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Getting Past Passing Gas: How to Reduce or Eliminate the Problem No One Discusses, Flatulence

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 10 to 18 passages per day are normal. Despite its apparent popularity, passing gas is something that is almost never discussed ... except among the elementary school crowd. Which means, for the millions of Americans who suffer from excess gas and bloating from time to time, they're suffering largely in silence (or so they hope).

The Flatulence Factor

Flatulence is, of course, related to the foods we eat. It occurs when a food does not get completely broken down in the stomach and small intestine. The food then reaches the large intestine in this undigested state, and bacteria there get to work, essentially breaking the morsel down further.

When it comes to gas, foods affect everyone differently

This process actually ferments the material, which produces a mixture of gasses: carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, and sometimes hydrogen sulfide (the tell-tale odor we think of when we think of gas).

This is why people with digestive disorders including irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, as well as those with food allergies, often experience gas as a side effect.

For instance, in the case of a relatively common food allergy, lactose intolerance, the person lacks an intestinal enzyme to break down lactose. The lactose then passes, undigested, into the large intestine where gas is produced by the bacteria trying to break it down.

The digestion of our food is a complex matter, though, and many other factors can influence how well (or how poorly) this process occurs. Factors that can affect this, and influence how much gas is produced, include:

  • How well your digestive enzymes work
  • How much air is swallowed
  • How many bacteria live in your gut (as well as the ratio of good to bad bacteria)
  • How well the bacteria in your gut is adapted to dietary fiber
  • How long food takes to move through the colon
  • Medical issues including irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, celiac disease, etc.

How to Get Past Your Gas

Don't give up on healthy fruits and veggies.

Traditionally, one of the top recommendations, including from the American College of Gastroenterology, to keep gas to a minimum is to identify gas-forming foods in your diet, then avoid or reduce them. Foods that are typically considered to be highly suspect include:

  • Broccoli
  • Baked beans and other beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Onions

However, some experts are now saying that avoiding these foods, particularly those that are high in fiber, may be a driving force behind the gas.

That's because by avoiding high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, when even a small amount is eaten the body doesn't know how to compensate for it. Hence, gas is produced. The solution is to be sure to include these foods in your diet regularly, but make the initial transition very slowly.

"It's not the foods themselves, but the body's reaction to them that causes the problem," says Karen Collins, R.D., nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). "And that, we can largely control. There are a host of small changes people can make in how they cook, eat and live that will help eliminate side effects like bloating and gas."

It's important to include these high-fiber foods in your diet not only from a gas-busting perspective, but also because they are key dietary foods to preventing cancer and a host of other chronic diseases.

How to Reintroduce High-Fiber (Potentially Gas-Causing) Foods

"The most important thing is to give the body a chance to adapt to an increase in fiber," says Collins. "And there are several ways to help your body make the adjustment."

She recommends taking it one food at a time. Start by eating just one piece of fruit (you may want to peel it initially) or one serving of a vegetable. See how it goes. When you feel OK eating that, move on to another food, and so on.

Other tips to prevent gas and still eat healthy foods include:

  • Initially, cook your fruits and vegetables. "In part, cooking does what our digestive enzymes do--it softens the walls of cellulose fiber in plant foods and starts to break down sugars," says Collins.

  • Drink plenty of fluids--this will help move food through the colon.

  • Exercise--this also helps keep food moving.

  • Use spices that are known to prevent and relieve flatulence, such as ginger, fennel, turmeric, coriander, peppermint, sage and chamomile.

Recommended Reading

Fiber: Everything You Need to Know, Including the Best Fiber Sources, to Fight Heart Disease, Obesity, Diabetes and More

The Remarkable Anti-Toxin, Cancer-Fighting Power of Cruciferous Vegetables


Health Orbit August 10, 2005

American College of Gastroenterology Gas

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