Managing embarrassing symptoms -- burping, intestinal gas, and the growling stomach --- may be as simple as changing your diet.
What Foods Cause Gas?
Obviously, some foods cause more gas than others. As any schoolboy will tell you, the most notorious offender is baked beans, but there are plenty of others, including grains (for instance, the word pumpernickel is believed to stem from Middle German and mean, roughly, "goblin that breaks wind").
Any food that is high in soluble fiber, for instance, is only broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, so that can mean more gas. Foods that may cause gas include:
Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, artichokes, and asparagus
Fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches
Whole grains, such as whole wheat and bran
Sodas and fruit drinks
Foods with sorbitol, often used as a sweetener in sugar-free gums and candies
As you may have noticed, many of those foods are the bedrock of healthy diets.
"People sometimes do get confused when they find out that a healthy high-fiber diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can cause excess gas symptoms," says Edmundowicz.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains are important for digestion in other ways, so if you have gas, be cautious when trying to eliminate healthy foods from your diet. You may just need to eat a little less to ease your symptoms.
Cutting Out the Cheese
Some people may have extra gas because they can't digest certain foods normally. For instance, people who are lactose intolerant are missing the enzyme that processes lactose, the main sugar in dairy products. Because they can't digest it in the small intestine, the bacteria get a hold of the lactose in the large intestine, creating gas.
Although lactose intolerance is a common condition, especially among people of African, Native American, or Asian descent, you shouldn't immediately decide to cut out dairy products if you have excess gas.
"In my opinion, lactose intolerance certainly exists," says Wilcox. "But I think it's rarer than people think as a cause of symptoms."
Wilcox has seen many patients who have heard about lactose intolerance and diagnosed themselves. But even after eliminating dairy products, their symptoms linger. Cutting out dairy without good reason can lead to other problems in the long run, such as osteoporosis from the loss of calcium in the diet.
So if you're having excess gas, you shouldn't abruptly cut all dairy from your diet. Instead, see your doctor and talk about it. He or she might order some tests to find out. Edmundowicz also suggests that you try a more measured approach to zero-in on the particular foods that might be giving you trouble -- such as eliminating one food at a time and re-evaluating your symptoms.