Deflating Diet: Water Retention and Swollen Belly

What is Swelling


"Swollen" is defined as a tissue or part of the body that increases in volume; therefore, "to deflate" literally means to reduce the swelling.

Like redness, heat and swelling, swelling is one of the essential characteristics of the inflammatory phenomenon. Therefore, in the medical field, when one intends to "deflate a part of the body", the therapy focuses on the inversion of the inflammatory mechanism. It is therefore logical to think that the most effective systems to reduce swelling are anti-inflammatory remedies, intended as drug therapy (NSAIDs, corticosteroids, topically, for OS or by injection), cryotherapy (cold therapy) and manual therapy (massage ), depending on the district and the underlying cause.

Non-inflammatory swelling

However, the term "swollen" is often used to indicate different problems, not necessarily attributable to an inflammatory state. The legs of a person suffering from poor circulation appear swollen. Similarly, the belly of a person suffering from retention of gastrointestinal air or gas, especially of the stomach and intestines, is evidently swollen. In both cases, diet and lifestyle play a fundamental role.

In this article we will try to better understand how to behave to treat these two types of swelling so different from each other, namely the subcutaneous swelling due to water retention (due to poor blood and lymphatic circulation) and the gastrointestinal one.

Water retention

General information on swelling from water retention

Water retention means excessive, therefore abnormal, accumulation of water in the tissues (extracellular spaces). This is an evident clinical sign due to primary diseases which can lead to even serious problems. The most frequent cause of water retention is a pathological defect of blood and / or lymphatic circulation. It occurs mainly, but not exclusively, in the lower limbs with particular localization in the ankles. However, it must be admitted that circulation can be very weak, inefficient, without however being diagnosed as "insufficient". Let's briefly summarize the mechanism of non-pathological water retention, which is closely related to the formation of cellulite:

  1. Poor venous return
  2. Capillary weakness and liquid perfusion
  • Possible suffering of the tissues involved (especially the adipose one), cell death and dispersion of the cytoplasmic content with osmotic action on the surrounding liquids
  • Difficulty in lymphatic reabsorption, also due to osmotic pressure.
  • Note: the swelling due to water retention is recognizable not only by the increase in volume and the typical texture to the touch, but also by the well-known "orange peel" appearance. Over time this condition predisposes the onset of cellulite (edematous fibro sclerotic panniculopathy) which, in the most advanced stages, becomes irreversible.

    Diet for Water Retention

    Deflating diet for water retention: premise

    For clarity, let's start by specifying that the deflating diet for water retention must NOT be low in water, far from it. Furthermore, it is advisable not to rely too much on so-called "miracle products", such as food supplements, functional foods, creams, etc. The only truly effective system is the combination of a good diet and the right physical activity. Below we will summarize the basic criteria of the deflating diet for water retention.

    Lots of water and hydrated foods

    Water is not only essential for maintaining good health, it is also essential for counteracting water retention. In fact, water is the diuretic element par excellence. By increasing the renal filtration volume, it also increases the excretion effect of unwanted molecules. If we do not drink enough (it can be assessed by observing the color and smell of urine, as well as the number / quantity of urine per day), increasing pure water and the consumption of hydrated foods (soups, broths, etc.) can increase the capacity to eliminate waste compounds (which are presumed to be involved in the accumulation of water in peripheral tissues). Obviously, if the metabolic condition itself is optimal, drinking more will not yield further benefits. However, if the liquids that stagnate at the peripheral level are hypertonic (they contain a certain amount of solutes that hinder their disposal), associating the strengthening of the microcirculation with an increase in water consumption could still help to solve the problem. The overall water consumption desirable for an average and sedentary subject is 1 ml for every 1 kcal of the diet. For example, in a 2000 kcal diet, about 2 liters of water per day are desirable.

    Phytocomplexes that strengthen the microcirculation

    They act above all at the capillary level, reducing their permeability and enhancing the elastic and contractile capacity; they are also excellent for preventing varicose veins and cellulite. These are compounds of plant origin that contain specific active ingredients, generally belonging to the chemical groups of: triterpenes (such as aescin), ruscogenins, coumarin glycosides, flavonoids, phenolic acids, tannins, proanthocyanidins and resveratrol. They are famous for the content of phytocomplexes that strengthen the microcirculation: centella asiatica, mellilotus and grapevine. From the food point of view, it could also be said that fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, especially phenolics, perform a similar or complementary function; for example: grape, cranberry, pomegranate, purple carrot etc.

