I know it sounds a bit vulgar, but I’ve never been one to pull any punches. I get this question a lot in my practice, and from friends, too. For some reason, everyone wants me to solve their gas problems. How fun is that!
Being a dietitian, I do talk a lot about bodily functions, because my job involves the gastrointestinal tract from its start to its finish – so for me, no question is off limits and no topic is embarrassing – at least for me!
So let’s talk about why you have gas.
Some people have serious gastrointestinal diseases that are the main cause of their gas. For those of us who don’t have an underlying issue, the amount of gas we have is directly related to the amount of undigested food and/or air in our colon. It could be related to some medications, intestinal flora issues, or as mentioned before, a gastrointestinal disease, but if we’re eating stuff that our body isn’t breaking down, we’re going to have gas. Let’s look at some of the likely food-related reasons why you’re farting so much:
You’re Eating Gassy Vegetables/Fruits/Legumes That You Don’t Know Are Gassy
Everyone knows the rhyme about beans being good for your heart, and most people can identify broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage as gassy foods. Did you know that avocadoes, garlic, bell peppers, onions, cucumber, artichokes, and asparagus are also gas-producing? Many of these foods contain a complex sugar called raffinose, and/or fructose, both of which can cause gas. And it’s not only vegetables; fruit can also give you gas. Apples, bananas, peaches, pears, apricots and oranges, along with dried fruit, all contain sorbitol, which is a sugar alcohol that’s super gassy. I even remember the nurses giving sorbitol as a laxative to constipated patients in the ICU – proving that if it can be used as a laxative, you want to watch your intake.
Your Fiber Level Is A Bit Over The Top
You’re supposed to eat a lot of fiber, about 25-30 grams per day. Dried fruit, whole grains, leafy greens – lots of healthy food is high in fiber. Fiber ferments in your colon, though, and that feeds the bacteria in there, causing gas. When you’re eating 16 cups of kale to be healthy, you’re not going to get out of it without farting. Sorry.
Chewing Gum Makes Your Breath Sweet, But Your Gas Bad
It’s true – anything sugar free likely contains sugar alcohols, such as the afore-mentioned sorbitol, xylitol, or mannitol to name a few of the common ones. Another name for sugar alcohols is polyols, and people who have IBS in particular may find it helpful to avoid them (see FODMAP Diet).
Sugar alcohols occur naturally, and are usually used in combination with other sweeteners in sugar free candies and gums. They are notorious for causing bloating, painful gas, and having a laxative effect. I found this out the hard way once in university, when I ate an entire bag of sugar free caramels.
I’m still traumatized.
Chewing gum, sugarless or not, also makes you swallow air, which can compound the problem.
Lactose – You Just Don’t Tolerate It As Well As You Used To
You may be lactose intolerant, but chances are, you just don’t break down lactose, a sugar in milk, as well as you used to. As we age, our ability to break lactose down decreases, which can cause gas after eating milk products. Ice cream and fluid milk are very high in lactose. Yogurt is too, but the active cultures in yogurt help break down lactose so you may tolerate that a bit better.
Your Diet Is Full Of Fat. Or Beer. Or Both
Fat slows the digestive process down, which can give foods more time to ferment in your colon. The longer it ferments…well, you know. And carbonated drinks, including beer, can cause gas too. So next time you hit the pub for some nachos and pints, beware!
What can I do?
Obviously, cutting down on or removing the offending food is an option, as is using Beano, which is a product that help you digest complex sugars in foods that cause gas. Slowly increasing the amount of fiber you eat can help as well.
Remember that everyone is different and different people have different tolerance levels to certain foods. You may tolerate prunes fine, but your friend may get gassy from them. People who have intestinal disorders may not tolerate foods such as certain meats, chocolate, or other typically non-gassy foods. If the issue continues after diet adjustments to remove gassy items, see your doctor.