Feeling more gassy than usual?
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Flatulence is totally normal. Embrace it. But sometimes it can be a bit excessive and that’s where the discomfort can come in. We all know that certain foods have a reputation for causing gas ― as the chant goes, “beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you ... ” ― but there are other contributing foods and factors that could be causing problems. And discovering what’s going on can help you get a grip on it.
HuffPost chatted with experts to get to the bottom of tummy troubles. Below is everything you need to know about dealing with gas and why it’s happening in the first place:
Common Reasons Why You’re Experiencing Gas Problems
Your diet and lifestyle can obviously have an impact on how your intestines react. Some of the most common culprits of excessive gas include:
You have an underlying medical condition: According to Russell D. Cohen, a board member of the GI Research Foundation and the director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago, some people with certain medical conditions have worse gas than others. This includes those who live with inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or Colitis and other gastrointestinal issues, he explained, all of which impact the digestive track or intestines.
Your body is not a fan of lactose: John Tsai, a board-certified gastroenterologist with Austin Gastroenterology, said that it is very common to be intolerant to lactose, which is found in items like dairy products.
“For the majority of us, the ability to cleave lactose diminishes as we get older. If too much lactose is in the intestinal tract and not broken down, our gut bacteria finish the digestion process and this, in turn, can cause gas, bloating, pain and diarrhea,” he said, adding that reducing or stopping lactose intake will often result in resolution of these symptoms.
You have a gluten intolerance: “We estimate that 1 to 2 percent of the population may have an allergy to gluten,” Tsai said, adding that the substance, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, can trigger the body’s immune system to cause inflammation and damage primarily to the intestinal tract.
This can lead to diarrhea, bloating, malnutrition and multiple serious health issues. Tsai added that the majority of patients who report an issue with gluten, however, are not allergic to gluten, but rather intolerant to it.
“This can result in the symptoms of gas, bloating, pain and diarrhea,” he said, noting that formal testing can be performed by your doctor to accurately diagnosis a gluten allergy (known as celiac disease) versus a gluten intolerance.
It’s a side effect of a past surgery: Cohen noted that people who’ve had GI surgeries in the past can often experience increased gassiness.
“Imagine your GI system is a pond,” Cohen said. “After you have a GI surgery, that pond gets compromised in the part the surgery occurred ― similar to an area where pond scum gathers. Our GI and bowel systems gather that bacteria in one spot, too, if it the area has been compromised.”
You just gulped some air: Samantha Nazareth, a double-board-certified gastroenterologist practicing in New York City, said that “swallowing air from talking while eating, drinking from a straw or chewing gum” can definitely cause some flatulence.
It’s specific veggies or your beverage: According to Cohen, certain foods can cause your body to expel more gas while digesting them. “Pickled and fermented foods are the No. 1 causes that make you gassier,” he said.
Next in line are cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower, which can be frequent contributors to gas. Beans, of course, are also gas-causing culprits.
Cohen added that carbonated beverages may also cause a build-up of gas in your body. “If you can’t shake it, don’t drink it,” he said.
You’re eating a high FODMAP diet: “There’s a whole class of foods called FODMAPs that are known to cause gas,” Nazareth said.
FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols groups, “essentially are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed and rapidly fermented” in the body, she explained, adding that they can therefore case flatulence. High-FODMAP foods include things like regular milk, dried fruit, artichokes, baked goods made of whole wheat, artificial sweeteners like Xylitol, garlic, onions and cashews.
You’re backed up: “In many cases, people who get constipated often get more gas. This is because your body is literally fermenting that food and feces in your body until your bowels sweep everything out,” Cohen said.
Amanda Nighbert, a registered dietitian based in Kentucky, added that addressing constipation in a healthy way can go a long way in helping you to reduce gas. “Make sure you are getting plenty of water daily, adequate fiber and consider [trying] magnesium citrate if constipation is chronic,” she said. “This is a great, all-natural way to treat and prevent constipation.”
You are eating too fast: Scarfing down your meals and not properly chewing can also increase the likelihood of excess gas or air in your stomach.
“This will make you feel very gassy and bloated,” Nighbert said. In order to work around this, she recommends trying mindful eating and taking a breather in between bites.
You’ve changed up your diet too suddenly: Colene Stoernell, a pediatric GI dietitian who offers nationwide online consultations for clients, said that making healthy food swaps are good, however, switching your diet up too rapidly can definitely lead to gas and bloating.
“Whenever you change your eating habits, your body needs time to adjust,” he said. “One example is deciding to eat more veggies and going from zero to eight servings in a day ― especially the veggies that are known gas producing ones like the cruciferous, broccoli, cauliflower ― which are high in fructans and can cause bloating and gas in sensitive individuals.”
It could be certain additives in foods: Attention fans of sweeteners in their coffee. Consuming a lot of sugar alcohols ― like Xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol ― and inulin ― such as chicory root ― may be to blame.
“The food industry has been adding these items to more and more foods, like ice cream and protein bars, and if you are not used to them or sensitive to them, they can cause a lot of gas and discomfort,” Stoernell said. She added that inulin and sugar alcohols are not absorbed well in the body and can ferment in the gut, which in turn can cause gas and bloating.
How Do You Deal With it?
According to Tsai, gas pains are typically not a sign of a serious medical condition, although the symptoms can be a nuisance that can interfere with daily life and cause embarrassment.
Cohen added that if gassiness is combined with other symptoms, you should see a GI specialist. “Those symptoms include vomiting, blood in stool, fevers or illness, sudden weight loss, and for kids, a key symptom is a loss of height growth or weight gain,” he said.
And here are a few other ways you can troubleshoot gas in your everyday life, according to Nazareth:
- “Get regular exercises and movement to keep things moving along, as moving stimulates the movement in the intestines called peristalsis,” she said.
- Avoid eating too much and late at night.
- Eliminate FODMAPs for up to eight weeks. Once gassiness goes away, then gradually reintroduce each category one at a time to determine if you can tolerate a specific fermentable carbohydrate. This would be better facilitated with a health care provider, she added.
- Practice mindful eating, which means coming to the present moment of mealtime. First, identify if you are hungry and eat then, Nazareth said. Sometimes we eat when we are bored, sad or stressed. Take a breath before eating, and also take the time to notice what the food’s texture, smell and lastly the taste. Take the time to chew your food down and only focus on the task of eating.(So no scrolling on social media feeds at the same time, Nazareth said.)
“If, after all of those attempts, gassiness persists, then you should be evaluated by a physician,” Nazareth added.
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CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the name of irritable bowel syndrome as inflammatory bowel syndrome.