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Crew Life

Air bubbles, gut bacteria can be managed to curb intestinal gas


Barn burner. Cut the cheese. Thunder from down under. These are just a few of the 150 phrases to describe intestinal gas, according to Dan DiSorbo and Ben Applebaum, authors of The Fart Tootorial: Farting Fundamentals, Master Blaster Techniques, and the Complete Toot Taxonomy, published by Chronicle Books, in 2013.

These masters of the gas we pass certainly wrote a book that’s guaranteed to churn out a few chuckles. However, intestinal gas – the belly pain, potential frequency after eating certain foods and most of all fragrance – isn’t so funny when you’re working in close quarters on a yacht.

The two major causes of intestinal gas are swallowing air and gut bacteria that produce these vapors during digestion. We swallow air in any number of ways: eating too fast or talking while eating, gulping beverages through a straw, drinking carbonated drinks, sucking on hard candies and chewing gum.

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and dried cooked beans are among the foods most associated with causing excessive intestinal gas. Photo by Carol Bareuther

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and dried cooked beans are among the foods most associated with causing excessive intestinal gas. Photo by Carol Bareuther

On the digestion front, gas forms when the naturally occurring bacteria in our digestive tract feast on food present in the large intestine or colon after a meal. Bacteria especially like carbohydrates such as sugars, starches and dietary fiber that don’t get fully digested. These microscopic organisms feed on these materials and in turn produce gasses such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen sulfide. The only way to curb this is a change in diet.

So which foods put too much wind in your sails? Some of the most common are vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and onions. Fruits such as apples, peaches and pears as well as dried cooked beans are other culprits likely to cause a bit of colon bowlin’.

Not everyone’s bodies react to these foods in the same way. Since fruits and vegetables, especially so-called gassy cruciferous vegetables, are highly nutritious, don’t eliminate them automatically from your diet. Instead, when you notice a problem with gas, keep of record of what you ate in the 4 to 6 hours before. This can give clues as the true foods you’ll need to cut down on or eat only at certain times.

Dried cooked beans are so famous for causing flatulence they’ve earned their own rhyme: “Beans, beans are good for the heart. The more you eat, the more you … “. A 2011 study by researchers at Arizona State University showed that some beans have more power in this respect than others. Namely, pinto beans and baked beans were gassier than black-eyed peas.

In general, it is the starches called oligosaccharides that intestinal bacteria really feast on that makes beans as well as dried peas and lentils more guilty of gas. The good news for bean lovers is that there is a way to cook beans without encouraging those starches.

To do this, mix 1/8th teaspoon of baking soda into enough water to soak a pound of beans. Soak beans at room temperature for at least 8 to 10 hours or overnight. The natural fermentation process that happens during soaking also helps to reduce the carbs. Finally, slow cook beans in a crock pot over several hours. This method will assure less gas. Drain and rinse the liquid off canned beans before cooking.

Milk and dairy products can create gas in those of us who are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the natural sugar found in dairy foods. Drinking lactose-free milk such as Lact-Aid can stop this problem in its tracks.

Finally, foods that contain sugar alcohols can be a problem. Sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol are all found in sugar-free foods. This fact became abundantly clear to a friend who thought sucking on hard sugarless candies would help to calm her noisy digestive tract. These sweets produced a profoundly opposite effect. You could say she had a bad case of the bottom burps.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Contact her through

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