Do you suffer from excessive gas, rumbling bowels, ceaseless burping, uncomfortable flatus, unexplained diarrhea, and periodic constipation?
The doctor, having excluded sinister conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and bowel cancer, will usually tell you that you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is not only confusing for the patient but it’s also difficult for the doctor to treat. Suffice to say, whether bloating is due to IBS or not, food choices matter.
So, what do you eat that may be causing you such discomfort? Well, many foods, even those considered to be healthful, can cause bloating.
What is bloating?
Is the presence of excessive amounts of gas in the digestive tract (stomach and intestines), sometimes to the point of producing discomfort. This discomfort manifests in various ways, some of which include: burping, stomach pains, and cramping, and passing too much gas.
Interestingly, some of these causes are not even food, but just behavior and lifestyle choices that we take for granted. Furthermore, not all foods that cause excessive gas and bloating do so in everyone. For instance, take the case of milk, some people are okay with it, but if you are like me, drinking milk may result in bloating.
Is it normal to have gas in the stomach and intestines?
Yes, gas is normal. Excessive gas that makes you feel bloated is not normal. We all produce gas during the process of digestion.
Our large intestines are teeming with life, in the form of bacteria. They are a normal and highly beneficial part of us. These bacteria ferment part of the sugar in our diet. They do this to, well, stay alive.
A byproduct of this process is gas, mostly in the form of hydrogen.
What causes excessive gas and bloating?
Know Your FODMAPs
FODMAPs stands for ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols’. It’s a mouthful. But it’s just a fancy way of saying carbohydrates, mostly sugars, which are fermentable. That is, fermentable by gut bacteria. In most instances, these are sugars that we cannot break down by normal digestive mechanisms.
Here is a list of some of the FODMAPs and their food sources:
- Fructose: Apples, apricots, dates, blackberries, canned fruit, honey, and high fructose corn syrup.
- Lactose: Milk and its products; ice cream, fresh cheeses, whey protein supplements.
- Fructans (inulin): broccoli, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bread, pasta, most breakfast cereals, crackers, biscuits, onion, and garlic.
- Galactans: baked beans, soybeans, lentils, and other legumes.
- Polyols: sweeteners containing sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol. This category also includes fruits like avocado, cherries, nectarines, and plums.
Note that the above list is not exhaustive. Read about the low-FODMAP diet to learn more.
Looking at the list above, I think it’s self-evident that trying to go on a completely FODMAP-free diet would be an impossibility.
Not everyone is sensitive to all these food options. However, people with IBS, for instance, may experience an exacerbation of symptoms after eating some of these foods.
I don’t want to pontificate the message, but again, if you are reading this I suppose you are already very health conscious and probably won’t mind my saying: carbonated drinks have no role, whatsoever, in human nutrition.
Gulping down on simple sugar, carbonic acid, and carbon dioxide can’t be good for you. These beverages contain dissolved carbon dioxide, responsible for that ‘signature’ sound produced upon opening a soda can.
Upon consumption, the gas is trapped in the stomach and intestines and may produce bloating, burping, and cramping.
It’s best to avoid these drinks and stick with water. Other alternatives are moderate use of coffee, tea (green or black), and my personal favorite rooibos tea.
Milk and Milk products
Milk contains a sugar known as lactose. Lactose is one of the FODMAPs but milk deserves a special mention in its own right. Did you know that up to 75% of the world population cannot digest lactose? This is called lactose intolerance.
This sugar reaches the large intestines intact and is acted upon, as mentioned previously, by our friendly gut bacteria. This produces gas and resulting symptoms as already alluded to.
Note also that the ‘degree of intolerance to lactose varies among individuals, some being much more sensitive than others. Moreover, as we age past 50 years, we tend to become more intolerant than in our younger days.
So should you avoid milk altogether? Not necessarily. Firstly, find out if you are lactose intolerant. For most people, this becomes apparent early in life from simply drinking milk and observing how they respond. Sometimes you may still tolerate fermented milk products like yogurt. Other options include almond and coconut milk.
Beans and other Legumes
Just like milk, beans contain sugars that are part of FODMAPs. The sugar in milk, as discussed above, is called alpha-galactosides. Beans deserve a special mention also because they are a popular staple and provide ‘clean’ carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber.
But what do you do if you have a hankering for a good serving of beans? Usually, it helps to soak the beans and allow them to sprout. This has the effect of reducing FODMAPs. Additionally, there are easier to digest beans such as pinto beans.
Not only is beer a carbonated drink but it’s also made from FODMAP sources. Beer is made from such ingredients as barley, maize (corn), wheat, and yeast.
So, by drinking beer you get a double whammy of FODMAPs and carbon dioxide.
As was the case with carbonated drinks, I would advise that you drink water.
Other lifestyle choices that may cause bloating
- Drinking through a straw seems fashionable and convenient. While using straws, we tend to swallow quite a significant amount of air. This air can get trapped in the stomach and intestines resulting in bloating.
- Chewing gum, similar to using a straw, makes us swallow gas.
- Smoking does many bad things, one of them is that you may tend to suck and swallow air as well.
- It is evident that the major causes of bloating, as far as food is concerned, are FODMAPs. Any foods that contain these sugars are likely to result in unpleasant symptoms.
- FODMAPs are also heavily linked to IBS.
- This is by no means a call to exclude these food groups from your diet, except for those that cause you heartache. It is, however, a call to learn and know your food. Take the time and effort to determine for yourself what food choices result in discomfort, and drop them from your shopping list.
Finally, in addition to changing your food options, also take up a regular physical exercise program. It helps to move gas through the digestive system, relieving your discomfort.