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Gas: What Causes It and How to Reduce It

February 28th, 2019 | no comments

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Picture it: I’m sitting at the local Panera, enjoying a cup of coffee. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the “gentleman” sitting next to me (I’m talking like right next to me), engage in what he thought was an inconspicuous “one cheek sneak”.  I so badly wanted to be appalled…but all I could do was laugh. 

Let’s face it, gas is funny!

We all have it, so why pretend it doesn’t exist? Let’s clear the air and talk about Mother Nature’s most audible (and sometimes silent-but-deadly) display of her wild sense of humor!

Yes, this post is all about gas:

  • How it’s created
  • Foods that make it worse
  • Conditions that can worsen it
  • Tips to help relieve excess gas and bloating

But first, some flatulence fun facts.

 

Fun facts about gas that’ll make you chuckle🙂 :
  • Most of the gas you expel out of your back end is odor-free. Only 1% stinks, and that’s due to the small amount of hydrogen sulfide present in the mix. FYI: I’m the only living exception to this rule because mine smells of fresh baked cinnamon rolls :). The rest of your gas is made up of nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane (in some individuals). 
  • Not all farts are flammable. Those who produce methane can light their farts on fire…although I wouldn’t recommend testing this theory. Gentleman…I’m talking to YOU! 
  • The average person toots about 12-25 times per day or more depending on their diet.
  • The word “fart” originates from the Old English word “feortan”, which means “to break wind”. 
  • You pass more gas when you sleep.
  • Men versus women and young versus old: the amount of gas produced is the same across the board (although women are much more discreet).
  • If you’re in the mood for a gut-busting laugh, check out this post for 150 different words for breaking wind (#7 and #82 are my personal favs!).

 

What causes gas?

Intestinal gas is caused when bacteria in your large intestine breaks down undigested food, mainly carbohydrates. It also occurs when you swallow air, which happens as a result of chewing gum and drinking through a straw. 

Generally, gas-producing foods are those abundant in fiber; more specifically, it includes those rich in:

  • Sulfur: wine, beer, garlic, onion, cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage).
  • Sugars: like fructose and sorbitol (found naturally in fruits like apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, figs, prunes, and raisins).
  • Sugar alcohols (polyols): lends sweetness to products like baked goods, candy, gum, jelly, nutrition bars, cereal, cough drops, and chewable vitamins. The body can’t digest sugar alcohols completely, which can cause gas and upset stomach. They are labeled as: sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, lactitol, isomalt, xylitol, erythritol, or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). 
  • Soluble fiber: beans, nuts, apples, and oats.
  • Insoluble fiber: fruit skin, brown rice, and whole wheat bread.
  • Raffinose: a complex sugar that humans can’t digest; found in: beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, and whole grains.

Other foods and beverages that can cause you to toot your own horn include:

  • Dairy products
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Fried foods

 

Conditions that can worsen gas 

Certain conditions can make gas and bloating even more pronounced. These include: lactose intolerance, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and fructose malabsorption.

 

Ease into fiber…otherwise you’ll pay! 

In my 19 years as a dietitian, one thing I can tell you is this:

When you eat more dietary fiber than your body is equipped to handle, you WILL be uncomfortable. You’ll also stink out your family and friends.

But it won’t kill you…maybe socially, but not physically. 🙂 

Dietary fiber recommendations are between 25-35 grams per day. Sadly the average American eats only 10-15 grams. There’s lots of room for improvement here, especially since dietary fiber is linked to:

  • Normal bowel movements
  • Better bowel health: including less risk of developing hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, and colorectal cancer
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower blood pressure and inflammation
  • Healthy blood sugar levels: fiber slows the absorption of sugar and helps improve blood sugar levels
  • A healthier weight

But please don’t attempt to go from 10 grams to 30 overnight, otherwise you’ll pay a smelly price! Instead, ease into it by gradually increasing dietary fiber by 4-5 gram increments over several weeks. This looks like any of the following:

  • 1/2 cup cooked beans (black, kidney, pinto, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup cooked Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 medium apple

To prevent constipation, as you up your fiber it’s important to also increase the amount of water you drink.

10 Tips to relieve excess gas

If you’re still experiencing excess gas (remember, the average person toots between 12-25 times per day), here are ten additional tips to help you:

  1. Eat smaller portions; eat slowly; chew your food thoroughly.
  2. Drink peppermint or chamomile tea before meals.
  3. Try activated charcoal: a type of charcoal processed to make it more porous, which allows it to trap toxins and chemicals in the gut, preventing their absorption. Studies report that activated charcoal may help reduce gas production after a gassy meal. Because activated charcoal can reduce the absorption of certain medications, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking it or any other supplements. 
  4. Eat vegetables cooked versus raw. Be sure they still maintain their crunch, however! 
  5. Dilute one tablespoon of Bragg apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water and drink before meals. Apple cider vinegar aids in the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, both of which help reduce gas.
  6. Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to your water and drink before meals. Lemon is a digestive aid that can reduce gas and bloating!
  7. Eat probiotic-rich foods every day or take a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria normally present in your gut. Maintaining a healthy microbiome—the collection of more than 100 trillion organisms living within your intestines, mouth and nose—is critical to good health, including normal digestion and elimination. 
  8. Take an enzyme with your meals! Enzymes enable your body to break down the food you eat you so can use it. 
  9. Add a teaspoon of bee pollen to your food; it contains thousands of natural enzymes! Don’t use if you are allergic to bees. 
  10. Eat enzyme-rich foods! These include: bananas, kefir, raw sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, apricots and avocados.

Shout out to Mr. Cheek-Sneaker Panera guy for inspiring this post. I never know exactly where I’ll get my material…that’s what makes life so spontaneous, fun…and funny! 🙂 

 

Mel’s weekly food pick: 
Brussels Sprouts (Brassica oleracea)

 

Speaking of gas-producing foods, Brussels sprouts are at the top of the list of foods known to bring out our “musical” side. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid them or other cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. 

Your body will handle them much better when you:

  • start slow (once or twice a week)
  • keep your portions small (about a half cup)
  • enjoy them cooked rather than raw

Once you get used to this small amount you can increase your frequency and portions as tolerated.

So why is it so important to eat Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous veggies?

Cruciferous vegetables are a class of low glycemic (gentle on the blood sugar), non-starchy vegetables that are loaded with all sorts of good stuff. 

Take the Brussels sprout for example: a good source of vitamin A, folate, magnesium and iron, and an excellent source of:

  • vitamin K: important for blood clotting, bone strength and reducing inflammation
  • vitamin C: an immune system-booster
  • fiber: 4 grams per cup
  • protein: 4 grams per cup (which is unusually high for veggies)

A noteworthy nugget that’ll have you rushing to the grocery store: Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, two phytochemicals that induce detoxification enzymes and fight oxidative stress, thereby decreasing the risk of certain cancers (most notably colorectal cancer).   

Yes, they can have a bitter taste and “gassy” smell, but that’s due to the presence of sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing isothiocyanate that inhibits the enzymes involved in the progression of certain cancer cells.

Not bad for something that looks like a baby cabbage. 

Roasting is a deliciously wonderful way to reduce the bitterness and gassiness of Brussels sprouts and also brings out their naturally sweet flavor. Check out this week’s recipe pick for Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Resources:

https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/sulforaphane#section=Top
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21535814
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7728983
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7554064
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22578879

 

Mel’s weekly recipe pick: 
Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts

 

 

 

 

 

 

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