Beat the bloat: naturally

Support your gut through diet and supplements with these expert tips

Gut health may not be the most glamorous of subjects, but research in this area has increased dramatically in recent years, making it very much a hot topic. According to a report by YouGov, nearly half (43 per cent) of the UK population experience some form of digestive discomfort. The same study revealed that the most frequently experienced digestive symptoms in the UK include abdominal pain/discomfort, followed by diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence and constipation.

Much of the most recent research has focused on the ‘microbiome’ and the vital role it plays in our overall health and wellbeing.

“It is first important to understand what is meant by the term ‘gut’ and – more importantly – your ‘microbiome’,” says nutritionist Kristy Coleman (www.kcnutrition.co.uk). “Your gut runs from your mouth to your anus and is supported by your stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas to aid the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. Your microbiome is a term used to describe the trillions of microbes (including bacteria, yeast, fungi and parasites) living within your gut, with over 10,000 species identified. Your own microbiota is more unique than your DNA. Your microbiome plays an important role in digestion and absorption of the food you eat, production of nutrients and also hormonal health. We need our microbiome to be diverse and balanced to work well. If our microbiome becomes imbalanced, for example, due to overgrowth of less beneficial bacteria, it can reduce diversity of beneficial bacteria, which in turn reduces the overall health of our gut.”

So how can we look after our microbiome and ensure it is well balanced?

Did you know?

This month is IBS awareness month. To find out more, visit www.aboutibs.org or follow the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) @IFFGD on Twitter

Eat a rainbow

“Eat a rainbow of different coloured vegetables and fruits (in that order),” says Kristy. “The more colourful the better. Increased diversity of plant-based foods supports the diversity of your gut microbiome. Aim for 50 different types of food over the course of the week.”

Practise mindful eating

“Mindful eating can be a great first step for helping to improve digestive health,” says nutritionist Lily Soutter (www.lilysoutternutrition.com). “Focus on chewing thoroughly, eat slowly, and eat away from distractions such as your laptop, TV and phone.”

Try a food elimination diet

“Food intolerances such as a lactose intolerance may contribute to bloating,” says Lily. “The gold standard method for detecting food intolerances is to carry out a food elimination diet, which is best done under the guidance of a nutritionist or dietician.”

Eat more fibre

“Aim for half of your plate to be vegetable-based,” says Kristy. “Swap white rice, bread and flour for whole grain varieties, eat fruit in its whole form with the skin on and swap refined cereals for oats. We need 30g of fibre per day but most of us don’t reach this amount. Fibre is fermented by bacteria in our guts, which in turn produce fuel for our gut cells and is therefore crucial for a healthy gut.”

Stock up on probiotic foods

“Probiotic foods contain live bacteria and yeasts. They help to nurture our beneficial bacterial and change the way our microbiome behaves,” says Kristy.“Aim to include probiotic foods daily. Examples include natural yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso.”

The low-FODMAP diet

“We can improve our gut health by making some subtle changes to what we eat,” explains Sara Chadwick, author of Tummy Revolution 21: Gut Health Made Simple. “Certain carbohydrates are especially difficult for our bodies to digest and could be the cause of food sensitivities, such as IBS. This group of short-chain carbohydrates is known as FODMAPs, which is an acronym for: Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. It might sound complicated, but they are simply fermentable carbohydrates found naturally in the foods we eat and reducing them can help improve IBS symptoms. Some examples of high-FODMAP foods include:

  • Monosaccharides: Honey, apples, mango, pear, watermelon, high fructose corn syrup
  • Oligosaccharides: Artichokes, garlic, leek, wheat, rye, barley, inulin
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides: Legume beans (eg. baked beans, kidney beans, borlotti beans), lentils, chickpeas
  • Disaccharides: Milk, ice cream, custard, dairy desserts, milk powder, yogurt, soft unripened cheeses
  • Polyols: Apples, apricots, nectarines, pears, plums, prunes, mushrooms

“Although not everyone is sensitive to FODMAPs, having a diet low in FODMAPs can improve symptoms of IBS and help to identify trigger foods. The low-FODMAP diet approach is scientifically proven to reduce symptoms in over 75 per cent of IBS sufferers. The approach involves a temporary elimination of high FODMAP foods followed by a programme of reintroductions. In this way you can identify your triggers and either avoid them or eat them in smaller amounts. The low-FODMAP diet can have great benefits to people with troubling tummies as it enables you to manage your symptoms using a scientifically proven approach.”

Probiotics and prebiotics

“Probiotics and prebiotics can both be helpful with managing bloating depending on the underlying cause of this symptom,” says Naomi Osun, nutritionist with OptiBac Probiotics (www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk). “Research suggests that consumption of prebiotics could actually help to improve intestinal gas metabolism and bowel regularity. However, some individuals are not able to tolerate prebiotics well and may initially experience more bloating and gas. This should resolve after a few days, but sensitive individuals can take a good quality probiotic without added prebiotics.”

Naomi adds: “Don’t worry if your probiotic supplement does not contain prebiotics – a healthy, balanced diet, including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses will provide prebiotic fibres to help support gut bacteria.

“Probiotics can help improve bloating by producing enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of problem foods like dairy and starches. An overgrowth of harmful bacteria or yeasts in the gut can also cause bloating in some individuals as they produce gas. Probiotics discourage these harmful, methane-producing bacteria by producing lactic acid and creating an inhospitable environment. With many different probiotics on the market, it’s important to select a product with strains shown to be helpful at managing bloating. Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07, Lactococcus lactis Rosell-1058, Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71, and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® are good strains to look out for.”

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