You know the feeling: You ate too much for dinner, and now you're so bloated you think you're gonna pop. Or maybe it was the way you wolfed down that burrito at work between meetings. Or it could be PMS. Whatever the reason, you're feeling gassy, puffy and miserable—and longing for stretchy pants.
Sound familiar? Abdominal bloating—sometimes described as feeling too full—affects up to one-fourth of all healthy people, according to some surveys. Blame it on your period, or overeating, constipation, dining on gas-producing foods, gobbling your meals or even drinking through a straw—they all can cause a belly pooch.
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But there's good news. Just as some foods may blow you up like a balloon (that lunchtime burrito comes to mind), others can help you deflate, naturally. Here are some proven bloat-fighters.
This little green fruit contains enzymes that help break down protein, so it moves more easily through your system. In one recent, very small study, participants who had several meals of steak and kiwi had significantly less bloating than those who had the steak meals with no kiwi.
Recipe to try: All Greens Smoothie Bowl
Women who ate a banana a day reported less bloating than those who only had a banana-flavored drink or plain water. That's not surprising: Bananas are high in potassium, which helps balance sodium and prevent the water retention that can come from eating salty foods. And a banana's fiber can help ease constipation, and the more you poop, the less you puff up. Plus, bananas (especially greener ones) are high in resistant starch, a kind of carb that helps maintain healthy gut bacteria.
Recipe to try: Almond Butter & Banana Protein Smoothie
A few fresh slices after a big meal may help ward off a bloated belly. That's because papayas have papain, another enzyme that breaks down protein in your digestive tract. The tropical fruit also fights inflammation, just what a bulging belly needs.
Recipe to try: Papaya-Avocado Salad
You probably already know ginger is a great natural remedy for motion sickness, nausea and many other ailments. Turns out this natural stomach soother can help bloating, too. Studies show it reduces swelling and stimulates the digestive muscles, making it easier for food to pass through. Try it brewed in hot tea, or add a little grated fresh ginger to a smoothie.
(One caution: While ginger ale made with real ginger can help other tummy ailments, this is one time you may want to pass. If you're already bloated with gurgling gas, the last thing you need is more bubbles.)
Recipe to try: Spinach Salad with Japanese Ginger Dressing
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This popular herb can increase the liver's bile production, helping your body digest fatty foods so they can move through the stomach more quickly. A soothing cup of peppermint tea can also relax your digestive muscles, allowing trapped gas to pass.
Recipe to try: Mint Pesto
People in many cultures nibble on fennel seeds after a meal, and here's why: the seeds can help reduce gas, fight inflammation and act as a natural diuretic. Some research suggests fennel may help ease bloating from PMS, too.
Recipe to try Fennel & Sesame Breadsticks
Yogurt's probiotics (good bacteria) help your gut digest and absorb food, so there's less gas and bloating. Go for plain yogurt with active cultures, and sweeten it with a little fruit.
Recipe to try: Nut & Berry Parfait
You may think water will make you more bloated, but drink up. You'll be getting the hydration your body needs to digest food, flush out excess sodium—and, if you're constipated, help you go.
Luckily, most bloating is harmless. However, if it keeps up, and you have vomiting, heartburn, sudden weight loss or blood in your stool, it's time to see your doc.