    Vasodilators that improve microcirculation

    They are molecules that act at the level of the vascular smooth muscle. Like the previous ones, they act on capillary functionality by reducing permeability and optimizing tissue spraying. Omega 3, especially eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which are abundant in blue fish, cod, salmon, their liver and algae have a strong vasodilating function. A good precursor, alpha linolenic acid, is instead abundant in vegetables (especially in certain oil seeds and in the germ of starchy seeds). There are other molecules with a vasodilating action, such as capsaicin in chili peppers and ethyl alcohol, which however in normal quantities have a marginal importance or are endowed with significant side effects.

    Little added sodium

    The diet must not be rich in added sodium, a concept far removed from what many refer to as a "low sodium diet". The sodium naturally present in food is essential to the general state of health, as this mineral performs many functions of vital importance. Compared to other minerals, the body requires large quantities of it as it is continually and abundantly expelled with urine and sweat. On the other hand, in the modern diet, sodium is almost always present in excess since it constitutes a large percentage of table salt. Some hypothesize that, in the presence of other risk factors, this can accumulate together with liquids in the extracellular spaces, worsening water retention; it can also be harmful to health (susceptibility to sodium sensitive hypertension). This is why this type of deflating diet should be low in discretionary sodium (that added at the table or in cooking) and preserved processed foods (such as cured meats, aged cheeses, canned goods, etc.). In nature, sodium is present in both animal and vegetable foods. Note: athletes and those who sweat a lot need higher amounts of sodium than normal.

    Potassium as required

    Better a little more than a little less. Potassium has an antihypertensive and thirst-quenching action; in some ways, it demonstrates opposite effects to those of sodium and for this reason it is considered essential in the deflating diet against water retention. Note: the potassium supply is of great importance especially when draining-diuretic products are used. Although in excess, potassium does not appear to have side effects in healthy people. It is naturally present in both foods of plant and animal origin, but raw (or steamed) fresh vegetables and fruit are considered sources of potassium "par excellence". We therefore recommend an intake of at least two portions of vegetables (50-200 g each) and two portions of fruit per day (100-150 g each). Note: Increased dietary potassium is most effective when associated with a reduction in discretionary sodium and preserved foods rich in added salt.

    Draining: can they be useful?

    Diuretics are foods and drugs that, regardless of the mechanism, increase renal filtration and therefore the excretion of urine. Some are diuretics because they are rich in water, others because they contain active ingredients that promote kidney function; a third category has both one and the other function.

    Can they be useful? It depends. For all the reasons we described in the paragraph on water, increasing kidney filtration and diuresis could have some positive effects. However, this mainly depends on the condition of the blood and lymphatic circulation. If the venous return is not optimized, the capillaries are not strengthened and the lymphatic absorption struggles, the greater excretion will not affect the stagnant liquids in the peripheries.

     There are both diuretic foods and diuretic drugs (usually herbal). Among the most effective diuretic foods we remember: dandelion leaves, artichoke, fennel, endive, chicory, cucumbers, pineapple, melon, watermelon, peaches, strawberries etc. Among the diuretic drugs are: dandelion root, birch, fennel, green tea, yarrow, horsetail, fucus, artichoke, mallow, borage etc.

    As for draining foods, the portion corresponds to that of vegetables. With regard to drugs, on the other hand, usually used to produce herbal teas, infusions, decoctions, etc., it is advisable to contact your doctor.

