fruits and vegetables

Diet and fitness experts are creating a class of healthy outcasts–people you wouldn’t want to mingle with after meals. Their enthusiasm for grains, beans, fruits and vegetables is commendable, but friends and loved ones may have to suffer the consequences.

The problem is gas.

Loud, smelly, socially unacceptable emissions (flatulence) are an unwelcome result of many heart healthy diets. Beans are blamed most often, but many other foods, especially heart healthy vegetables, can contribute as well.

Women are often encouraged to drink extra milk to boost calcium intake. That is especially true these days, now that calcium supplements have come under fire for increasing the risk of cardiovascular complications. We have heard from a surprising number of people that dairy products cause them substantial gas trouble.

It’s not nutritionally correct to mention the forbidden fart topic, but it is becoming more common as people embrace cauliflower, broccoli and onions, not to mention apples, radishes and raisins.

Men can get away with a certain level of crudeness, but women are often mortified by flatulence. Mrs. P. has confided to us that her cholesterol-lowering diet has made socializing a lot more difficult. She eats high-fiber cereals at breakfast, but that is just the start of her digestive woes. Here is her story:

“After listening to your advice on irritable bowel and gas, I did detective work and decided that milk and cruciferous vegetables and beans were part of my problem. I am using Dairy Ease and Beano and they help; however, I wonder if these products are similar or if there are times I should take both during the same meal.

“Suppose I ate a cheese sandwich and bean soup for lunch. Which one should I take? Is it alright to take them together? How does yogurt figure into the lactose intolerant diet?  Since I have decreased my intake of dairy products, I have not been able to find out if the cultures in yogurt eliminate the problem with digestion. My lunches usually involve whole grain bread and salad. I always try to include vegetables and legumes like lentils or peas for supper. Help!”

Because of her dietary diligence, Mrs, P. wrote that she ends up passing gas most evenings and feels bloated and uncomfortable. This can ruin an evening at the movies or a gathering with friends.

People don’t have to become hermits just because they’ve chosen to eat healthfully.

Foods that bother one person may not cause any problem for another. Our friend Roger is undone by onions and peanuts. Diane has no trouble with onions but bagels, broccoli and cabbage are her nemesis.

The best way to know what foods can do you in is to keep a diary. This flatulographic record should track the foods you eat and the number of times you pass gas. You may be surprised with the results. Who would think of pretzels as a prime suspect? Yet some people react badly to this treat. Many others find they cannot handle milk or dairy products.

Once you have identified the culprits you can try eliminating them from your diet. But if they are such healthy foods that you don’t want to give them up, there are other solutions. Beano contains the enzyme alpha galactosidase. This is supposed to break down the complex sugars in beans, grains and many vegetables. Without these undigested carbohydrates to ferment, intestinal bacteria produce far less gas.

People who lack the enzyme lactase have a hard time digesting milk sugar. For them, dairy products can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Many find that adding the enzyme in the form of Lactaid, Lactrase or Dairy Ease can make a difference.

We have prepared a brochure that tells how to know which foods cause the most discomfort. Here is something you probably never realized. Many medications can also cause flatulence. Drugs like fenofibrate, naproxen, oxybutynin and sertraline are just a few fart-producing drugs. Our guide includes a list of others. It also includes ways to control gas. You will learn more about Beano, Pepto-Bismol and herbs such as fennel to control flatulence. Find out how celiac disease and gluten intolerance also contribute. The pamphlet also discusses indigestion and heartburn, names foods and drugs that can aggravate heartburn, and describes successful treatments. Here is a link to our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

It may be possible to plan ahead for social events and avoid the worst offenders. Remember, though, common sense, moderation and over-the-counter enzymes can go a long way toward salvaging your social life.

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  1. mmc

    Dear Drs. Graedons: My problem is tripled. I have lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and recently had my gall bladder removed.
    I have found that I could control most of the wheat and milk problem, with little gas but the absent gall bladder has kicked the “fart” PROBLEM INTO OVERDRIVE!” Anything I previously enjoyed has become questionable and off-limits.
    It is very frustrating at this point, but one thing does seems to help me some and that is greek yogurt! Oh yes, heartburn has become a side-effect of my missing gall bladder, too. I take Caltrate as I understand it can help with the loose bowels. Is there any meds for the gall bladder problem?

  2. KB

    I thought a small amount of gas in humans was normal. But now I think differently. Animals ferment their foods in the gut and pass gas. If I eat grains especially with gluten or drink cow milk (not goat milk) I have gas. So I don’t do either. I eat mostly meats, sprouted nuts and seeds and a few other type items and have NO gas. Should tell us something!

  3. Donnie

    I have Celiac, and if I accidentally eat something containing gluten, it can cause me to clear a room in nothing flat. I avoid some of the other smell producing foods, too. Not because of gas, but because they also cause smelly perspiration, breath, urine, etc. Broccoli/cabbage, onion/garlic and other high sulfur foods are major culprits. So is red meat, some herbs/spices. B-vitamins can also lead to strong odors.

  4. rh

    Mrs. P. asked if Beano and Lactaid tablets may be taken together and you did not answer the question; I was looking forward to the answer. Thanks for your wonderful newsletter.

  5. Gin

    Lactose May not be the problem, I am sensitive to casein in milk. A wee bit causes all those ugly symptoms you mention. Even non dairy products may contain casein, such as non dairy coffee creamer. Before I knew about that trap, I was using those products, I was needing to pee constantly, I began to be think hmmm, read the label and discovered casein was listed, so non dairy does not always mean what it says. I excluded the creamer, problem solved.

  6. Sue Y

    If milk bothers, try Almond Milk. It is very tasty and has twice the calcium of dairy. Really good on cereal. If I have a recipe that calls for milk I will buy a pint of milk for that.

  7. betty

    My dad, a farmer, was born in 1914. He used to say, and firmly believed, “A farting horse will never tire; a farting man is the man to hire.”

  8. DB

    I had this problem. It was greatly reduced (not completely eliminated) by doing a gut restoration program–I used Dr. Junger’s program from his Clean Gut book, with a couple of modifications. I had the most problems with the cabbage family–kale, bok choy, cabbage, etc.–and legumes. I can now eat those foods in moderation but I never eat fruit or sugars at the same meal as legumes–no traditional baked beans with molasses, for instance.

  9. Jen

    This comment may be more about calcium intake than flatulence from dairy products. Still, it might be helpful to some who have problems with dairy products. I do eat Greek yogurt (tastes good, high in protein, no flatulence problem for me), but have milk only in my morning coffee.
    My PCP suggested almond milk for my calcium since it is higher in calcium than milk. I drink the no-added sugar variety and think/hope that it is helping with the osteopenia. If dairy related flatulence is a problem, it might be worth a try. Almond milk tastes good and not especially like almonds, by the way.

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