The average person produces one to four pints of gas daily and toots it out about 14 times a day. But the fact that flatulence is common and normal is small comfort when a pungent emission sends those around you running for cover and leaves you red in the face.
Here are the top flatulence-producing foods (beans aren’t the only culprits!)—and simple ways to turn off the gas…
THE MOST “MUSICAL” FOODS
Flatulence is caused in part by fermentation. Food substances that don’t get absorbed in the intestines wind up in the colon, where they are fermented by bacteria, creating gas. The odor depends on the foods eaten and the types of bacteria present…the sound, which is caused by an outward rush of air that makes anal tissues vibrate, often reflects the amount and pressure of that air.
Foods prone to producing gas generally are those that remain partially undigested, said Sanford H. Benjamin, MD, a gastroenterologist with St. Vincent Gastroenterology Associates in Little Rock, Arkansas. Some people also lack specific enzymes needed to break down certain foods, which then get acted upon by bacteria and create gas. Top flatulence-producing offenders include…
• Grains—including popular choices such as whole wheat and brown rice…plus barley, bulgur, corn bran and wheat bran.
• Vegetables—especially asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, collard greens, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, onions, radish, rutabaga, tomatoes and turnips.
• Legumes—most notably beans (especially lima and navy), lentils, peanuts and peas.
• Fruit—particularly apples, apricots, bananas, grapes, melons, peaches, pears, plums, prunes and raisins.
Sugars—including sucrose (table sugar), lactose (in dairy foods) and maltose (found in grains)…as well as sugar alcohols (hybrids between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule), such as glycerin and maltitol syrup, commonly used in energy bars, sugar-free candies, soda and other processed foods.
FIXES FOR FLATULENCE
If you think the food list above is quite broad, you’re right—but the good news is, each of these foods creates gas in many people, but not in all people. You, individually, might get gassy from some of those foods but not others. So here are the steps to take to dial down your gas…
Identify your personal troublemakers. If you already suspect which foods are gas producers for you, stay away from those foods for at least a week. If your gas problem goes away, avoid those foods for good. Don’t have a clue which foods are your personal culprits? Eliminate all the foods listed above from your diet for one to two weeks. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty left to eat!) Then reintroduce each food one by one to see which ones trigger an increase in flatulence. If a particular food is a trigger for you, you should notice an increase in gassiness within four hours of eating that food, Dr. Benjamin said.
Limit serving sizes. Once you know which foods give you gas, the obvious solution is to not eat them—but you don’t want to avoid all gas-triggering foods all the time, Dr. Benjamin noted, because for the most part these foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. So the trick is to figure out how much you can eat without triggering symptoms, and that takes some experimentation. “When gas is caused by a lack of enzymes that leads to malabsorption, the effect generally is dose dependent,” Dr. Benjamin said. “For instance, if you don’t have enough of the enzyme needed to digest lactose, you may be able to tolerate a tablespoon of milk in your coffee but not be able to drink a whole glass of milk without getting gassy.” What to do: After identifying a personal trigger, try a very small amount of that food, and if that doesn’t make you gassy, try a little more the next time…and so on. Eventually you’ll figure out that, say, you can eat a small apple or a half-cup of lima beans with no problem…but no more than that.
Try an over-the-counter gas-control product. These don’t work for everyone, but they’re worth a shot…
• To halt gas production before it starts: With your first bite of a gas-producing food, take a dose of Beano (which works for more than just beans) or a similar product containing an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase that breaks down some of the food substances we can’t digest. For people with intolerances, digestive enzyme supplements such as Lactaid can lessen the effect if taken before eating, but they still won’t allow you to eat the offending food in large amounts.
• To get rid of gas once you’ve got it: Try a gas reliever containing simethicone (the active ingredient in products such as Gas-X)—it reduces the surface tension of gas bubbles so that they are more easily eliminated. Dr. Benjamin did not recommend using probiotics to reduce flatulence because, in some people, probiotics actually increase gassiness—though you may be able to get around that by reducing the dosage and taking the right probiotic for you.
Avoid swallowing air. Some gas comes from swallowed air—so eat more slowly, take smaller bites, don’t talk while you’re eating, and don’t chew gum or drink carbonated beverages.
To get rid of gas fast, strike a yoga pose. Go somewhere private and do the wind-releasing pose, suggested Molly Fox, a fitness and yoga teacher at Equinox Fitness in Palo Alto, California. Breathe slowly and deeply throughout the pose. Lie flat on your back. Bend your right leg and draw your right knee up to your chest. Place your hands over that knee and gently pull it toward you. Exhale and raise your head off the floor, bringing your forehead toward your bent knee. Hold for a moment, then lower your head and straighten your right leg so you are lying flat again. Repeat with the left leg. Do a set of three on each side. Repeat as often as needed to get rid of gas.
If gassiness persists, see your doctor. Your problem could be a side effect of certain medications (for instance, aspirin, antacids, narcotic pain relievers) or supplements (multivitamins, iron pills)…or it might signal a medical problem such as irritable bowel syndrome. Ask your doctor whether switching or discontinuing the medication or treating the underlying condition could reduce gassiness.
Don’t make a habit of holding gas in. According to a recent study in New Zealand Medical Journal, holding back your gas can cause bloating, indigestion, heartburn and even pain…and the intestinal distension from trapped gas can increase blood pressure and heart rate.
Got other cringe-worthy health concerns? See our Guide to Solving Embarrassing Health Problems, with links to two dozen articles on topics everyone secretly wonders about.