That feeling of bloat is terrible; the rock in your belly, the pants that need to be unbuttoned, like, five minutes ago. Luckily, there are a few tips that help get rid of bloat once you have it—and prevent it from ever happening again:
1. Skip the salt.
The sky-high sodium in salty foods can cause dehydration, which contributes to bloating. Some foods to avoid are cured meat, canned and frozen foods, most processed snacks, and sauces and condiments like soy sauce, marinara, mustard, and the like. Bread can be another sneaky source.
At home, cook with herbs and spices instead of salt. If you’re out, ask for condiments to come on the side and use a light touch when applying—or scrape off some excess if "on the side" isn’t an option. One of my favorite healthy hacks: Swap in oil and vinegar for salad dressing so you get some flavor and heart-healthy fats without any of the "what the heck is that?" from bottled dressings.
2. Slow down.
Eating too fast causes gas to build up in the stomach. Put your fork down between bites to pace yourself. Added bonus: This also helps your brain and body catch up with each other so you know when you’re satisfied.
3. Make water your main beverage.
Skip the bubbles and booze—at least in the short term. It may sound counterintuitive, but staying hydrated helps discourage water retention because your body isn’t struggling to hold on to the water it has. Because alcohol can be dehydrating (and contribute excess calories), it can make you feel bloated. Drinking carbonated beverages can also lead to a buildup of gas and make you feel puffy, so take a break from seltzer and other fizzy drinks.
4. But don't shy away from coffee (or tea).
The caffeine in coffee and tea has a diuretic effect, meaning it’ll make you pee more. Tea and coffee have also been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects when part of a regular diet, which can have long-term benefits to your digestive health. A cup or two a day is great, but don’t overdo it—unless, of course, you like caffeine jitters or diarrhea.
5. Limit hard-to-digest foods.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients, but the body has to work hard to digest them, leading to gas and bloating as they ferment in the digestive tract. Keeping them off the menu for a few days can help if you’re looking to de-bloat for an event.
A few others on this list: beans, lentils, whole grains, and dairy (if you’re lactose intolerant). Artificial sweeteners also get kicked off the island because they can cause bloat-inducing stomach woes.
6. Prioritize potassium.
Potassium is a mineral that plays a key role in cell function, including regulating fluid balance. Potassium-rich foods can help counteract the effects of sodium and ease bloating. Reach for avocado, banana, sweet potato, pumpkin, tomatoes, leafy greens, oranges, and cantaloupe,
7. Look for foods with a diuretic effect.
Certain foods have a mild diuretic effect. Asparagus is a particularly powerful bloat-fighting food, thanks to amino acid asparagine. It’s also a potent source of antioxidant glutathione, which has been noted for its detoxifying effect.
Some other great diuretic foods include citrus, celery, beets, and apple cider vinegar.
8. Soothe your system.
Certain foods can help soothe the digestive system so you experience smoother digestion and less inflammation. A few great picks:
- Fennel is high in potassium and has been used in Eastern medicine to reduce post-meal digestive spasms—key factors in gas buildup and bloating. It contains a phytonutrient called anethole, which has also been studied for its ability to help fight inflammation in the body.
- Ginger’s stomach-calming, anti-inflammatory effects have made it a go-to remedy for thousands of years to ease GI discomfort.
- Papaya is packed with potassium and also contains an enzyme called papain that facilitates digestion and may calm gas and bloating.
- Parsley has also been highlighted for its diuretic effect and digestive-soothing properties.
- Peppermint is another stomach-soothing herb that eases digestion.
9. Scope out superfoods.
- Cucumber is an anti-bloat superfood, thanks to the silica, caffeic acid, and vitamin C in there, all of which help reduce swelling and discourage water retention.
- Kiwi contains a compound called actinidin, which supports healthy digestion. Kiwifruit is also rich in potassium.
- Rosemary is an herb with powerful antioxidant properties that has been used for thousands of years to treat digestive ailments.
10. Fight inflammation with food.
Anti-inflammatory foods that calm the stress response can help keep things calm in your digestive tract too. A few great ones to reach for:
- Berries are packed with antioxidants that help fight disease and inflammation.
- Dark chocolate is packed with flavonoids that fight inflammation. Aim for over 70 percent cacao to get the most nutritional bang for your buck.
- Eggs, aside from providing protein, fat, and vitamin A, contain zeaxanthin and lutein, two potent carotenoids that help fight inflammation.
- Hemp seeds provide heart-healthy fats and even a little protein. Look for shelled hemp seeds, often called "hemp hearts."
- Olive oil contains powerful antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
- Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have also been studied extensively for their anti-inflammatory benefit. For example, consuming adequate levels of omega-3 and supplementation with fish oil has been associated with reduced levels of cortisol, everyone’s favorite stress hormone, which has a mean tendency to encourage belly fat.
- Turmeric has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. The curcumin is the active component shown to have such powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
11. You don't have to swear off dairy.
Probiotic bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir promote good digestion and fight swelling and inflammation. I often recommend kefir because it’s almost lactose-free, making it easier to digest if you’re sensitive to dairy. Just stick with plain to sidestep sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Not into it? Consider a probiotic supplement with multiple types of bacteria in it. They each do slightly different things, so you’ll cover multiple bases rather than if you were to stick with straight-up acidophilus, lactobacillus, etc.
Want more goodness for your belly and digestion? Here are the bloat-inducing foods that doctors avoid and a one-day diet guaranteed to bust any bloat you might have.