What causes gas and bloating?
In short, gas is caused by what we eat and how we eat it.
Most gas is formed in our lower intestines where bacteria are busy breaking down any undigested food. Gas is the normal byproduct of this process. In fact, our bodies produce between 1 and 4 pints of gas a day.
Thankfully, most of the time this gas is passed unnoticed by us or others. At other times, however, excessive gas can be embarrassing or even painful. Anyone who has ever doubled over with colicky gas pain knows what I mean!
Gas can also be present in our stomachs and upper intestines, usually as a result of swallowing too much air when we eat. Gas in the upper digestive system causes stomach discomfort and burping.
Bloating is the feeling of abdominal fullness we sometimes get after a meal, as our intestines get to work digesting whatever we just ate.
Consider what you eat
It doesn’t seem fair, but a healthy diet can lead to excessive gas. That’s because high-fiber foods and complex carbohydrates are more difficult to digest. If you’ve recently decided to embrace a more healthy diet, perhaps to lose weight or lower your cholesterol, you might be having more problems with gas and bloating. I experienced more bloating after I started eating overnight oatmeal for breakfast every morning.
Luckily, over time your digestive system will adjust. But you could be sensitive to a particular food type, so take notice of what might be triggering your gas attacks. The most common culprits are:
- cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
- onions and garlic
- whole grain cereals, breads and pasta
- beans (beans, beans, the magical fruit…)
- dairy (you might be lactose intolerant)
- apples, peaches and pears (high in fructose)
- greasy, fried foods
- carbonated drinks, including beer
- artificial sweeteners
- gum, especially with sorbitol
Eliminating one or more of these food items from your diet might give you relief. Start with the easiest foods to cut out, like gum or carbonated beverages.
Consider how you eat
As I mentioned, burping and stomach gas are usually caused by swallowing too much air. Eat more slowly, and don’t talk with your mouth full. 😉 Other tips include:
- Don’t use a straw.
- Don’t chew gum excessively.
- Eat slowly; chew your food
- Drink a glass of water or some other non-carbonated beverage with your meal.
- When cooking with canned beans, rinse them thoroughly! The liquid is full of gas-producing sugars that have been leeched out of the beans.
- Eat the hardest to digest foods first. Proteins need more stomach acid, so don’t fill up on bread and salad before the main course.
- Avoid carbonated drinks.
- After a meal, rather than sitting or lying down “to digest,” go for a walk. Walking has been shown to move food and gas through your intestines more quickly.
Sip some tea, eat some probiotics
Many herbs have been shown to aid digestion. My favorite herbal teas for intestinal gas are:
Use a tea bag or make your own infusion with fresh ingredients. I make my favorite bloat-busting ginger tea by taking a quarter-size slice of fresh ginger and steeping it in hot water for 1 to 2 minutes. For variety I sometimes add a twist of lemon or a teaspoon of honey.
Foods full of probiotics also help our digestive systems run more smoothly. I like having some yogurt every day (it’s good for calcium, too). Other probiotic foods are:
I’m not in favor of expensive probiotic supplements. I think eating whole foods rather than swallowing a pill is a better way to benefit from all those beneficial microbes.
At the drugstore
There are a few over-the-counter medications to try if the above home remedies aren’t working for you.
- Simethicone: Simethicone is the active ingredient in such name-brand drugs as Gas-X or Mylanta Gas, and it is the most effective. It works by breaking up large gas bubbles into smaller ones that pass more easily. Buy the least expensive store-brand and follow the directions on the package.
- Lactase: Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the main sugar in dairy products. Lactaid is the most recognized name brand, but it is pretty expensive. Look for a generic store brand. Many diary products are also available “lactose-free,” or you can substitute with soy or rice milk products.
- Alpha galactosidase: Alpha galactosidase, the primary ingredient in Beano, is another enzyme that aids in breaking down complex carbohydrates. I’ve read that Beano doesn’t contain enough of the enzyme to really be effective, but it’s worth trying if gas and bloating are making your life miserable.
- Activated charcoal: Some sources recommend activated charcoal capsules to treat gas, especially smelly gas. However, there is insufficient evidence to support this.
Being aware of what you eat and how you eat it is the most effective and least expensive way to deal with that unwanted gas and bloating.
OTC products for gas and bloating:
Interested in more home remedies? These are my go-to books: