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.
So let's talk about farts.
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 avocados, garlic, bell peppers, onions, cucumber, artichokes, and asparagus are also gas-producing? Soy is also notoriously hard to digest. 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'll 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. Inulin, a type of fiber, is present in a lot of foods like granola bars and diet candy, so watch for it on labels because it's extremely bad in terms of gas production.
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).
Chewing gum, sugarless or not, also makes you swallow air, which can compound the problem.
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.
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.
Protein powders, specifically whey protein, may be a culprit too. If you have gas after using whey protein powder, try switching away to another protein source such as rice protein isolate to see if that helps.
Your Diet Is Full Of Fat, Sugar, and Processed Junk
Fat slows the digestive process down, which can give foods more time to ferment in your colon. The longer it ferments... well, you know. A diet that's high in processed foods, fat and sugar can sway your bad gut bacteria into high levels, which can precipitate gut distress. Carbonated drinks, including beer, can cause gas too.
What Can You 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 (instead of all at once) increasing the amount of fiber you eat can help as well. Speaking of doing things slowly, eat slowly, too. Gulping your food down is going to compound the problem because you're also gulping air when you eat fast.
To keep your gut flora healthy, probiotics can help keep the 'friendly' bacteria in your gut at an optimal level -- but you still need to remove the junk food from your diet. Great probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, and you can also get them from supplements.
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.
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