6 things you can do to prevent bloating

bloating blog

A bloated tummy is not just about feeling fat. It can cause pain, gas (flatulence or burping) and audible stomach gurgling.

One in three people experience mild to severe bloating (meteorism). For some, it happens occasionally and passes quickly. But for others, bloating may be an ongoing battle.

Knowing what causes you to bloat is the first step in stopping it. But even if you haven’t identified a culprit, there are proactive steps you can take to keep bloating from happening.

Common causes of bloating

Bloating occurs when your gastrointestinal (GI) tract fills with air or gas. The most common reasons it happens include:

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How can you prevent bloating?

Try these six simple lifestyle and dietary changes that can help you reduce the risk of bloating:

1. Get moving

Exercise can go a long way to prevent bloating. For starters, it reduces stress — which can cause gastrointestinal distress. Exercise also stops bloating in its tracks.

Moving after a meal helps release trapped gas before severe bloating and pain occur. Research shows that walking or engaging in minimal physical activity after eating — for 10 minutes or 1,000 steps — reduces gas and bloating better than medication.

2. Eat mindfully

Changing your mealtime behavior may change how that meal affects your abdomen. Eat slowly and don’t talk while you eat to reduce the amount of air you swallow with your food.

If you think your bloating may be tied to overeating, try eating smaller meals more frequently. Your GI tract may do better when it only needs to process a smaller amount of food at a time.

3. Stop swallowing excess air

It’s natural to swallow air as you eat and drink. But if you swallow too much air, it ends up trapped in your digestive tract.

You can cut down on the amount of air you swallow by eliminating three lifestyle habits:

  • Chewing gum, which often comes sweetened with hard-to-digest sugars
  • Drinking carbonated beverages, which contain gas
  • Using straws, which capture air and send it into your digestive tract

4. Avoid gassy foods

Some foods are naturally more challenging for the body to digest, which can cause gas, constipation and bloating. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, commonly cause bloating.

Many gassy foods (including whole grain products and some vegetables) contain hard-to-digest natural sugars, such as:

  • Fructose, used in many processed foods and found in vegetables such as onions and asparagus
  • Raffinose, found in many whole grain products and beans
  • Sorbitol, used in sugar-free foods and found in certain fruits (apples, peaches, pears and prunes)

Check nutrition labels on packaged and processed products to avoid foods that contain these sugars.

5. Closely manage your fiber intake

Experts recommend adults eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food because fiber is critical to gut motility: Getting enough keeps food moving through the digestive system — which can reduce gas and bloating.

But your body cannot fully break down fiber, and the process can produce gas. Eat too much fiber or increase your intake too quickly, and you’ll feel bloated.

To get the fiber you need without experiencing gas or bloating, take these steps:

  • Eat fiber with carbohydrates, because according to research, you are 40% more likely to have bloating if you eat a high-fiber and high-protein diet compared to a high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet.
  • Eat less soluble fiber — such as beans, nuts, seeds and fruits — because those foods generally produce more gas than insoluble fiber (such as wheat bran or vegetables).
  • Increase fiber intake slowly to give your digestive system time to adjust.
  • Stay hydrated because fluids and fiber partner to keep the digestive system moving.

6. Stop smoking

Studies show that smoking is associated with gastrointestinal distress, specifically bloating, constipation and abdominal pain. It also increases your risk of several diseases associated with abdominal bloating, including GERD, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal cancers.

But know that you may experience some uncomfortable abdominal effects when you first stop smoking. Research suggests that nicotine withdrawal can cause changes to the digestive system and how quickly it processes food, leaving you with constipation and bloating. Work with your primary care physician (PCP) to manage those symptoms until your body adjusts.

When to be concerned about bloating

Most bloating is temporary, and if you can pinpoint the cause, it’s likely nothing to be concerned about. To speed up relief, try over-the-counter anti-gas medication, apply a warm compress to your belly or get some exercise. If you think your condition is food-related, keep a food diary to find a connection.

But there are times when bloating happens in response to a more serious underlying cause, such as:

Call your PCP if your bloating doesn’t improve in a few days or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bloody stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever following surgery
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Worsening heartburn

Take the Next Step

If you have persistent bloating or other digestive concerns, reach out to your primary care physician.