The average person passes gas 14 to 23 times a day. Knowing it’s healthy and normal doesn’t always keep it from being embarrassing. If you’re tired of silly jokes and occasional upset, a few simple tips may help you take charge of bloating and gassiness.
Watch What You Eat
The friendly bacteria in our guts help digest foods that our bodies have trouble breaking down. These bacteria also produce gas, usually as they digest food in the large intestines. Foods most often linked to intestinal gas include:
- Beans and lentils
- Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other vegetables
- Fructose, a natural sugar found in artichokes, onions, pears, wheat, and some soft drinks
- Lactose, the natural sugar found in milk
- Fruits, oat bran, peas, and other foods high in soluble fiber, which gets digested in your large intestine
- Corn, pasta, potatoes, and other foods rich in starch
- Sorbitol, the artificial sweetener
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat
That list covers a whole lot of healthy food, but you don’t have to severely restrict your diet. Most likely just a few give you gas. "Some people have problems digesting milk. Others don’t," says Lawrence R. Kosinski, MD, MBA, a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association. "And food sensitivities may change with age. Many people develop problems digesting milk products as they get older, for instance."
Two simple steps can help you discover your problem foods.
- Keep a food diary. When you have bloating or gas, look back over the foods you’ve eaten within the last few hours – that’s typically when gas occurs.
- Experiment, one by one, with the foods you suspect. Eat one of the foods by itself. Does it give you gas? If not, wait a day, then experiment with another of your suspect foods. Keep going through the list on different days until you find the food that gives you gas.
Adjust Your Diet
The best way to reduce gassiness is to avoid foods that cause problems. If a healthy food gives you gas – such as whole grains and vegetables -- reduce the amount you eat. Then, gradually start eating more of the food – increasing the amount bit by bit over weeks – to give your digestive system time to adjust.
Consider a Supplement
Some supplements contain digestive enzymes that break down hard-to-digest foods. You can buy the enzyme lactase over the counter if dairy products give you gas. A product called Beano helps break down gas-producing sugars in beans.
Avoid Swallowing Air
We all swallow small amounts of air. That’s normal. When we swallow too much air – called aerophagia -- it causes abdominal bloating, gas, or belching. Pay attention to things you do that may make you swallow more air than you need, such as:
- Chewing gum
- Drinking carbonated sodas
- Eating too quickly
- Wearing loose dentures
Stress can also make you swallow too much air. "Often people aren’t even aware that they’re gulping down air," Kosinski says. "If you’re feeling anxious or [are] under a lot of stress, look for ways to relax. Or talk to your doctor about stress reduction techniques."
Walking, bicycling, running, and other forms of exercise can help move gas through your digestive tract, easing bloating.
Talk to Your Doctor if You’re Worried
If lifestyle changes don’t help, and you’re bloated or gassy often, talk to your doctor.
"Bloating or abnormal amounts of intestinal gas can be a symptom of celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, bacterial overgrowth, or problems associated with the pancreas," Kosinski says. "Certain medications can also cause intestinal gas. So it’s definitely important to mention it to your doctor if you’re worried."
Your doctor may suggest tests to rule out underlying problems. If the culprit is simply the foods you love, your doctor can also prescribe medicine -- a gastrointestinal stimulant -- that moves gas through your intestines more quickly.