As if being a fart machine isn’t bad enough, we all know/ignore that the culprit is likely to be something we love to eat. But can you reduce bloating without giving up your favourite foods? In this article I’ll give you the top 5 Holistic Nutritionist recommendations for improving your digestion. Meaning less gas, without quitting entire food groups, and without any preachy judgement.
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Listen, there’s a reason I got into Holistic Nutrition. I know how badly a bloated stomach can keep you awake at night, thrashing and unable to get comfortable. How a bubble of intestinal gas can create so much pressure that you might as well be trying to pass a brick.
Until you finally let out a whopper that may very well be grounds for divorce.
And forget getting dressed in regular pants. Buttons become the enemy, until one day you wake up and realize that you ONLY wear stretchy yoga jeans now.You look in the mirror and think:
“That’s it. I’m an egg on legs.”
[Shout-out to Amelia Behaviour for the irresistible egg-on-legs illustration!<3]
Why Do We Even Get Gas In The First Place?
There are a lot of reasons you might be suffering from gas.
Some are straightforward, and some require quite a bit more digging to uncover.
Being sensitive to wheat or dairy is often the top suspect among many possible food sensitivities.
But the WAY you eat, your daily stress levels or even the flora and fauna that live in your gut could be partially to blame too.
Reducing Gas Without Quitting Cheese
Changing up your diet because SOMETHING is making you feel crumby can feel like a huge challenge. I get that.
That's why this article isn't about cutting food groups, it's about optimizing your digestion and making the best of what you've got, even if you're not ready to change what you eat.
I’m including the 5 simplest natural ways to reduce bloating.
The digestion enhancers that Holistic Nutritionists recommend to their clients.
These are medicine-free daily habits that anyone can easily incorporate, and they just might be your key to beating the bloat.
1- Tell Your Body It's Time To Eat
Your grandma’s right, you need to chew your food!
When I worked as a Colon Therapist, you’d be amazed how often I saw people’s food come out the see-through tube at the “other end” almost completely whole.
Whole slices of mushroom, entire spaghettis, and square pieces of onion dancing their way into the sewage pipes.
“Did you eat a bowl of pasta standing up?” I would ask, blowing my client’s mind with my psychic abilities.
Shoving a quick lunch down your throat might get you to your next meeting on time, but it isn’t doing your body any favours.
When you sit still to eat, and you chew your food well, you’re telling your body that Digestion is starting.
The mechanical aspect is very important. Chewing, very simply, breaks the food down into smaller pieces with a bigger surface area to facilitate digestion.
And not to be gross (although that’s par for the course as a holistic nutritionist) but you have to produce a lot of saliva to go with each mouthful.
There are enzymes in your saliva that break down the starches in your meal- so if beans or bread bloat you, try chewing them properly and see if that makes a difference.
Pressing the Start Button on your Digestive Cascade
Those salivary enzymes are messengers that tell your stomach to start producing its enzymes as well, initiating the “Digestive Cascade” of enzymes throughout your digestive system.
1 Tell your body it's time to eat!
When you sit down to eat, take a moment to close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths, to bring your body’s awareness to the food and tell it that it’s time to Rest and Digest.
2- Improve Your Stomach Digestion
Next step: Food hits your stomach. Ideally there’s plenty of enzyme messenger from above (aka saliva) to trigger the stomach acid and protein-digesting enzymes, but is that enough?
Weak stomach digestion can lead to undigested food fermenting and producing gas all the way through your digestive system. If you’re bloated and seeing bits of undigested food in your poop, take note.
How Stress Affects Digestion
Your stress levels strongly affect the digestive power, or “fire” in your stomach. So even if you’ve chewed your food well, if stress hormones are coursing through your veins, they will tell your stomach to make less digestive juices because your energy needs to be saved for “Fight & Flight”.
pH: Don’t Dilute the Juices
One way of making the most of what you have is to NOT drink water during meals.
Don’t get me wrong, you need to stay well hydrated if you want your body to produce lots of enzymes, they are mostly made of water after all… but flooding your stomach with water while it’s in the middle of trying to digest a meal will weaken the enzymes and reduce the acidity in there.
So drink your 2 Litres of water a day on an empty stomach, not during mealtimes.
Open Sesame: the Duodenal Valve
Your stomach needs to become as acidic as lemon juice (pH3) to trigger the exit valve and push the food into the small intestine.
If that doesn’t happen, fermenting food can sit bubbling in your stomach for hours until your next meal forces it down. (cue: burps and heartburn)
2 Improve your stomach digestion
Stop drinking 15 minutes before meals, and don’t start again until 1 hour after to avoid diluting your digestive enzymes. If that’s not enough and you’re still getting gas and undigested poops, take an acid-containing digestive enzyme with meals such as NOW's Super Enzymes
3- Help Out Your Gallbladder
When the food moves to the first part of your small intestine, the Duodenum, it needs to be sour because the sourness tells your gallbladder to squirt a big blob of acid-neutralizing Bile and Pancreatic Enzymes at it.
Bile & Pancreatic Enzymes work together to emulsify and break down the fats in your food. They finish off the digestion of Protein and Carbohydrates and make the nutrients in your food absorbable.
A great deal of gas is created when food ferments instead of being digested, so making sure that your food is broken down all the way is the best way to reduce bloating.
WHAT ARE NUTRIENTS??
What An Alkaline Gut Environment Does
The gut likes things alkaline.
Friendly gut bacteria need an alkaline environment (pH 7) to thrive, and the delicate mucus membrane finds an alkaline environment soothing.
Acidity in the gut on the other hand, causes inflammation that has a negative effect on the nutrient-transporting cells of the mucus membrane.
