Are your abs swimsuit-ready? If not, crunches may be only part of the solution. All the exercises in the world won't flatten your stomach if your digestive tract is out of kilter. Food sensitivities, a low-fiber diet and other dietary issues can cause a bloated, puffy tummy—even if you're at a healthy weight.
"Each part of your digestive tract digests different nutrients," says Dawn Weatherwax, sports dietitian and founder of SportsNutrition2Go.com. "If you're not efficient in one part or another, it can lead to bloating and gas."
So before you go poolside, be aware of these flat-belly saboteurs and try some simple solutions.
Dairy foods. Lactose (milk sugar) in dairy foods causes bloating in people who lack the enzyme lactase, which is necessary to break down lactose. Different types of dairy foods may be better than others, Weatherwax says. "Yogurt has less lactose than milk, for example." Yogurt also contains probiotics, which help to break lactose down and create less of a reaction.
Bloat-beater: Try regular or Greek yogurt, or soy, almond or rice-based dairy substitutes.
Wheat gluten. An intolerance or allergy to wheat gluten (a protein found in bread and many other foods) causes bloating. "If you're intolerant to gluten, the stomach and small intestine won't break it down properly, which thus causes water to rush in and create bloating," says Amy Goodson, sports dietitian for Ben Hogan Sports Therapy Institute and TCU Athletics in Texas.
Bloat-beater: Look for wheat alternatives such as rice, potato and corn-based flours or new gluten-free flours and mixes from Bisquick, King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill for baking, and choose gluten-free packaged snacks, chips and sweets.
Carbonated beverages. Soft drinks and sparkly beverages create carbon dioxide bubbles, which can become trapped in your belly, slowing digestion and causing bloating, says Goodson.
Bloat-beater: Stick with non-fizzy beverages and limit soft drinks (even diet ones).
Peanuts and beans. Beans are notorious for causing gas and bloating—and those problems extend to their legume cousins, peanuts. Plus, because peanuts are often eaten by the handful, people don't chew them thoroughly enough, says Weatherwax. "Your digestive tract then has a hard time breaking them down, which can cause bloat."
Bloat-beater: Substitute corn nuts or other crunchy snacks for peanuts—and chew, chew, chew!
Alcohol. Puffiness after a night on the town may be due to the toxins and wheat in alcohol that cause gas, says Goodson. "The stomach bloats up due to the accumulation of gases in the gut wall."
Bloat-beater: Limit alcohol and increase water intake.
Fructose and fake sugars. It takes your body longer to digest fructose than simple sugars, says Goodson. "This slows digestion and causes water to rush in and cause bloating." Plus, sugar alcohols commonly found in sugar-free gum such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol (and many other sweeteners ending in –ol) can cause bloating and gas.
Bloat-beater: Substitute natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey and stevia in place of artificial sweeteners or fructose.