Intestinal Gas & Bloating: Dietary Causes

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 - 5:06pm

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

Abdominal gas and bloating are normal conditions. As your body breaks down food into energy, gas is made in the stomach and intestines. Bloating, which is a feeling of fullness in the abdomen, can make you uncomfortable.

Although many people think that they pass gas too often, it is rare to have too much gas. All people pass gas, but some people produce more gas than others. It is normal to pass gas from 6 to 20 times a day. Although this may embarrass or annoy you, excess intestinal gas usually is not caused by a serious health condition. However, check with your physician first to rule out serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease or a bowel obstruction. Changing what you eat and drink can sometimes relieve discomfort caused by gas. In fact, many healthy foods can cause gas and bloating!

Foods and drinks that cause gas and bloating

Eating large amounts of fiber-rich foods too fast can cause gas and bloating. Introduce fiber slowly into the diet by adding a little more to your diet every 2 to 3 days. Many people know that healthy vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and onions can cause gas and bloating, but did you know that eggplant, celery, pears, apples, bananas and citrus fruits can be culprits as well?

It’s not prudent to avoid all of these foods completely. Try eliminating them from your diet temporarily; then slowly reintroduce each back into your diet one at a time to identify which food is causing problems.

Legumes (e.g. dried beans, peas or lentils) contain a carbohydrate that is difficult to digest. One way to minimize their gassy effect is to discard the water used to soak beans and the cooking water or try using an over-the-counter product called Beano™. Fruits and sodas contain fructose, a form of sugar that can cause gastrointestinal distress when consumed in large quantities. Read nutrition labels and cut down on products that contain fructose and sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol.

Eating too fast or drinking carbonated beverages increases the amount of air swallowed. Most of this air is burped, but some of it can enter the lower intestines and be passed as gas. Slow down and chew each bite thoroughly. Avoid carbonated beverages to see if this makes a difference. Constipation slows down elimination, increasing gas production and cramping. Prevent constipation by consuming a fiber-rich diet and drinking plenty of water daily.

Lactose intolerance

Finally, thousands of individuals suffer from lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar naturally found in dairy products and is poorly digested in many people, particularly Asians and African Americans. Lactose intolerance causes bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Luckily, it is easy to substitute regular milk with milk that contains lactase and to consume cultured products, such as yogurt, which contain less lactose. Another suggestion is to try using lactase pills.

Remember, your diet may only be part of your problem. Anxiety and stress can cause bloating, gas, and pain. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga regularly.

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