Take a pass on gas

Avoiding certain foods is best medicine to ward off embarrassing moments

Avoiding certain foods is best medicine to ward off embarrassing moments

July 31, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Remember the scene from "Blazing Saddles"?

People who've seen the 1974 Mel Brooks movie no doubt remember "the scene."

For those who haven't seen the film, the scene depicts a bunch of cowboys sitting around a campfire letting out the symphonic results from a meal of beans.

As comfortable as those cowboys were in the desert letting loose, chances are most people wouldn't be as comfortable if they passed gas during a date or job interview.

While passing gas is natural, it is not polite. The best way to prevent it during an important occasion is to avoid certain foods - not just during the occasion but for 12 hours prior, says Dr. Jean-Pierre Raufman, head of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. It can take anywhere from two to eight hours or more to pass all gas produced by a particular food.


"If (you've) got a big job interview, (you) don't want a big plate of beans the night before," says Jane Runyon, director of food and nutrition services for City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

While beans are often the first food people think of as a cause of gas, individuals have different sensitivities to various food items.

Flatulence is a result of how different foods are handled by the bacteria in the colon, Raufman says.

Often these are simple or complex sugars.

For example, people who are lactose intolerant - they can't properly digest milk sugar - are missing or have an insufficient amount of the enzyme lactase to help break down lactose.

Instead of the lactose being broken down and absorbed in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract - the small intestine, the lactose moves to the large intestine and colon. Here the natural bacteria has the enzyme needed to break down the lactose. However, two byproducts of breaking down lactose in the colon are hydrogen gas and methane, Raufman says. Both of these gases can have a foul odor and cause discomfort and bloating.

Another form of sugar people have problems with is raffinose, a complex carbohydrate found in beans.

"None of us really have the capacity to metabolize those kinds of sugars, so again the sugars pass to the colon, are metabolized by bacteria in the colon and result in gases," Raufman says.

Peoples' sensitivity to foods vary based on what bacteria is in a person's colon and how much of the offending food is eaten, he says.

The best way to confirm whether a particular food item is causing a lot of gas is to omit the item from your diet for five days and see if that helps, says Runyon, a registered dietitian.

Runyon says people shouldn't avoid an entire food group to prevent gas.

However people can avoid particular foods as long as they get nutrients from another source, Raufman says.

Frequent suspects

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse's Web site at, some foods that often cause gas are:

· Beans.

· Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, artichokes and asparagus.

· Fruits such as pears, apples and peaches.

· Whole grains such as whole wheat and bran.

· Soft drinks and fruit drinks.

· Milk and milk products such as cheese and ice cream.

· Packaged foods that have lactose in them such as bread, cereal and salad dressing.

· Dietetic foods and sugar-free candies and gums.

Runyon says sugar-alcohols, an alternate form of sugar found in sugar-free food, can cause gas. Look for sorbitol or mannitol on the label.

Increasing fiber in your diet also can cause frequent flatulence, Runyon says. To avoid problems, gradually increase your fiber intake. If starting at 5 grams of fiber a day, don't just jump to 25 grams within a day. Instead, try improving fiber intake by 5 grams a day.

Something else people might want to avoid temporarily is belching.

Swallowing too much air can cause belching, Raufman says.

"People who gulp food tend to swallow more air," Runyon says. Try eating slowly and chewing with the mouth closed.

Also, refrain from drinking with straws and don't talk while eating, experts say.

Other ways to reduce the amount of air swallowed are to avoid chewing gum and eating hard candy, cutting down or quitting smoking, and checking with your dentist to make sure false teeth fit correctly, according to the clearinghouse's Web site.

Over-the-counter remedies

Some over-the-counter remedies for flatulence contain an enzyme that some people might not have or not have enough of, says Denise Ellis, a pharmacist with Home Care Pharmacy at Robinwood Medical Center.

Lactaid, a popular remedy for lactose-intolerant people, contains the enzyme lactase, Ellis says.

Beano contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, Ellis says.

These enzymes help break down the offending foods that cause gas, she says.

Gas-X, another over-the-counter remedy, contains the chemical simethicone, a medication that helps eliminate gas, Ellis says.

Getting up and walking around, or lying down, also can help, Ellis and Raufman say.

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