Beat the bloat

Bloating refers to an enlargement or distension of the stomach. People suffering from bloating complain of flatulence – a mixture of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and methane formed by bacteria in the gut. We all produce gas. It's normal to pass about 400 to 2 400ml a day. "But too much gas and our stomach blows up like a balloon," says herbalist Margaret Gore. "It puts pressure on the abdominal region and it feels sensitive."

What causes it?
Bloating is mainly caused by eating gas-producing foods. "Some foods have windy side effects: cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, dried peas, beans and lentils ... even bran and wheat," says dietician Emma Stirling. The solution: stick to smaller portions. "There are some tricks you can try, such as serving a meal on a smaller plate or a stir-fry in a small Asian-style bowl, for instance," suggests Stirling.

"Avoid raw vegetables and salads... try and stick to steamed green vegetables and stir-fries," says Dr Nish Joshi in his book Dr Joshi's Holistic Detox (Hodder & Stoughton). "Over a period of time, as the bloating subsides, you can gradually reintroduce them back into your system, taking care to make them an occasional treat rather than an everyday staple. Sugary foods can also be gas-forming because they ferment with your gut bacteria and any candida you may have," says Dr Joshi.

Food intolerance
Certain food intolerances can cause bloating. Lactose intolerance has been well documented. Having cheese after a meal, for example, can make some people feel uncomfortable, says Stirling. But new research is also pointing to fructose intolerance. "Try peeling fruits such as apples and pears," she suggests. "There's also evidence that sorbitol, the artificial sweetener in sugar-free chewing gum, can cause sensitivity in some people."

Swallowed air
Apart from diet, taking in too much air as you eat can contribute to bloating. "Mouth breathers, as opposed to nose breathers, often suffer excessive wind, due to sinus or nasal congestion," say Mim Beim and Jan Castorina in the book Help Yourself: A-Z of Natural Cures for Common Complaints (Doubleday). "Some people become air-gulpers when stressed," they add. "If you eat on the run, you're more likely to take air in as you eat," says dietician Emma Stirling. "Eat more slowly," she advises. "And sit up straight. If you cramp the digestive tract, it can cause bloating."

"Always ensure that you have plenty of fluid. If you have a high-fibre diet, it's essential that you drink at least two litres of water every day, otherwise it may cause you to become constipated. Your intake of fluid can include teas and herbal infusions, but not caffeinated drinks. It's also a good idea to avoid fizzy cool drinks and carbonated waters," says Stirling

Herbal remedies
Herbal teas also help. To make ginger tea, cut a small knob of ginger into 2-3mm slices, place in a mug and add boiling water. To sweeten, add honey. For aniseed, fennel and dill-seed tea, mix equal quantities of aniseed, fennel and dill seeds. Crush one teaspoon of the seeds, place in a mug and add boiling water. Drink 30 minutes before a meal.

Ultimately, it comes down to individual diets, experiment with a process of elimination by slowly excluding certain things in your diet for a week or two and you will be able to identify the main culprit for your bloating.

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