Here’s how your digestive process works along with 10 foods that give you the worst gas, plus tips to enjoy your favorites without cutting them out of your diet.
Few things are more uncomfortable than realizing your lunch is giving you a bad case of gas. But if this comes as any comfort, the amount of gas most of us experience is normal and to be expected. "Everyone has gas in their colon, and everyone passes gas every day," says Jennifer Katz, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Montefiore Medical Center. "Most people who complain about excess gas don't necessarily have more than everyone else. They're more sensitive to it."
The average person passes gas 10 to 20 times a day. But, depending on the foods you eat and whether you suffer from certain medical conditions, you may find yourself on the higher end of the spectrum and letting one loose more often. Here's how your digestive process works and a list of 10 foods that give you the worst gas — plus tips to enjoy your favorites without cutting them out of your diet.
The Digestive Process and Gas
First things first, there are different components of gas. "Some of it is from bacterial fermentation of the food that we eat, and some of it is air that we swallow," explains Dr. Katz. When you eat, your stomach mechanically churns food, which enzymes and bacteria in your bowels break into smaller bits. Those bacteria release some carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane gases during the process, which can build up in your stomach, small intestine and colon.
Malabsorption of certain compounds found in some foods — mostly carbs or sugars, including lactose, fructose, sorbitol, soluble fiber, raffinose and fructans — can also lead to gas, explains Katz. "Part of these sugars are going undigested into the colon, where they're fermented. Gas results from the fermentation process.
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Check in With Your Doctor or Dietician
Gastrointestinal symptoms that always warrant a visit to a doctor include gas that wakes you up at night, weight loss, blood in your stool, fever, vomiting or diarrhea. And if gas is simply making you uncomfortable, don't hesitate to check in. "There's nothing embarrassing about bringing it up with your doctor," says Dr. Katz. A registered dietitian or your doctor can help zero in on the offending food and make sure that you're not missing out on any essential nutrients if you need to adjust your diet. Your doctor can also spot any medical conditions that result in excess gas, including constipation, IBS, celiac disease and bacterial overgrowth (usually due to abdominal surgery or antibiotics).
And now... on to the foods that give you the worst gas.
Read more: What Foods Naturally Relieve Gas?
1. Protein Powders and Bars
Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, used to sweeten sugar-free foods like protein powders or bars, are a major gas culprit. "With a lot of my clients dealing with bloating or gas, one of the most common causes is sugar alcohols or any ingredient that ends in '-ol,'" explains nutritionist Christy Brisette, RD, founder of 80 Twenty Nutrition. These ingredients serve up a sweet taste with about half the calories by altering your ability to absorb them. "You're not digesting part of the sugar alcohol, and they're making their way into your colon, where they generate some gas and sometimes cramping or abdominal discomfort," she says. If you're not ready to give up sweeteners, Brisette suggests opting for stevia products, which tend to produce less bloating and gas. Or make bars at home using dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
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When your body doesn't produce enough lactase enzyme to break down lactose, a sugar in dairy products, into smaller molecules, you get gas, bloating and diarrhea. "It's an issue for a lot of people," says Brisette. As many as 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, according to the National Institutes of Health, and we're all a bit more likely to have troubles digesting dairy as we get older.
Fortunately, some people who can't handle milk and ice cream can eat yogurt and cheese, which have lower lactose levels due to processing. Otherwise, try lactose-free milk, which contains added lactase enzyme, or a dairy alternative like soy, almond, coconut or pea milks. "Just make sure to choose one that's fortified with calcium and vitamin D to get the health benefits of milk," says Brisette. Or talk to your doctor about popping a lactase pill before chowing down on dairy-containing foods.
3. Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage all contain raffinose, another type of sugar that can be tough to break down. Eat too much and you can end up with a ton of bloating, cramping and pain, warns Brisette.
If you find you are sensitive to these types of veggies, Brisette suggests lightly steaming or sauteing them, since cooking breaks down raffinose and helps your body to better absorb some nutrients (like the vitamin A in broccoli). Stick to a maximum of one cup per serving if you find more makes you gassy. And diversify your veggie intake: Instead of loading up on a plate full of Brussels sprouts at dinner, add a colorful salad with easier-to-digest greens, peppers, tomatoes and beets.
Read more: Do Cruciferous Veggies Help You Lose Belly Fat?
4. Beans and Legumes
"Some people avoid beans because they're worried about gas. But your body can get used to them," says Brisette. Beans can make you gassy because they're high in soluble fiber, which can be tough on your system if you aren't used to it. "Start with half a cup at a time and see how you do, and then slowly increase the serving size," she suggests.