    Physical activity to deflate

    There is no specific activity to deflate, or to reduce water retention. Some speculate that it may be sports that, on the contrary, have a counterproductive effect, but these are completely unfounded conjectures. The truth is that all sports, done properly, improve blood circulation and have a beneficial effect. Obviously there are some activities that can show some contraindications. For example, exercises with overloads carried out without treating breathing, or in valsalva, tend to increase venous pressure and predispose to the formation of varicose veins. This does not necessarily affect the microcirculation but if in doubt it is advisable to inhale and exhale correctly. The hypotheses that lactic acid can accumulate in the suburbs predisposing to water retention and cellulite are to be denied; it is shown that, in the worst case scenario, the liver completely disposes of this intermediate of anaerobic glycolysis in no more than 2-3 hours. It is also necessary to dispel the myth that the activity of cross-country running, or endurance running, due to the repeated action of the rebounds attributable to the force of gravity, can favor the accumulation of liquids in the legs. This could (but it is not certain) manifest itself in sick people, not in subjects with normal blood and lymphatic circulation. On the contrary, sports such as cross-country running, cycling, cross-country skiing, rowing, etc. have the advantage of super activating the organism and thus enhancing any bodily function (circulation, pulmonary ventilation, renal filtration, hepatic metabolism, peristalsis intestinal etc.).

    Other precautions

    To combat swelling from water retention, some bad habits should be avoided such as:

    1. Too tight clothing, especially around the waistline (belts), thighs (pants) and legs (socks, shoes). Note: do not confuse the action of tight clothes with that of specific containment clothing; they have a completely different impact
    2. Position: Sitting too long is a determining factor. Instead, you should carve out small breaks to insert periodically in which to get up and stretch, to normalize the circulation. The same goes for those who spend all their time on their feet; in this case it is advisable to make short stops to make sure that gravity does not fully exert its effect
    3. Replace drug therapies (for hypertension, antidepressants, chemotherapy, painkillers, contraceptives): obviously only when possible and if they involve too important fluctuations in weight due to water retention. Note: women do not pay attention to sudden changes due to the hormonal cycle of the menstrual period. It is physiological that, at some point, a certain amount of water retention occurs
    4. Compensate for certain pathologies: it is a matter of course; In fact, aesthetics are the least of the problems for those suffering from diseases such as: venous insufficiency, thrombosis, heart failure, pulmonary edema, pathologies of the lymph nodes, cysts and other anatomical compromises.

    Air and Gastrointestinal Gas

    General information on gastrointestinal bloating

    Let's now turn to what gastrointestinal bloating is concerned. This is both a symptom and an obvious clinical sign. It can have very different etiology depending on the case and behavioral, dietary aspects, individual predispositions and pathologies participate in its onset. Note: while in the stomach the swelling is mainly triggered by air that comes from the outside, with the participation of some chemical reactions of digestion, in the intestine (especially the large one) it is mainly caused by gases produced locally. Note: the physiological quantity of gas enclosed within the intestinal lumen is 200 ml; a normal expulsion is considered to be between 400-1600 ml / day.

    Intestinal Bloating Diet

    Deflating diet for air and gastrointestinal gas: premise

    Aerophagia is often related to simple anxiety states, poor or incomplete chewing (frugal meals, inefficient teeth or jaw or tongue), functional-anatomical impairments of swallowing, for example dysphagia, aptitude for belching, etc. Swelling in the stomach is mainly attributable to aerophagia, i.e. the swallowing of air while eating, drinking and speaking. In addition, carbonated drinks and foods that can release carbon dioxide participate in gastric bloating.

    Intestinal swelling can affect only the tract of the colon (large intestine) or even that of the small intestine. Among the causes we once again have aerophagia, but it is not considered the main one. To understand what the role of aerophagia may be in intestinal swelling, it is first of all necessary to understand whether the swelling also affects the portion of the small intestine. Consuming normal meals (per serving and composition), the only other reason for swelling of the small intestine is aerophagia. If, on the other hand, it is only the colon that swells, the causes are to be found elsewhere. Note: as we will see in the next paragraph, an excessive release of gastric acids for digestion (too abundant or excessively protein meals) requires the production of bicarbonate which in turn releases carbon dioxide, swelling the small intestine but, indirectly, also the stomach.

    The production of gas by the colic microflora mainly contributes to the swelling of the large intestine, in turn affected by the composition of the diet and the type of microflora; obviously, the subjective attitude, or the possibility, of disposing of these gases (farts) also matters a lot.

    Today it is known that the composition of intestinal gas can shed light on the etiology of bloating. The abundance of nitrogen, prevalent in the atmosphere, indicates a great importance of aerophagia; on the contrary, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and intermediates such as methane must suggest the action of the intestinal bacterial flora. On the other hand, not many people have the opportunity to have their farts analyzed.

