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What foods cause flatulence?

Asked by Peter, United States

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I seem to have a pretty bad case of flatulence and have been reading about what foods may be contributing to it. It appears that a lot of my diet could be responsible. How does someone find the right combination of foods when most of my diet is on the "list" and still eat healthy? Not a big meat eater, I'll usually choose fish. I eat mostly (fresh) vegetables, (fresh) fruits and whole grain breads. Any help or suggestions you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Peter. This is a great question as many gas-causing foods are very healthy.

First, if the excess flatulence is something new and you have not changed your diet recently, make sure you don't have any other symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, nausea or new onset constipation, which could signify a more serious health condition that requires evaluation by your doctor.

If you don't have any other symptoms and are in good health, I would start keeping a food journal to try to identify the foods that affect you the most.

Flatulence (gas) is caused by undigested or partially digested foods traveling to the large intestine, where they are fermented (digested and metabolized) by the bacteria that colonize our colon, often producing gas in the process.

According to the American Gastroenterology Association, the most common gas producing foods include: cauliflower, brussels sprouts, dried beans, broccoli, cabbage and bran.

Cooking vegetables (steaming is best to retain nutrients) and soaking and draining beans may help somewhat. If you eat these foods often and find they are strongly associated with gassy symptoms, you may want to consider taking an over-the-counter product like Beano®, which contains a natural enzyme to help break down these foods more effectively.

Eating too much fructose, one of the sugars in fruit, table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, can also cause excess gas as the body can only absorb a certain amount of fructose daily.

Sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice should be reduced as much as possible, and you may want to cut back slightly on fruits that are higher in fructose including apples, pears, bananas and grapes to see if that helps.

Low-calorie sweeteners ending in "ol" (sorbitol, mannitol, etc.) can also cause gas, especially when consumed in larger portions. If you eat packaged foods, especially sugar-free baked goods and candies, check labels carefully and try to cut out these foods for a few weeks to see if flatulence decreases.

Dairy is also a major culprit due to lactose intolerance (a condition in which the body lacks the enzyme to break down milk sugar). If you eat a lot of dairy, I would try eliminating that for a week or two to see if your symptoms improve. If symptoms get better and you want to add dairy back into your diet, use products like Lactaid® designed for people with lactose intolerance. Yogurt contains less lactose than milk so it may be a better option.

If you have taken antibiotics recently and your flatulence subsequently increased, you might want to try taking probiotics or eating a probiotic fortified food for a few weeks.

Antibiotics can change the bacterial flora in your gut, so restoring the flora may help with flatulence. It can be very useful in helping with diarrhea and constipation after taking antibiotics. A trial of probiotics may be worth trying even if you have not taken antibiotics, as there are essentially no side effects and numerous health benefits.

I hope this is helpful as I would hate to see you having to considerably alter what sounds like an incredibly healthy diet.

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