If you are in the throes of perimenopause or menopause, you are likely experiencing a variety of physical, emotional, and mental changes. These changes are the result of the hormonal rollercoaster going on in your body, and they can involve any one or more of 100+ symptoms. One of the more common symptoms is menopause belly bloat. This uncomfortable symptom may begin in perimenopause and hang on for years but here are things you can do about it.
Menopause belly bloat can be physically and emotionally upsetting and interfere with your work, personal activities, and social life. It can be accompanied by gas, constipation, stomach cramping, heartburn, an increase in acid reflux, and indigestion. Fortunately, one effective way to manage perimenopause bloating and menopause bloating is to make wise food choices.
What is perimenopause and menopause bloating?
Bloating is a condition in which the abdomen feels tight, swollen, or full, and it is typically accompanied by distension of the stomach region caused by an accumulation of fluids, gas, or food in the digestive tract. Stomach bloating is often accompanied by pressure, discomfort, or pain. The more common causes of bloating are hormonal changes, eating certain foods, lifestyle choices, and digestive problems.
In perimenopause and menopause, hormone fluctuations are a big factor. These changes may cause the food you eat to pass through your digestive system slower than usual, which can result in gas, bloating, or constipation. The hormones may also cause food to move through the digestive tract faster than usual, which can result in stomach pain, diarrhea, or nausea. Since what you eat is a critical factor in bloating during perimenopause and menopause, it’s a good time to take stock of your diet and make some healthy changes.
Foods to help manage bloating in menopause
Bloating in perimenopause and menopause can be managed if you make wise food choices. Generally, there are three categories of foods you should focus on to get the best results.
Anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammation plays a significant role in bloating. Decreases in levels of estrogen and progesterone can result in inflammation in the gut, which then can lead to shifts in the gut microbiome where beneficial bacteria help with digestion as well as aid in absorption of nutrients and act as ambassadors between different systems in the body, such as the brain, immune system, and skin.
When the diversity of the gut bacteria is compromised or damaged, there can be a loss of beneficial microbes. This can have a negative impact on digestive health and hormone balance and result in bloating and discomfort. In fact, research indicates that symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which include bloating, gas, and constipation, may get worse during and after menopause because of declining estrogen levels.
One way to manage inflammation and bloating is to focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods. Fortunately there are lots of choices in this category. Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel) are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight chronic inflammation. Other foods to include in your diet daily are leafy greens, avocados, cherries, berries, garlic, broccoli, green tea, walnuts, beets, pineapple, extra virgin olive oil, peppers, dark chocolate, grapes, and turmeric.
Anti-inflammatory foods help reduce the amount of water the body retains, which in turn works to prevent bloating and ease the digestive process. Dietary programs that are high in anti-inflammatory foods include the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet.
Digestive enzymes. Some foods naturally contain digestive enzymes that can aid digestion to avoid the risk of some food particles being fermented when they reach the intestinal tract and run into gut bacteria that can result in gas production and bloating. These foods include honey, miso, papaya, avocado, pineapple, mango, ginger, bananas, tomatoes, grapefruit, carrots, and kiwi.
High fiber foods. The addition of high fiber foods to your daily diet can help reduce bloating and gas as well as provide other great benefits, such as promote regular bowel movement by increasing the size and weight of stool and ease digestion. Foods rich in fiber include whole grains, unprocessed wheat and rice bran, brown rice, wild rice, beans and legumes, flaxseeds, oats, avocado, berries, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, greens (turnip, collards, spinach, swiss chard), seeds (chia, hemp, sunflower), and peas.
If you find it challenging to include more fiber in your diet (and the recommended amount of 25 to 35 grams daily), try these suggestions:
- Start your day with oatmeal and added flax seeds, raisins, and apple slices.
- Include a spinach salad with nuts, beans, carrots, and avocado several times a week.
- Enjoy a smoothie made with almond milk and seeds, apples, and berries as a snack or for breakfast.
- Mix wild rice or brown rice and beans.
- Add cooked greens to your soups and stews.
- Enjoy baked sweet potato slices topped with mashed avocado and hemp seeds.
- Make a soup that contains lots of high-fiber veggies and beans.
- Or try a prebiotic fiber, like Morphus Fiberus. It can be added to any liquid, hot or cold, and has no taste.
Probiotic-rich foods. Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, are true soldiers when it comes to supporting gut health and easing and preventing bloating. These helpful bacteria may alleviate bloating by working to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the stomach, which in turn reduces inflammation and the production of gas. Probiotics also support digestion, which can reduce bloating and gas. In a 2022 study reported in Neurogastroenterology and Motility, the researchers noted that “Dietary interventions to reduce intestinal fermentation and ingestion of food supplements like prebiotics or probiotics can reduce bloating by reducing gas production.”
While probiotic supplements are certainly an option, they can be combined with dietary sources of probiotics. Foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, some hard cheeses, pickles, and sourdough bread can work to maintain a balanced gut microbiome. When your microbiome is in balance, not only do you reduce or eliminate bloating but also improve your digestive process and nutrient absorption and utilization.
Foods to avoid to prevent perimenopause and menopause bloating
It is recommended you avoid certain foods that contribute to bloating and gas. These generally fall into three categories.
High-sodium foods. First we want to clear up a common misunderstanding: salt and sodium are not the same thing, even though you will see “sodium” content listed on foods in North America.
Table salt (which is composed of sodium and chloride) is found in nature. Thus, sodium is a mineral found in salt, and it is the element that is harmful to your health. Chloride provides the “salty” taste to table salt. Most of the sodium people consume is in the form of salt.