    Stomach deflating diet

    To inflate the stomach, the diet must necessarily be free of carbonated foods. Meals that are too abundant and / or too high in protein are also not recommended. In this case, after having produced many acids in the stomach for digestion, bicarbonate is released in the duodenum (especially from bile salts) to restore the pH useful for continuing digestion. This reaction releases carbon dioxide which, as it rises, causes stomach swelling. There are no other recommendations regarding the chemical composition of foods. On the contrary, you have to pay close attention to your habits; In short:

    1. Reduce any anxious states
    2. Speak calmly, taking care of your breathing and controlling your swallowing
    3. Eat your meals in a sitting position, without too much haste
    4. Chew slowly and, if necessary, improve the efficiency of the teeth and jaw
    5. Swallow being careful not to swallow air
    6. Treat, if necessary and when possible, any swallowing pathologies such as dysphagia. We remind you that this disorder, which can have different causes, is responsible for far more serious complications than abdominal bloating.
    7. Don't hold back the belching; they are part of digestion. In public places it is possible to reduce the sound by closing the mouth and the soft palate (to avoid noises from the nose), and the visibility by bringing a napkin in front of the mouth. Alternatively, you can go to the toilet.

    Bowel deflating diet

    Probiotics: are they good or bad?

    The bacteria that physiologically occupy the large intestine (not the small one, a situation in which it would be a disease) feed on various nutritional factors that have escaped digestion and absorption. The processing of the intestinal bacterial flora therefore produces some residues including water, gas of various kinds (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.), fatty acids (famous short-chain ones, nutritional factors for the cells of the intestinal mucosa), vitamins (for example the fat-soluble K), acid molecules of various kinds, etc. From a purely microbiological point of view, it is unlikely that excessive gas production can be attributed to the excess of "good" bacteria in the colon; rather, from the contamination of the physiological flora with "bad" or putrescible bacteria (therefore from the percentage reduction of the physiological microflora).

    Does taking probiotics help or worsen intestinal bloating? The answer is: it depends! Prebiotics are drugs, supplements or functional foods that contain the typical bacteria of the intestinal bacterial flora; for this reason, taking them by mouth they should help increase the density of the micro flora.

    Many people who suffer from a deficiency or an alteration in the composition of the intestinal bacterial flora find it beneficial in therapy with probiotics; others, on the other hand, undergo a significant deterioration, a sign that the problem is to be found elsewhere. Note: the use of probiotics is highly recommended after the exacerbation of acute intestinal pathologies, without lesions of the mucosa and under medical prescription, or after any antibiotic therapy (which tends to decimate the bacterial flora).

    Several studies have shown that only taking probiotics pure or containing selected prebiotic factors (see below) can have a truly positive effect. Functional foods, on the other hand, stimulate gastric digestion and do not allow the survival of microorganisms to the colon. We remind you that the intake must be done daily and for a period of at least 60 days; otherwise, the effectiveness is not relevant.

    Prebiotic molecules: which ones and how many?

    The prebiotic or prebiotic molecules are the nourishment of the intestinal bacterial flora. These nutritional factors are mainly dietary fiber and unavailable carbohydrates which should be naturally present in the stool. Obviously the fecal substrate is also rich in fatty acids, sterols, glycerol, lecithins, peptides, amino acids, water, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, phenolic substances, etc. The excess of other residues at the expense of prebiotics can compromise the selection of colic bacteria by increasing the percentage of the "bad" ones or worsening the metabolism of the "good" ones. For this reason, the intestinal deflating diet must never be low in fiber and prebiotics in general, but must contain them in normal quantities (about 30 g per day). These are contained in foods of plant origin such as vegetables, fruits, cereals and legumes. Note: It is clear that, in acute pathological conditions (intestinal infections, diverticulitis, irritable colon, etc.), the diet must respect, at least temporarily, the low residue criterion to treat diarrhea. Furthermore, even in perfect health, it is still a good idea not to overdo it with prebiotics. As can be easily deduced, by feeding the microflora more, an increase in gases could still be obtained.

