, which is when the body doesn't have the necessary enzyme to break down the lactose sugar. "Because they don't have that enzyme, it can cause increased gassiness because that sugar is not broken down," King says. "So dairy products, if you're lactose intolerant, may cause increased bloating." It's a similar case for people who have a gluten intolerance; some people's bodies are unable to break down gluten, which is found in many grains, including wheat and barley, which can also lead to bloat.
Fatty foods. Eating a really rich, heavy, fatty meal can lead to bloating because fats are the last thing to leave the stomach. "Any type of fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates or protein," King says.
Junk food. Because many junk foods are high in fat and sugar, this double whammy can lead to bloat. "What actually happens with the sugar is, one, you're fueling the bacteria in your gut to start eating those sugars that are being digested, so they may produce more gas," King says. "But sugar also empties from the stomach very quickly ... It's one of the first things that goes into the intestines, which can cause cramping." She says this could explain why after eating a sugary pastry or a cup of soda, you may feel extra gassy and experience cramping sensations.