You know the symptoms: you start the day with a flat stomach, but as the day progresses your belly starts to swell until you look like you’re pregnant. Here’s help.

Bloating may seem like a fairly harmless fact of life that we all have to deal with from time to time. But for some people, it can be so bad that they can’t close a pair of pants that fitted perfectly a few days earlier. In addition, it could cause horrendous pain and discomfort.

Bloating is a result of excess gas in the intestines. There are many possible causes for this highly uncomfortable condition, ranging from air swallowing, overeating, constipation and hormonal changes during PMS to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, certain medications, gastroesophageal reflux and food intolerances. Abdominal bloating can also be caused by more serious disorders such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and colon cancer.

If you constantly experience abdominal bloating and pain, it’s important to see your doctor to make sure there’s nothing serious present.

However, in many cases bloating can be eased by simple changes in your diet. It’s a good idea to keep a food diary for a week: make a note of everything you eat and how you feel afterwards. Pretty soon you should be able to spot a pattern and identify the culprit.

The following foods can cause bloating:

1) Greasy, fried foods 
Greasy fast foods like burgers, chips, fried chicken and deep-fried treats like doughnuts can cause bloating because it takes the stomach much longer to break down the fats and properly digest them. This extra time allows gas to build up, causing bloating.

2) Salty foods
Salt is a big culprit when it comes to bloating. High-sodium foods cause the body to retain water, which leads to a bloated feeling.  Sodium can show up in some unlikely sources, especially in processed foods, so read your food labels and rather flavour your foods with herbs.

3) Spicy foods
Spicy foods have been shown to stimulate the release of stomach acid, which can cause irritation. Limit the use of black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, chilli powder, curry, onions, garlic, mustard, BBQ sauce, horseradish, tomato sauce and vinegar.

4) Gassy vegetables
Some vegetables produce more gas than others do, and everyone varies in their ability to absorb and tolerate that gas. If you're sensitive, you may want to limit the amount of gas-producing vegetables such as the following:  baked beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, Lima beans, onions and peppers.

5) Carbonated and high-acid drinks
All carbonated drinks – from sodas to fizzy mineral water – can cause bloating because the carbon dioxide trapped in the bubbles creates gas in the stomach. Some beverages such as alcohol, caffeinated drinks, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and some fruit juices (like orange juice, pineapple juice and tomato juice) are high in acid, which can irritate your GI tract, resulting in swelling and bloating.

6) Artificial sweeteners
Certain artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, cyclamates and sucralose can increase bloating. These are often found in diet drinks, sweets, cookies, energy bars and chewing gums. The artificial sweeteners linger in the stomach because they cannot be digested, and after enough build-up they act as a platform for the fermentation of bacteria, leading to production of gas.

7) Dairy products
If your body is unable to digest lactose, or milk sugar, the consumption of dairy products can make you feel bloated. This condition, called lactose intolerance, is relatively common, especially among people of Asian, African and Southern European descent. The lactose that is not completely digested will pass to the colon where gas is produced by the bacteria trying to break it down. If you suspect that you are lactose intolerant, consult a dietician to ensure adequate consumption of other calcium-rich foods.

8) Too much fruit
Just as some people are lactose-intolerant, others are fructose-intolerant, and their bodies cannot digest the sugar properly. If you find you have excess gas and bloating after eating fruit, this may apply to you. Choose lower-fructose fruits, like sweet melon and apricots, instead of high-fructose fruits like apples and bananas. It is also best to eat fruit separately from a meal – either 30 minutes before or at least two hours after.

9) Starches
Most starches, including potatoes, maize, pasta, and wheat produce gas as they’re broken down in the large intestine. If you find that you’re particularly sensitive to a starch, substitute it with rice – the only starch that does not cause gas. Also, beware of refined grains like white flour that's often used in white bread, cake and biscuits. Not only do they offer little nutrition, they can also cause water retention, with bloating as a result.

10) Chewing gum
Chewing gum can make you swallow air, which then gets trapped in your belly, causing pressure, bloating and gas. It also often contains artificial sweeteners that will just aggravate the bloating.

- Body Foods for Women: eat your way to good health by Jane Clarke, London,1997

Image via Thinkstock.

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