BY Alyse

The Gas We Pass

Whether or not one admits to it, everyone has been guilty of “passing gas” at one time or another. Despite the fact that “letting one out” has a terrible social stigma and can be quite embarrassing, it is actually an extremely common, normal phenomenon. In fact, most people produce about 1-4 pints of gas a day and “pass gas” about 14 times a day! Although everyone produces gas, some people produce more gas than others; this is likely due to the foods and beverages they consume and “how” they eat.

Nutrition Facts and Figures

What is gas composed of and what causes gas?
Gas is made primarily of odorless vapors (carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane). When one’s flatulence has an unpleasant odor it is due to certain bacteria in the large intestine that release gases containing foul-smelling sulfur.

Gas comes from two sources: swallowed air and the breakdown of certain foods.

*Swallowed air: Air swallowing is a very common cause of gas and occurs to some degree every time one eats or drinks. However, eating/drinking quickly, chewing gum, and smoking are all positively correlated with the degree of air swallowed and therefore the amount of gas produced. While some of this gas is released through burping, the rest of the gas travels to the large intestine and is released through the other end.

*Normal breakdown of certain undigested foods: While most foods are completely digested and absorbed by the body, not all carbohydrates are fully broken down and absorbed due to a lack or shortage of certain enzymes. These undigested carbohydrates may include certain sugars, starches, and fiber. Undigested carbohydrates travel through the body to the large intestine where “good” bacteria break them down and produce gas, which then leaves the body through the rectum.

Which foods commonly cause gas?
While fats and proteins cannot cause gas, many carbohydrates can. Certain sugars, starches, and fiber are likely culprits of gas formation. Also, certain liquids can contribute to gas formation. Below is a list of typical gas-producing foods:

  • Vegetables (Cabbage, sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, eggplant, radishes, cauliflower, cucumbers, peas, celery, carrots, onions, rutabaga, turnips)
  • Fruits (Apples, pears, melons, peaches, bananas, apricots, raisins, prune juice, citrus fruits, fruit juices)
  • Starches (Dried beans, peas, and lentils, whole grains, potatoes, corn, pasta, and wheat)
  • Sugar Alcohols (Sorbitol or xylitol)
  • Carbonated beverages (Any type of soda)
  • Alcohol (Beer, red wine)
  • High-fat diets (tend to cause more gas because the stomach delays the emptying of food into the small intestine)
  • Fructose, if a person malabsorbs fructose
  • Lactose, if a person is lactose intolerant (common cause of gas)

Note: While there are certain foods that are common gas offenders, not all foods that produce gas in one person may cause gas in another. This variation is due to some people having certain bacteria in their large intestine that destroy the gas that other bacteria produce! One’s unique balance of gas-producing bacteria and gas-eliminating bacteria is likely what explains why some people have more gas than others.

How can you decrease gas production?
If you are one who regularly suffers from uncomfortable and embarrassing gas, what can you do to decrease your gas production? The most common remedies include changing your diet, taking medicines and reducing the amount of air swallowed.

*Change your diet– While it would seem obvious to omit all of the above listed common gas-producing culprits, this is not always a great idea since it means cutting out a wide range of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk products. Rather, you should try to eliminate foods one at a time that likely cause gas,  so that you can determine the food offenders.

*Non-prescription medications– Digestive enzymes, such as lactase supplements, may relieve gas for those with lactose intolerance when taken just before eating foods that contain lactose. Antacids, such as Mylanta and Maalox, contain simethicone, which can help eliminate gas in the stomach. However, these products have no effect on intestinal gas. Beano is an over-the-counter medication that can help digest the sugar in beans and many vegetables. However, Beano has no effect on gas caused by lactose or fiber.

*Reduce swallowed air– In order to reduce the amount of air you swallow, avoid chewing gum and eating hard candy. Eat at a slow pace because gulping down food and beverages adds large amounts of air into the stomach. Do not sip beverages through straws, or drink from bottles with narrow mouths. Avoid foods that contain air, such as carbonated beverages or whipped cream, and fizzy medicines, such as Alka-seltzer.

Alyse’s Advice

Even though gas can be very uncomfortable and quite embarrassing, it is not life threatening; rather gas is actually very normal. Gas is created by two main sources: swallowed air and the normal breakdown of certain foods by bacteria in the large intestine. Those who suffer from uncomfortable gas pains may find relief by changing their diet, using nonprescription medicines, and reducing the amount of air swallowed.