Why a Healthy Diet Can Cause Gas
Colorful fruits and veggies may do a body good, but they’re not exactly easy on the digestive tract. But don’t let excessive gas scare you away from a healthy diet. Try these tips to help ease digestion.
Fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains are the staples of good nutrition, but if you’ve recently ramped up your diet, you may not have been prepared for the unpleasant side effect of excessive gas.
It’s no coincidence, however. Some of the healthiest foods are also foods that cause gas.
Why is this? It all comes down to carbohydrates, says Toby Smithson, RDN, LDN, CDE, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Complex carbohydrates — carbohydrates made up of more than one sugar unit — are called oligosaccharides, and the oligosaccharides called raffinose, stachiose, and verbicose are found in legumes, such as beans. “The bacteria that live in our guts love these oligosaccharides,” she says, “and when they consume them, the bacteria produce nitrogen gas, which we release as flatulence.”
Foods that contain complex carbohydrates — including beans, whole grains, and cruciferous vegetables — are also high in fiber. And a high-fiber diet can certainly be to blame for excessive flatulence and belching.
“Fiber isn’t digested and absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract,” Smithson says. “People will experience more gas buildup because of the fermentation of fiber or other non-digested carbohydrates in the large intestine.”
So if you’re suddenly eating much more fiber than usual — maybe you’re trying to lower your cholesterol or you’re switching to a vegetarian diet — you’re going to feel it in your gut.
Foods that often cause gas can include veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage; fruits like peaches, apples, and pears; and whole grains like bran. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt may trigger excessive gas in people with dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance.
Keep Reaping the Benefits of Fiber
Still, don’t overlook the importance of a high-fiber diet and the value of eating fiber-rich foods, even with their potential to cause gas. “Fiber-containing foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are nutrient-dense, which means they’re chock-full of nutrients for the calories they provide,” Smithson says.
High-fiber foods are healthy for everyone, and especially for people with chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. More and more evidence confirms that fiber intake is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a review of 22 studies published in the December 2013 edition of BMJ.
“Foods that are high in a particular fiber called soluble fiber are heart-healthy and help with blood sugar control,” she says. “This type of fiber acts like a sponge by absorbing bad cholesterol and excreting it from the body.” Soluble fiber also helps decrease how much glucose (sugar) is absorbed from the food you eat, which can help control blood sugar.
Over time, eating a high-fiber diet can actually improve gastrointestinal function by helping to keep you regular. “Another great health benefit of foods higher in fiber is that the insoluble fiber components contribute to the ‘exit factor,’” Smithson says. “These foods increase the volume and transit time of your stool, which can help reduce constipation.”
Getting Rid of Excessive Gas
You don’t have to suffer through excessive gas and bloating just to get the health benefits of a healthy diet, however. There are many things you can do to help keep gas under control while still eating well.
Try these tips to help ease gas:
- Slowly ease into a high-fiber diet, gradually increasing your fiber intake over a period of a few months.
- Stick to small portions of foods that can cause gas. This will help your digestive tract get used to digesting them.
- As you increase your fiber intake, also be sure to increase your water consumption. “Drinking more water will help decrease the effects of both intestinal gas and constipation,” Smithson says.
- Before cooking dry beans, allow them to soak overnight in water, then drain and rinse them before cooking in fresh water. “The water the beans have been soaked in will contain much of the gas-producing carbohydrate,” Smithson says. “When using canned beans, rinse the beans, draining the liquid to help remove some of the gas-producing carbohydrates.
- Cut down on sugar-free products, which contain sugar alcohols. “Sugar alcohols are poorly digested and absorbed, and therefore can be gas-forming,” Smithson says.
A healthy diet offers many benefits, but excessive gas can be a problem. By following these tips to curb it, you can eat healthy, high-fiber foods without worrying about gas.