Do you ever feel so gassy it’s uncomfortable? Or have you ever skipped a social event or fitness class because you were embarrassed by your gas? You aren’t alone! Excess gas is a common digestive symptom. In this post, my nutrition student volunteer Kathleen Morgan has rounded up the top nine common causes of gas and gives tips to help you feel better.
Gas is caused by swallowing air, as well as bacterial fermentation in the large intestine.1 Some gas is totally normal! However, some people may experience excess gas that can be bothersome. For those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), excess gas is a common symptom. Luckily, there are dietary and lifestyle changes that can reduce this uncomfortable symptom! Here are nine common causes of gas, and tips on avoiding them.
Important note: if you are experiencing excessive gas and/or other digestive symptoms long-term, please talk to your doctor.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols, which are a group of carbohydrates found in food that are highly fermentable. Although this fermentation is a normal part of digestion, individuals with IBS may experience symptoms such as excess gas, bloating, distension, cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea. It can be daunting to manage a low-FODMAP diet on your own, so seeking help from a dietitian is recommended. Click here to learn more about how the low-FODMAP diet works.
Following a low FODMAP diet is not the only way to manage gas. Whether or not you are trying a low FODMAP diet, the following eight tips may be helpful.
There are two ways that gum can cause gas. When we chew gum we swallow a lot of air.1 In addition, gum often contains certain highly-fermentable sugar alcohols which may upset your digestive system (see tip #6). If you chew gum on a regular basis, cutting it out might significantly help improve your gassiness.
3. Carbonated Beverages
Beer, pop, sparkling water, vodka soda… there are so many popular drinks containing bubbles! Unfortunately, when we drink carbonated beverages we swallow a lot of air.1 Instead of ordering that fizzy mocktail at brunch, go for flat beverage, such as an iced coffee, cranberry juice or tap water.
Think about all the air getting sucked up in that straw along with your drink. Where do you think it goes? It often gets trapped in your system and wreaks havoc on gas-sensitive bowels.1 If you ditch the straw, you’ll also be taking a step away from those single-use plastics which end up in the trash! When ordering a drink to-go, such as iced coffee, ask for no lid so you won’t need a straw.
5. Eating Too Fast
We often eat too quickly, just thinking about getting the next spoonful in and swallowed. Why not take the time to fully enjoy what you eat? Savour each bite of food. Aim to make your meals last at least 20 minutes. Slowing down can help you to swallow less air.1 If you struggle with eating too fast, try putting down your utensil after each bite. Another way to slow down is taking a sip of water between bites.
Certain foods take somewhat longer to eat and therefore can slow down your pace. For example, frozen fruit in the summer is refreshing yet too cold to eat quickly. Good low-fodmap options include blueberries (FODMAP limit is 20pc./28g), grapes (1 cup), and strawberries (10pc./140g). Foods such as edamame (1 cup/50g) and peanuts (32 nuts/28g) can also slow you down, since it takes a little more time and effort to shell them.
6. Sugar Alcohols
Be aware of certain artificially sweetened products! Many contain sugar alcohols that can cause increased gas and bloating. These sugar alcohols are actually one of the five types of FODMAPs. Sweeteners to watch out for include erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, lactitol and isomalt. Sugar alcohols are typically found in low-calorie or sugar-free items, such as speciality diet products and sugar-free candies.
Aspartame, sucralose and stevia may be easier on your gut. Be cautious when purchasing stevia, as many powdered stevia blends have sugar alcohols added. Of course, no two IBS sufferers are identical, so you may need to try out various sweeteners to find out which are okay for you!
7. Sudden Increases in Dietary Fibre
Yes, increasing your fibre can be helpful for those with IBS who want to be a little more regular. However, this increase should be gradual. If you overwhelm your gut with all this extra fibre it’s not used to, you will be more likely to experience unpleasant symptoms such as excess gas. Try increasing your daily fibre slowly until you hit your daily recommendations. Fibre recommendations are 25 g/day for women, and 38 g/day for men. Click here to learn more about boosting your fibre intake.
8. Stress and Anxiety
Ever heard of the mind-gut connection? It’s real. In some individuals IBS can be influenced by stress and mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.2 If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, please seek help from your doctor. Seeking help for your mental health may help improve your gut health as well.
A stress management technique you can use on your own is meditation. Many apps have guided meditation sessions (for example Headspace and Buddhify). UCLA’s website also has some free guided meditations. Another stress management technique that may be helpful is yoga.
Smoking can negatively affect many parts of our body, including our digestive system. Cigarettes increase acidity and reflux, which is uncomfortable and can even be painful.3 Smoking also causes us to swallow air, leading to increased gas.1
Other helpful tips for reducing gas…
Simethicone can help break down gas bubbles in order to make it easier to expel from both your stomach, as burping, and your intestines as gas!4 However, this is not a fix-it for all gas problems: it only helps with swallowed air, not gas created from bacterial fermentation. One brand name in Canada is Gas-X, however, the drugstore brands of simethicone are just as effective. Talk to your pharmacist and/or doctor for more information.
Physical activity helps move food along your digestive tract. It’s recommended to get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.5 This could be as simple as a fast-paced walk or dancing in your room! Make sure it is something you enjoy so you are more likely to stick with it.
There are many ways to reduce uncomfortable gas and bloating. Hopefully, you have learned a few tips to make your life a little easier! A dietitian can give you individualized advice and help guide you through making dietary changes. If you experience significant digestive symptoms long-term please talk to your doctor.
- Eat Right Ontario. (2017, November). Managing Gas. Retrieved from https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion/Managing-gas.aspx
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.) The Brain-Gut Connection. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
- Quit Victoria. (n.d.) Effects of smoking on your body. Retrieved from https://www.quit.org.au/tools/effects-smoking-your-body/
- GI Society. (2001, February). Intestinal Gas from Complex Carbohydrates or Lactose Intolerance. Retrieved from https://www.badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/intestinal-gas-from-complex-carbohydrates-or-lactose-intolerance/
- Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012, April). Physical Activity Tips for Adults. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/healthy-living/physical-activity/physical-activity-tips-adults-18-64-years.html
About the Guest Author
Kathleen is a third-year Applied Human Nutrition major at the University of Guelph. She is passionate about plant-based nutrition as well as ethics and sustainability surrounding food. She hopes to become a registered dietitian so she can help others live a healthy happy life!