So although your stomach needs acidity, that acidity triggers the Gallbladder’s big squirt of Bile, which in turn creates an alkaline, soothing, friendly environment in your gut.
That’s the balancing act of acid & alkaline, the Yin and Yang of your digestive fire.
3 Help out your Gallbladder
If you tend to feel uncomfortably full for too long after meals, try taking a shot of Digestive Bitters before you eat. These herbal tinctures can support Bile flow and give your Gallbladder a heartier squirt. Don't have a Gallbladder? Look for Pancreatic Enzymes that contain Ox Bile to make up the difference.
4- Balance Your Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is the name for the bacterial eco-system in your gut. Good bacteria, bad bacteria and yeasts.
Gut Bacteria Soothe the Mucus Membrane
Healthy gut bacteria soothe and protect the gut wall. They crowd irritating bad bacteria out of the way and seal the Mucus Membrane so that it can function properly.
Because of modern life’s stress, pollution and bad food, our bacteria are easily out of balance, causing irritation and possibly leading to leaky gut, food sensitivities, pain and bloating.
The Microbiome & Sugar
Bad bacteria and yeasts love sugar! When those sugar loving bacteria thrive in an unbalanced, acidic gut environment that’s full of undigested food, any amount of sugar that you eat can make you bloat up instantly.
One of the many jobs the gut microbiome does is to break down some final, specific molecular bonds in the food you eat, a final step before those nutrients can be absorbed through the gut wall and into your bloodstream.
But some of the bad bacteria break down fiber into sugar - and then eat the sugar - meaning even more bloating.
4 Balance your gut microbiome
Re-seed your gut’s good bacteria, and crowd out the bad, by regularly consuming fermented foods like Sauerkraut or Kimchi, and fermented drinks like Kefir or Kombucha. Or if fermentation isn't your cup of tea, take a good quality probiotic supplement.
5- Strengthen Your Gut Muscles
You know those Michelle Obama arms moms get without even trying? The way we can carry our own toddler for the whole day, while other people are ready to collapse and drop the kid after 5 minutes?
Those muscles might be magic, but they didn’t appear overnight.
It took constant lifting, carrying and general wrangling of kid and kid-related equipment to build those pipes of steel.
But once that kid’s off to school and the carrying is no longer needed… Jelly.
It’s the same with the muscles that make your bowels move.
Use it or lose it!
Why Your Gut Needs Hydration
The tube that makes up the gut is actually a set of big long muscles - some straight, some diagonal, that work together to move food along. And that tube is lined by a Mucous Membrane of soft, squishy cells that are specialized to absorb nutrients.
Both the muscles and the mucus membrane need to be plump, strong and well hydrated so that food can move along easier.
But your brain needs to be hydrated too… and so do your arms and legs in case you need to think fast and bolt from an oncoming Wooly Mammoth (/Human Resource Manager).
If you’re drinking less water than you should be, your body’s going to save that water for your extremities and let your gut get dehydrated.
That can mean sluggish gut muscles trying to push a dry bit of food down an irritated, wrinkly gut.
If that’s hard to picture, try pushing dry oatmeal through one of those long balloons.
Drink your water.
Peristalsis is what we call the natural wave-like muscle movement the gut does to move things along.
There are receptors in the gut wall that measure the volume and pressure in any given section of the intestinal tube, and those Stretch Receptors trigger Peristalsis.
That’s why your food has to be high in moist, puffy fiber, so that it will keep triggering the muscle movement all the way along the whole 25 feet of intestine.
Do You Have A Lazy Gut?
A meal should take up to 16 hours to go from your mouth... to the toilet.
You'll know how long your meals usually take if you've ever eaten corn or beets, because they're pretty easy to spot in the porcelain bowl.
If you're still seeing corn for longer than 16 hours after you ate it, which is actually pretty common, it means that ideally your intestines could benefit from getting stronger.
If you go through periods of dehydration, or even just not eating enough vegetables, and your poops become small, dense and hard to pass, your gut can get lazy and out of shape.
If you’re relying on coffee or laxatives to irritate your bowels into peristalsis, this part is important for you as well.
But don’t worry because it shouldn’t take long to whip that bowel back into shape.
The Right Fiber Is Important
It’s tempting to reach of a hefty fiber supplement in this case, but if you have a lazy bowel it’s important to be careful with your fiber choices.
If you’re constipated, avoid dehydrating fibers such as Psyllium husk (aka Metamucil) which create bulk at the expense of your hydration.
This kind of fiber swells to 16 times its size by absorbing moisture from your intestine. Precious moisture that you need for lots of other reasons. Drinking one little glass of water after your supplement isn’t anywhere near enough.
Trust me on this, it’s Psyllium that gave me the health crisis that lead to me becoming a Holistic Nutritionist.
A More Gentle Fiber
A better fibre option for giving your sluggish gut a workout is freshly ground Flaxseed.
Ground Flax only absorbs 3 times its size in water, and has the added benefit of being soothing to the gut lining.
5 Strengthen your gut muscles
Grind a little Flax seed in a coffee grinder each morning, and stir it into ½ cup of applesauce for a boost of fibre that will give your gut just enough of a work-out. Start small with just ¼ teaspoon, and slowly increase until you’re taking a whole teaspoon and consistently seeing improvements in your bowel movements
So there it is - Eat what you want! High carb, low carb, raw vegan, Paleo, South Beach, Omnivore or Pescatarian… Even if you’re a Pizzatarian like some people I know…
If you listen to your body, give it the messages it needs to hear, and support your digestive system in simple, natural ways, you're already off to a great start!
Still think something you eat might be the culprit?
Download the FREE Bellyache Detective Kit to figure it out on your own time - no expensive tests needed!