Bloating 101: How to Beat a Bulging Belly

Bloating is a common, day-to-day battle that can leave you wondering what triggered your bulging belly. The answers may be hidden in what you’re eating. Start the fight against bloating today by identifying the common culprits, and what you can do to keep your belly flat and pain-free.

Nothing can sabotage a flat belly faster than bloating. In addition to the dreaded stomach bulge, this familiar ailment results in terrible discomfort. Bloating symptoms come from excess gas accumulating in the abdomen, particularly in the intestines. Intestinal bacteria produce gas when foods haven’t yet travelled through the small intestine. If gas particles aren’t released right away, the stomach expands like a balloon.

LEARN MORE: 5 Foods That Beat Bloating and Flatten Your Stomach

Although overeating is the most known cause for bloating, some people battle the bloat daily — even if they haven’t polished off an oversized meal. If this sounds like you, the triggers may not be how much you’re eating, but what you’re eating. Once you trace the root of your problem, you can employ some belly-rescuing cures to help you win the war against bloating and take back control of your body.

Common Bloating Culprits

Sodium causes the body to retain fluid — a common cause of bloating. The American Heart Association suggests that only 1,500-2,300 milligrams of sodium should be consumed per day, but the average American takes in nearly 3,400 milligrams. Before you reach for the saltshaker, consider swapping your snacks for a healthier option. Rather than munching on a bag of potato chips, stick to fresh fruit and veggies. Avoid buying frozen dinners and processed foods, as they are often overloaded with salt.

A great all-natural alternative to table salt is Spike, Salt-Free Magic. Spike contains 37 herbs and spices.  It doesn’t contain any salt so it will not result in water retention. You can find it at your local grocery store for $3.

Click here for an Oz-approved no-salt spice mix recipe.

Starches are carbohydrates that are sometimes difficult for the stomach to digest. Heavy starches such as bread, potatoes, and pasta can cause water retention. Any food products made from flour, especially whole-wheat flour, form gas when broken down in the large intestine. Beware of eating these types of food before bedtime to avoid feeling inflated in the morning.

MORE: Try These Simple Smoothie Recipes

Adequate doses of the mineral calcium are vital to bone health and muscle function, but too much can leave you ballooning around the waist. One of the best sources of calcium is dairy, which can be hard on your digestive tract as it contains lactose, a difficult-to-digest sugar. Lactose intolerance is also a very common problem for many people. Modify and moderate your dairy intake or try switching to lactose-free products to deflate your tummy.   

Artificial sweeteners are frequently found in many reduced-calorie foods, processed products, and diet or decaffeinated drinks. They contain chemical compounds called sucralose, aspartame, and cyclamate that the digestive tract cannot break down easily. Sweeteners, which can be up to 300 times sweeter than natural sugar, are known to increase appetite and result in overeating. Be on the lookout for artificial sweeteners, and when possible, steer clear of them. (Try this three-step plan to overcome your dependence on artificial sweeteners.) 

LEARN MORE: The Hidden Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

Carbonated drinks, like soda, cause air bubbles to form and expand in your abdomen. When they burst, carbon dioxide particles are dispersed in the stomach. They fill up your belly and cause bloating. Click here to wean yourself off soda with Dr. Oz’s 28-Day National Soda Challenge.

There’s plenty you can do to prevent bloating, but sometimes it is unavoidable. For those times, there are simple cures you can recourse to alleviate bloating and aid digestion. These effective solutions will remedy a bloated belly and cleanse the body.

Powerful Bloating Cures

When your stomach feels like it’s about to pop, downing water may be the best quick fix. Good old H2O restores the sodium balance in the body and normalizes your digestive tract. Be sure to keep hydrated. Drink the daily recommendation of eight 8-oz glasses of water to rid the body of harmful toxins.

LEARN MORE: 9 Creative Ways to Drink More Water

Dandelion tea is a mild diuretic that will also help get rid of the water your body is holding onto. It stimulates bile to help break down fatty meals that also make you bloated. Try drinking one cup per day.

Try taking 200 milligrams of magnesium daily to fight fluid retention and to expel gas. This crucial mineral eases constipation by relaxing the muscles in the intestinal walls. You can also find magnesium in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, legumes (beans and peas), nuts and seeds, whole grains and fish (such as halibut). Use this magnesium grocery shopping list to find magnesium-rich foods to add to your diet. 

Potassium ensures that all cells, tissues and organs are operating properly. It can provide relief from bloating by balancing and circulating body fluids. Try eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, kiwis, and strawberries.

Feasting on fiber-rich foods can push stomach-clogging materials out of the body. Fiber moves food through the gastrointestinal tract quickly for better digestion.

LEARN MORE: The Best Sources of Fiber to Get Things Moving

About 25-30 grams of fiber is recommended per day, but most people usually get only 10-12 grams. Incorporate fiber into your diet by including foods like oatmeal, bran flakes, raspberries, lentils, and artichokes into your meals. You can also try fiber supplements that contain psyllium, a soluble fiber that can help regulate digestion and prevent constipation.

White bean hummus is a great fiber-rich food that can actually soak up water in the intestines. It helps to move the bloating, causing foods to push through your body faster.

Probiotics are made up of “good” living bacteria similar to those that naturally exist in the body and aid with digestive health. Probiotics regulate the amount of healthy bacteria in your system and normalize bowel movements. Through nutritional supplements or probiotic-enriched food sources like yogurt, miso, soy drinks, and juices, probiotics can be integrated into your diet.  Look for “live and active cultures” listed on their packaging labels.

LEARN MORE: How to Pick the Right Probiotic

Over-the-counter diuretics may be an alternate solution for you if can’t seem to beat bloating through dietary changes. Detoxifying supplements that contain the active ingredient simethicone will dissolve gas quickly to prevent the development of larger bubbles from forming in the intestinal tract. Look for simethicone listed on the ingredient labels of over-the-counter aids. 

Jumpstarting your physical activity can also give your digestive system a boost. Rigorous cardiovascular exercise, such as running or aerobics, activates the sweat glands that release fluids that the body could be retaining. Even just a 15-20 minute stroll around the neighborhood after dinner can help with digestion. Additionally, a workout is a huge stress-reliever; exercise can ease day-to-day pressures and prevent stress-eating.

LEARN MORE: 9 HIIT Exercises That'll Help You Get Fit

Massage is a helpful way to keep bloating at bay. Massaging the abdominal area helps relax the muscles that support the bladder and intestine. Press your fingers near your right hip.  Start massaging in small circles. Move hands from right to left making an arc under your breastbone. Massaging stimulates bowel activity to help push out excess stool and reduce bloating.

See your doctor if you find that bloating is interfering with your daily activities. It could be attributed to many “silent” disorders such as endometriosis, peptic ulcer, liver, kidney, gallbladder, celiac, thyroid, and pelvic inflammatory diseases as well as cancers such as stomach, colon, and ovarian. It’s also frequently linked to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and other gastrointestinal conditions. If you notice that your abdomen is looking persistently and unusually inflated and/or you’re experiencing intense pain, be sure to schedule an appointment.

Is Your Stomach Cramp Actually Diverticulitis?

It may not just be indigestion.

We've all been there — we get a cramp in our stomach, maybe with some nausea or constipation. It's easy to think it may just be indigestion. But what if it's something more serious like diverticulitis? That's a condition of inflammation or infection in one or more small pouches that can form in your digestive tract. Here's how to tell the difference between the pain and how to know when you should see a doctor.