    We must then make a distinction; not all fiber is the same. The various types have different chemical-physical characteristics and are metabolized differently by the intestinal physiological flora. We could distinguish the fibers into soluble, which means that they dissolve in water, and insoluble, which means that they do not dissolve in water. The microflora feeds on the soluble one without producing large quantities of gas, while it produces many when it breaks down the insoluble one. It goes without saying that the deflating diet for the intestine should contain more soluble molecules in percentage than the insoluble ones, but it is not easy, since the latter are much more abundant and distributed in food. We could roughly define that to enrich the diet with prebiotics and soluble fiber it is above all important to consume cooked vegetables and fruit without peel, avoiding the fibrous residues of whole grains and the peel of legumes (instead responsible for the formation of gas).

    Eliminate antinutritional factors as much as possible

    Poor digestion and the presence of anti-nutritional factors in food (oxalates, phytates, tannins, enzyme inhibitors, etc.) reduce nutritional absorption, increase the substrate available for bacteria and give rise to various types of chemical reactions. They are therefore responsible for a change in the fecal composition. By processing molecules other than the prebiotics to which it is naturally predisposed, the microflora produces different effects and a different degree of swelling.

    The deflating diet for the intestine must therefore be low in anti-nutritional factors. Too bad that these are mainly contained in foods of plant origin, which is why it is inevitable to take them with food respecting a certain nutritional balance and providing the right amount of fiber. However, it must be emphasized that these are mainly soluble and thermolabile molecules, therefore they are inactivated with soaking and heat. To be sure not to take too many nutritional factors, we should therefore respect the frequency and portions of consumption, and carefully cook all foods of plant origin (especially legumes, cereals, spinach, rhubarb, etc.).

    Avoid the molecules responsible for food intolerance

    There is not much to say in this regard. Nutritional factors that are not duly tolerated are responsible, for various reasons, for the production of intestinal gas. For example, those who are lactose intolerant and do not digest it in the small intestine making it reach the colon, undergoes fermentation by the bacterial flora with consequent swelling, diarrhea, etc. In celiac disease, however, the speech is different; a partial involvement of the immune system takes place which inflames the mucous membranes, however with symptoms sometimes similar to the previous one but with more serious long-term complications. Even intolerance to histamine (contained in preserved fish, sausages, fermented cheeses, brewer's yeast, red wine, tomato, spinach, etc.) does not involve the bacterial flora, but irritates the intestine causing flatulence, diarrhea, cramps etc. Note: histamine-liberating foods (alcohol, bananas, strawberries, cocoa, eggs, milk, fish, etc.) can be responsible for the same complication. The deflating diet for the intestine must therefore be free of molecules responsible for food intolerance.

    Treating intestinal diseases and disorders

    It seems obvious, but the constantly inflamed or irritated intestine can only produce intestinal gas. The colon deflating diet therefore subordinates the treatment of such circumstances. In principle, these ailments require elimination: coffee, alcohol, fried food, carbonated drinks, etc.

    Avoid excessively large meals and unnecessary food supplements

    The digestive and absorption capacity is limited. We never absorb everything we eat and what remains in the stool is metabolized by the intestinal microflora with production of gas. Increasing the amount of food or the intake of food supplements (eg protein powders, amino acids, gainers, etc.) this aspect gets worse and worse. It is therefore necessary to look for the right portions and to take a caloric amount well divided into 5 daily meals, which can become 6 or 7 for athletes who gulp down huge amounts of calories.

    Absorbent herbal products: do they work?

    Some herbal products can reduce the formation of intestinal gas. But be careful, they do not in any way replace what has been said so far. They are used a lot for this purpose: fennel seeds, peppermint, cumin seeds, aniseed, cinnamon, ginger root (in very small doses, if in excess it can have the opposite effect) etc. Vegetable charcoal also has the same function but has some side effects, which is why it should not be taken too lightly.

    Motor activity: does it work for swelling?

    Absolutely yes with regard to intestinal swelling, and absolutely not with regard to stomach swelling. During labored breathing, the swallowing of air is frequent, with consequent belching, even of large entity. On the contrary, especially in outdoor activities, the continuous jolts, the black-hormonal activation and the increase in intra-abdominal pressure facilitate the expulsion of excess gas by reducing the accumulation.

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