A second culprit in beans is the sugar raffinose; cooking them well helps reduce this gas-producing compound. Thoroughly rinse and boil canned beans on the stovetop or heat them in the microwave. Soak dried beans in water overnight and rinse well before cooking. Another trick: seaweed, which helps your body digest raffinose. Sprinkle seaweed flakes over stews and chili for a salty flavor, or crumble nori sheets over tofu or edamame.
Read more: Is Dried Seaweed Good for You?
5. Bran and Wheat Germ
Swapping white rice and bread for 100 percent whole grains is always a good idea. Whole grains help stabilize blood sugar, serve up fiber that keeps your digestive tract healthy and boast phytonutrients that may even protect against cancer. But adding any new high-fiber food to your diet can make you really bloated if you're not used to it. "Any time you increase fiber quickly, it can shock your system," says Brisette.
"Your body needs to acclimate because fiber creates bulk and moves things through your system quickly." Instead, switch up your diet slowly by exchanging one food at a time. And be sure to drink plenty of water to keep your stool moist so it passes quickly and you don't have dry fiber sitting in your colon that can cause discomfort and bloating.
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6. Apples, Peaches, Pears and Cherries
Heard of the FODMAP diet? The "F" in FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, including fructose (fructans), a potentially hard-to-digest sugar found in fruits like apples, peaches, pears, cherries, mangoes and watermelon. Most of these fruits are also high in fiber — a double-whammy for your gut.
The idea of the FODMAP elimination diet is to temporarily cut out offending foods, then add them back in slowly to determine your limits. Brisette advises clients to fill up for a while on low-fructose options like cantaloupe, bananas, strawberries and oranges. If doing so helps control gas and bloating, slowly add smaller amounts of high-fructose fruits back into your daily routine until you find they start to cause issues. "Sometimes it's all about the amount. You'll find you can do an apple a day, but not a big bowl of cherries too," she says.
Read more: The 10 Worst Foods for Bloating
7. Garlic and Onions
Do garlicky or oniony foods make you gassy? Thank fructans once again. Because so many recipes begin with these two ingredients, it can be tough to cut them from your diet, but you don't necessarily have to. Cooking helps reduce hard-to-digest compounds. If even cooked garlic and onions offend your tummy, try skipping them entirely for a couple of weeks. If that helps, add half a garlic clove or a quarter of an onion back into your recipes, then a bit more the next time, to test your limits.
And after all of that, if your body still can't handle garlic and/or onions, experiment with other herbs and spices. Brisette suggests making a "mirepoix" using fennel and carrots sauteed in olive oil. Or add whole garlic cloves to olive oil, saute and remove the clove to infuse the oil with flavor minus the offending fructans.
Read more: Fermented Foods Have So Many Health Benefits
8. Fried Foods
Lots of people find that greasy foods inevitably lead to gas and bloating. "Fat slows down your digestion," says Brisette. "If a heavy, greasy meal feels like a rock in your stomach, that's kind of what's happening."
Because fats take longer for your body to digest, they stay in your GI tract longer, causing distending, discomfort and nausea. "Reducing fat can prevent food from hanging around, so you feel lighter and more energetic," she explains. So instead of ordering the deep-fried fish, opt for lower-fat cooking methods like pan-searing or baking. And ask for fatty sauces and butter on the side to help keep your portions under your control.
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While you'll spot the gluten-free fad in diets from the Whole30 to the keto diet, foregoing gluten is more than just a trend: It's essential for the 1 percent of people with celiac disease. What's more, "there's another subset of people who seem to have non-celiac gluten intolerance," says Brisette. "When they have foods with gluten, they feel lethargic, get headaches and experience gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea," she says.
If you have similar symptoms every time you eat gluten-containing foods like wheat bread, rye, barley or pasta, Brisette recommends switching to gluten-free whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice) or sweet potatoes for two to three weeks. "If you replace gluten foods with those items and the gas and bloating doesn't get better, you know something else is going on," she says.
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10. Soda and Fruit Juice
This one might seem obvious, but there are more reasons these beverages cause gas than you may think. Carbonated beverages like cola and sparkling water trap air in your digestive system, causing belching and gas. But regular soda and many fruit juices are also loaded with gas-causing fructose, and diet drinks serve up sugar alcohols that can also lead to bloat.
The concentrated amounts of syrups in these drinks combined with the carbonation can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so try sticking to plain water or water infused with fruit or herbs as much as possible. "I have quite a few clients who didn't need to touch their diet and found that switching to still water is enough," says Brisette.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down On Sugar
What Do YOU Think?
Do you avoid any of these foods because they cause gas? Which foods cause you the most distress? Let us know in the comments below!