We’ve all been there—we eat something that just doesn’t sit right and, before we know it, we’re trying our very best to hold in uncomfortable gas building up in our stomachs. There’s no denying that this can be an awkward and, oftentimes, embarrassing experience. It can even be painful, depending on how much gas we have trapped in our stomachs.
Put simply, gas is created during the digestion process, which occurs some 25 to 75 minutes after we have a meal. “Bacteria work on the food in the large intestine creating by-products like hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane which leave your body,” explains Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian and Wall Street Journal best selling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook. “Another way our body creates gas is when we swallow air while eating and drinking.”
Unfortunately, some of us are more prone to experiencing gas than others, especially those suffering from lactose intolerance or certain digestive conditions like gastroparesis, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Also, Sharon Palmer, R.D., of The Plant-Powered Dietitian, points out that, with age, it is common to have more gas, as the digestive process slows down. “As you get older, you may have less acid in your stomach to help you digest foods,” she says.
The foods you eat in your diet can also have an impact on gas. “Foods that cause gas are mostly those that contain carbohydrates, as the bacteria in the gut work on those foods,” says Palmer. “This is actually a good thing, as you need to eat a diet rich in fibers in order to feed those gut microbes, which have many important functions, such as decreasing inflammation through short chain fatty acid production, digesting food for nutrients, and boosting the immune system.”
If you’re looking to avoid gas (who isn’t?), consider reducing your intake or switching up how you eat these foods, according to nutrition pros.
As the saying goes, beans are good for your heart, but they make you… You get where we’re going with this. “Beans contain a complex sugar (raffinose) that is typically broken down by the gut bacteria in the large intestine leading to gas,” says Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., registered dietitian nutritionist and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. To minimize the effect, she recommends soaking beans overnight before cooking them. “You may find enzyme products like Beano to be helpful,” she adds.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale are undeniably good for you. They’re jam-packed with a wide range of nutrients like folate and vitamin K and have also been linked to potentially even lowering the risk of certain cancers. Unfortunately, they can also cause gas. “Especially Brussel sprouts can be tougher on the body because of a carbohydrate they contain called raffinose, which humans cannot digest,” explains Amidor. “The bacteria in the large intestine breaks them down which results in by-product gasses including hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide.” She recommends first boiling the Brussel sprouts and then roasting or sautéing to help reduce the gas.
Drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners (specifically sorbitol) tend to create gas in some individuals, according to Amidor. “The sugar alcohol can lead to a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps,” she says. If you aren’t sure if you’re sensitive to this sugar substitute, she recommends trying a small amount and seeing how you do. “Sometimes it depends on how much you take in,” she says. “If any amount bothers you, you may want to choose foods and beverages made without it.”
Dairy foods containing lactose (milk, cheese, yogurt) cause flatulence, bloating and distention for many people because they do not produce adequate amounts of the enzyme lactase, explains Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., C.H.W.C., Virginia-based dietitian and creator of The Prediabetes Meal Planning Crash Course. She recommends limiting your intake of dairy to small amounts—say 1/2 cup milk —and seeing if you’re without distress. “Another option is to have lactose-free milk, cheeses and other dairy products,” she says. “Natural hard cheeses, by the way, have little to no lactose, so they’re a great alternative for a cheese lover!”
High-fiber diet can produce gas, but a high-fiber diet is good for you, notes Palmer, as it can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. “Americans tend to eat very low-fiber diets on average, and when they try to start eating a healthier plant-based diet, many report having issues with gas,” she says. “A slower increase of fiber can help, as well as taking time to get used to that much fiber in the diet.” She recommends gradually introducing fiber-rich foods into your diet and making sure you’re drinking a lot of water, as fiber can absorb it, which can cut down on gas.