To help prevent bloating, you need to watch your salt/sodium intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. However, according to the findings of a 2018 study, the estimated mean intake of sodium for adults in the United States is 3,608 mg. If you want to reduce your salt intake:
- Season your food with herbs or spices instead of salt.
- Avoid salty foods such as potato chips and other snacks, canned foods (unless specified no salt), cured or smoked meats, fish, or poultry such as bacon, sausage, salami, and cold cuts.
- Choose fresh foods over processed ones. Most processed foods contain some salt, and much of it is high.
- Read nutrition and ingredient labels carefully for sodium and content per serving.
- Shop for low-salt/sodium or no-salt/sodium items when shopping.
Gas-producing foods. Do you avoid eating chili with beans or three-bean salads because you experience gas after eating them? Are you bloated after enjoying a cauliflower and broccoli cold salad? Beans and cruciferous vegetables are among the foods known for causing gas and bloating, but there are easy ways to alleviate these side effects. Other foods associated with bloating and gas include carbonated beverages, onions, chewing gum, and some processed foods such as salad dressings and breads.
Since some of the gas-producing foods are especially nutritious and anti-inflammatory in nature, you want to be sure to enjoy them as much as possible. But how do you reduce or eliminate gas and bloating when eating healthy foods you enjoy? Here are a few suggestions.
- To degas beans, you can soak them overnight in water. Put them in a big pot or bowl, cover with water, and let sit in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours. You can add a teaspoon or two of baking soda to the water to increase the degassing. Drain off the water and then cook in the manner you have chosen.
- For a quick soak, put the beans into a pot, cover with three cups of water for each cup of beans, and bring the beans to a boil for three minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for one hour. Drain off the water, add fresh water, and cook.
- Another option is to add the Indian spice asafoetida to your beans. It is rather bitter, so you should use only a small amount: a pinch or two fried in a teaspoon of oil can be added to your beans once they are cooked. Stir well before eating.
- If you don’t mind the bitter taste, you can stir one-half teaspoon of asafoetida in warm water and drink it on an empty stomach to help keep gas and bloating away.
- Eat a few spoonfuls of yogurt with or immediately after your meal, as the probiotics can help ease gas.
- Research shows that ginger can decrease pressure in the lower esophagus to reduce bloating. Chew on a piece of dried ginger or drink ginger tea immediately after a meal.
- Chew on fennel seeds or drink fennel tea. Fennel seeds contain anethole, fenchone, and estragole that have anti-inflammatory properties and can improve digestion and reduce bloating and gas.
- Enjoy lemons or lemon juice. This is actually a double-barrel tip, as sipping lemon water throughout the day not only keeps you well hydrated, it also helps fight gas and bloating. Research has shown that the citric acid in lemons increases the amount of digestive fluid in the stomach to help better metabolize food.
Water intake and bloating in perimenopause and menopause
How much water to you drink every day? You’ve probably heard that eight glasses is a standard, although it does vary depending on your weight, activity level, and environmental factors such as heat and cold. However, eight to ten eight-ounce glasses daily is suggested.
Staying well hydrated is important for several reasons, not least of which is flushing out toxins and excess sodium that can contribute to bloating. Drinking enough water daily also improves digestion, reduces the risk of constipation, and stimulates bowel movements.
If you need to increase your water intake, sip water slowly and regularly throughout the day. Keep an environmentally friendly water bottle with you at home, in the car, at work, and whenever you’re on the move so you can continue to hydrate. If you are not a fan of plain water, add some fresh berries, cucumber slices, lemon or lime slices, or mint. Some herbal teas, either hot or cold, can be hydrating as well. A few suggestions are rooibos, any of the berries, peppermint, chamomile, orange, lemon, and cinnamon teas.
Lifestyle tips for managing menopause bloat
Although choosing certain foods is an important part of managing bloat in perimenopause and menopause, it’s also a great idea to incorporate a few lifestyle habits that have been shown to support healthy digestion and reduce or eliminate bloat. Here are a few to make a part of your day.
Stay physically active. We have long been told that we should engage in 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise per week to support and maintain overall health, and this is true for good digestion and banishing bloat as well. You can engage in a variety of physical activities to meet or even exceed this exercise goal, and you’ll be fighting bloat at the same time. A few activities to consider are dancing, tennis, walking, zumba, jogging, jumping rope, rowing, pickleball, and spinning.
Practice stress reduction methods. Stress interferes with digestion and thus contributes to bloating. Help keep stress at bay by practicing meditation, yoga, deep breathing, visualization, progressive relaxation techniques, or tai chi.
Engage in healthy eating habits. Suggestion number one: chew slowly and thoroughly. A good rule of thumb is to chew each mouthful until it is liquid. Sometimes this may mean only a few chews, while you may need to chew 30 times or more for some foods. Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing and saliva, so make sure what you send down to your stomach has been well masticated.
Eat mindfully. Although chewing your food well is part of this suggestion, the rest of it involves focusing on what you are eating. What does it smell like? What does it taste like? How is the texture? Is it too salty, sweet, bitter, spicy, hot, or cold? You may also want to think about how it was prepared or where you purchased it. Eating mindfully will help you gain a better appreciation of your food.
If you want to prevent or eliminate bloating in perimenopause and menopause, incorporate a few of the food and lifestyle changes discussed here into your routine. Generally, wise foods choices and healthy activity habits will advance you toward your goal of being free of bloating associated with perimenopause and menopause.