In this article:
- Why certain vegetables feed intestinal bacteria and cause digestive problems.
- The worst vegetables for bloating and flatulence and low gas alternatives.
- 3 ways to reduce intestinal gas and still enjoy healthy vegetables.
Why Do Vegetables Cause Gas
Vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and provide many nutritional benefits. Unfortunately, certain vegetables can cause excessive gas and other digestive issues like bloating and intestinal cramps.
Beans and legumes, covered in the last article, are usually the worst culprits due to their very high levels of galactans (indigestible carbohydrates that ferment in your lower intestine). However, other vegetables can also be responsible for large amounts of intestinal gas.
Alongside galactans, both fructans and sulphur compounds in certain vegetables can contribute to flatulence and other digestive issues. Once again, the bacteria of the lower intestine are responsible, though the effects are quite different.
Fructans are indigestible carbohydrates formed of fructose and glucose and found in vegetables and fruit. Like galactans, the human digestive system lacks the enzyme needed to break down fructans. Instead, they pass into the colon where intestinal bacteria feed on them and create large amounts of gas in the process.
It’s worth noting that, while large in volume, the gases produced by bacterial breakdown of both fructans and galactans have very little odor on their own. Foul smelling flatulence is usually caused by an abundance of sulphur compounds.
Sulphur is an organic chemical found in a wide variety of foods, including many vegetables. While sulphur does have significant health benefits, including powerful anti-cancer properties, when it arrives undigested in the lower intestine it can be converted by bacteria into noxious gases, such as hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans.
Hydrogen sulphide is the classic rotten egg gas that most people are unhappily familiar with, whereas mercaptans are described as having more of a decaying cabbage smell. These gases are so potent that it only takes a very small amount of them in flatus gas to quickly clear the room.
Along with galactans, both fructans and sulphur compounds are found in quite a few vegetables. Identifying the most common culprits is the first step in coming up with a plan to enjoy the health benefits of vegetables, without the excess gas.
Gas Producing Vegetables and Low Gas Alternatives
Here’s a list of the most gas forming vegetables and low gas alternatives. In a future article you’ll be able to pinpoint which of these vegetables you need to be careful with.
At the start of working to reduce intestinal gas problems though, it’s best to take a break from them for a while and choose some of the low gas vegetables ahead.
Vegetables That Can Cause Gas
- Brussel sprouts
Low Gas Vegetables
- Bell pepper
- Swiss chard
- Dandelion greens
- Butternut squash
3 Ways to Reduce Flatulence and Bloating with Gas Causing Vegetables
Some people will be particularly sensitive to any vegetables with high levels of galactans or fructans. They may need to greatly reduce or even eliminate these kind of foods to avoid gastrointestinal problems. The FODMAP diet can be helpful to pinpoint which particular foods are most problematic if you are having ongoing gastrointestinal upsets.
For those who experience occasional digestive problems after eating vegetables like those listed above, these three tips should help to minimize future problems:
1. Take Smaller Bites and Chew Thoroughly
Rushed eating with large mouthfuls often leads to poor digestion and greatly increases the chance of food fermenting in the bowel and causing too much flatulence.
Chewing your food thoroughly mixes in saliva which starts off proper digestive processes. It also makes it easier for your stomach to break down your meal and lessens the chance of food reaching the lower intestine only partially digested.
Make sure you are chewing your vegetables well, particularly those with a more fibrous texture like broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus. There’s much more on the how chewing properly can help prevent bloating and flatulence here.
2. Start off Slowly with Problem Vegetables
The key to getting the many health benefits of these vegetables, while still avoiding flatulence problems is to start off with smaller amounts and build up your tolerance over time. It’s also very important to make sure you’re digesting them properly.
Well digested broccoli for instance is a nutrient rich cancer fighter, poorly broken down in the colon however, it can become a source of foul smelling hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans.
A broad spectrum digestive enzyme that breaks down difficult to digest food components can also be very helpful for reducing intestinal problems from vegetables. This one is the most effective I’ve found and is best taken just before a meal with a big glass of water.
3. Mix Up Your Vegetables
Generally, a mixture of vegetables will cause less problems than a whole plate of cauliflower or cabbage on its own. A good tactic is to mix one of the gas causing vegetables identified above with some of the low gas alternatives from the list.
Try starting with low gas vegetables as a base in your meals and adding one potentially gas causing vegetable, like cabbage or onion, and seeing if this is well tolerated. By slowly building up the amount of galactans, fructans and sulphur compounds your digestive system has to deal with, you are much more likely to be able to handle them effectively.
Vegetables like broccoli, artichoke or asparagus may still give you a bit of gas from time to time. But importantly, if you’re body’s digestive processes are working well, flatulence levels should be significantly reduced, both in volume and in smell.
- Avoid gas producing vegetables on the list above for a while. Replace them with low gas alternatives and notice if you are having less gas problems without them.
- After a week you can slowly reintroduce your favorite vegetables that may cause gas one at a time, being aware effects they give you in the hours after eating them. When a meal with a specific vegetable is well tolerated, it can be helpful to eat them again on a second day or night with a larger amount.
- If you still don’t experience bloating in the hours afterwards, or excessive gas in the evening or next day then it’s likely your digestive system can tolerate this particular vegetable. Repeat with other vegetables, always one new one at a time.
Photo credit: Avital Pinnick