By Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., December 2005/January 2006
It’s true. Beans, beans, are good for the heart. The rest of that silly childhood poem is unfortunately true too. And not just with beans, but also cabbage, onions, apples, and many other fruits and vegetables loaded with the vitamins, minerals, fibers and phytochemicals we’re all urged to get more of. So what can we do to bypass the gas, short of giving up some of nature’s most nourishing foods? A few cooking and lifestyle changes can go a long way, say experts.
According to Karen Collins, R.D., nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research, many people suffer gas because their digestive tracts aren’t used to a high-fiber diet—and avoiding fibrous foods like beans, broccoli and salads just worsens the problem. Rather than steering clear of the offending foods, advises Collins, gradually add them in, giving the body time to adapt. “It’s important not to make the jump overnight. The body can’t handle a dramatic makeover.” Add one daily serving of high-fiber foods each week, she advises, aiming for a goal of 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily and several servings of beans weekly.
What causes the noxious vapors, anyway? It begins when carbohydrate is not completely digested by the army of enzymes in the small intestine. Once the undigested sugars, starches and fibers reach the large intestine, friendly bacteria break down and ferment them—giving off gas in the process.
Increasing your fiber intake not only helps your intestinal bacteria adapt, but it also moves food and waste through your intestines faster. The quicker the transit, the better, says Collins. “The longer food sits there, the longer the bacteria act on it,” she explains—which translates to more gas production.
To help speed foods through your GI tract, stay regularly active and drink plenty of fluids, adds Collins. That’s good advice to heed, no matter what’s in the air.