Written by Laura Clark.
Laura Clark is a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist. Through consultations, seminars, workshops, her informative blog and much more, Laura educates, motivates and inspires people to lead healthy, balanced lives and is passionate about communicating clear, sound, nutrition information to the public.
World digestive health day on the 29th May puts our digestive health under the microscope – the gut is the largest, most complex organ in the body, and is at the mercy of what we feed it.
We have in recent years grown to understand the intricate relationship between food and gut health so much more – the power of our bacteria living in our guts is only just being realised and the potential food has to cause or ease symptoms is vast.
So to beat the bloat here are the top 5 questions you need to ask…
Is it something serious?
When it comes to bowel health, it is always a good idea to rule out any inflammatory bowel disorders such as Coeliac Disease or Crohn’s Disease – your GP will be able to check these markers along with iron and folate levels for example, which if low can indicate you are not absorbing nutrients as you should be.
Is it my lifestyle?
Are you striving for the flat stomach or to feel less ‘congested’ as you go about your daily life? Firstly consider your habits. Are you shovelling food in on the hoof, mindlessly eating whilst engrossed in a box set or skipping meals through lack of time? We often don’t take as much time over eating as we should and are prone to distractions especially in the digital era.
Chewing is the pacemaker for our stomach digestion, which is in turn the pacemaker for our colon. Haste and speed at the top end of the gut, are more likely to lead to trouble at the other end! If your diet is highly processed and contains high quantities of gut irritants such as caffeine or alcohol this would be your first point of call to sort out, before getting any more technical. Also think about portion size – it may not be the food itself but rather how much of it you’re eating in one sitting.
Is it a food intolerance?
Once any damage to your gut wall has been ruled out and you’ve adjusted your eating habits, symptoms may then be due to the functioning of your bowel in response to certain foods.
No blood tests alone will tell you if you have a food intolerance and should be interpreted with caution, but temporary dietary exclusion with the expertise of a dietitian can help to uncover plausible links.
Is it IBS?
For some intolerances become a little more complex when a whole host of foods seem to cause problems. This causes frustration and despair as we try to make sense of it all. There is often a risk that the diet may become nutritionally compromised as whole foods groups might get excluded.
The good news is we now know so much more than we did. Certain components have been identified that are known to cause symptoms such as pain and bloating in susceptible individuals.
These components are known as fodmaps – (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) if we’re being fancy. These are all examples of simple ‘sugars’ which form the diet of our trillions of bacteria. They pass undigested into the large bowel (colon) where the bacteria feed on/ ferment them and produce gas in the process.
Our large bowel deals with all the ‘leftovers of life’ – for anything up to 16 hours! The bacteria, perfectly at home there, are as unique to us as our finger prints and have far more power than we first thought. Unfortunately if we haven’t quite got the right sort, or high enough numbers of the ‘good’ ones this can exacerbate symptoms of bloating and altered bowel habit, whether that be constipation or diarrhoea. Fructans are an example of a fodmap – these are found in many foods including wheat and are very different to the protein component of wheat which is gluten.
Those diagnosed with IBS have also been shown to have hypersensitivity – where nerves are firing over enthusiastically and pain is registered by the brain. Periods of stress also take their toll on the gut with messages firing between the brain and gut all the time.
Is it treatable?
Once dietary causes of bloating have been identified with the help of a diet expert, it is possible to improve symptoms whilst ensuring you are able to eat a nutritionally balanced diet for optimal health and well-being so be sure to seek advice.