Tummy troubles are never fun, but having gas can be particularly miserable. Not only does gas mean an uncomfortable balloon belly, but it also threatens some pretty awkward social situations.
We asked the experts to share the most common culprits behind stanky fumes and bloating. (Plus, what you can do to deflate.)
1. You Eat Too Many FODMAPs
Wondering what the heck a FODMAP is? A specific group of short-chain carbs (a.k.a. sugars), FODMAPs ferment quickly in your gut, and create gas in the process. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, foods including any of the following are considered FODMAPs: oligosaccharides (chains of fructose, sucrose, and glucose our bodies can’t break down), polyols (sugar alcohols), excess fructose, and lactose (the sugar compound found in dairy).
“The foods we eat can be one of the biggest triggers for gas,” says Toyia James-Stevenson, M.D., Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. “FODMAPs produce gas because they are either rapidly fermented or poorly absorbed in our guts.” Plus, many Americans are deficient in the enzymes or transporters needed to effectively process these foods, she adds. (We feel your pain, lactose intolerant peeps.)
More bad news: Several healthy foods, including apples, pears, broccoli, cabbage, watermelon, onions, garlic, cheese, milk, breads, pastas, and fruit juices, contain FODMAPs, Stevenson says. Not-so-healthy culprits include high-fructose corn syrup, sugar-free gum, and anything sweetened with sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, or maltitol. If you have food intolerances or sensitivities, Stevenson recommends sticking to a low-FODMAP diet.
2. You’re Constipated
A backed up bathroom situation might make your gas worse. “Constipation can cause bloating in the lower gut,” explains Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. To avoid constipation as much as possible, stay hydrated, exercise, get ample sleep, and try to eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day, she says. Dudash also recommends keeping a fiber supplement or bar on-hand when traveling to promote regularity.
3. You Have A Gastrointestinal Disorder
Regular bloating or gas might indicate a gut disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“IBS often involves various factors like food intolerances and gut hypersensitivity,” explains James-Stevenson. “Nerve or muscle dysfunction can delay movement in your stomach, small intestine, and/or colon, producing symptoms like bloating.”
Since long-term bloating can also be caused by bowel obstructions like abnormal growths or masses, James-Stevenson recommends consulting with your physician should unexplained bloating persist.
4. You Swallow Lots Of Extra Air
Sorry to burst your bubble, gum chewers: “Activities like chewing too fast, drinking through straws, drinking carbonated beverages, and even flying, can draw excess air into the gut,” says Dudash. If you feel inflated after your lunchtime seltzer, consider cutting back.
5. Your Gut Health Needs A Boost
It all starts with bacteria. “While we have trillions of bacteria living in our colons,” says James-Stevenson, “our small intestines are relatively stable environments—and need to stay that way.” If bacteria migrate into the small intestine, they break down nutrients into hydrogen and methane gases in a process called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), she says. Gross. And, you guessed it, the creation of these gasses can cause major bloating and discomfort
“In the case of SIBO, we typically use antibiotics to eliminate excess bacteria in the small intestine,” says James-Stevenson. Otherwise, probiotics may help to promote gut health and bowel regularity, she says.
We need certain types of bacteria in our gut to help digest food, produce vitamins, and destroy harmful bacteria (like those that cause gas), says the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Gut flora changes as we age, and can also be influenced by our diet, says a review published in Gastroenterology & Hepatology. That’s where probiotics come in. “Probiotic formulations are meant to flood the colon with this potentially healthier species of bacteria in hopes of decreasing symptoms of bloating and improve bowel regularity,” explains James-Stevenson.
6. You Eat Too Many Zero- Or Low-Calorie Sweeteners
The truth just ain’t so sweet: Some alternative sweeteners can lead to gas, cramping, and bloating. “Beware sugar-free candies or chocolates,” says Dudash. Our bodies can only break down one-third of sugar alcohols like maltitol, which causes that tummy distress.
Try cutting out as many of these foods and activities as possible. If symptoms like extreme gas and constipation—or others like diarrhea and vomiting—continue to plague you for more than a few days, it’s time to see your doc, says James-Stevenson.