Intestinal gas is a common occurrence within the digestive tract, but many individuals tend to perceive its regular passage as excessive. Interestingly, certain carbohydrates, including fiber, starches, and sugars, which are essential for providing energy to our bodies, might be the culprits behind this excess gas production.
Unveiling the Sugars Responsible for Gas
Various sugars, such as raffinose, lactose, fructose, and sorbitol, have been linked to increased gas production.
Raffinose: Beans contain significant amounts of this complex sugar, while smaller quantities can be found in cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains.
Lactose: Known as the natural sugar in milk, lactose is present in dairy products like cheese and ice cream, as well as in processed foods like bread, cereal, and salad dressing. Interestingly, some individuals, especially those of African, Native American, or Asian descent, may have low levels of the enzyme lactase required to digest lactose. Additionally, as people age, their enzyme levels tend to decrease, potentially leading to an increased amount of gas after consuming lactose-containing foods.
Fructose: Natural sources of fructose include onions, artichokes, pears, and wheat. Moreover, it is commonly used as a sweetener in soft drinks and fruit beverages.
Sorbitol: Found naturally in fruits like apples, pears, peaches, and prunes, sorbitol is also used as an artificial sweetener in numerous dietetic foods, as well as sugar-free candies and gums.
To gain further insights into the role of sugar in gas production, you can check out this informative video featuring Registered GI Dietitian Emily Haller.
Starchy Foods: A Potential Source of Gas
Most starches, such as potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat, tend to produce gas during their breakdown in the large intestine. However, rice stands out as the only starch that does not contribute to excessive gas production.
The Fiber Factor
Dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate that remains indigestible in the small intestine and reaches the colon in its original form, can also lead to gas production when it undergoes fermentation by certain bacteria. Fiber can be classified as either soluble or insoluble.
Soluble Fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a soft gel. Oat bran, beans, barley, nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, and most fruits are rich sources of soluble fiber.
Insoluble Fiber: In contrast, insoluble fiber does not dissolve or gel in water. It absorbs liquid and adds bulk to stool. Legumes, seeds, root vegetables, and cabbage family vegetables contain cellulose, an example of insoluble fiber.
High Fiber Substances: Some substances contain both soluble and insoluble fibers, combining the properties of both types. Oat bran, psyllium, and soy fiber fall into this category. On the other hand, methylcellulose is a semi-synthetic fiber that is both soluble and gel-forming but not fermentable.
Each type of fiber is digested at varying speeds and extents in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, with differing degrees of fermentation. The solubility and fermentability of a particular fiber influence how it is processed in the GI tract, although individual responses can vary. While increasing dietary fiber gradually can help alleviate symptoms, excessive intake of a specific fiber type might worsen symptoms. Thus, it is crucial to experiment with various fiber sources and gradually introduce them into the diet.
If you want to learn more about controlling intestinal gas, here is an interesting video featuring Ceciel Rooker, the President of IFFGD, discussing the importance of diet and nutrition with Shanti Eswaran.
Adapted from IFFGD Publication #155 compiled by William F. Norton, Publications Editor, International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Milwaukee, WI.
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