ADVICE: Why do my farts smell so bad?

Flatulence can be affected by what you eat, but also how fast you drink, constipation or lactose intolerance.

Maja Begovic April 30, 2021
smelly farts

Was it all that spinach? Getty

Dear Asking for a Friend,

I recently started to eat healthier, and by that I mean, I have spinach every day and have cut out sugar and wine. I feel great, except that I have a lot of gas. Particularly very stinky gas. I don’t think spinach is known for raunchy toots, but could my diet change have something to do with it? 

Signed, Bloated and Gassy

Dear Bloated and Gassy,

An average person passes gas multiple times a day, and whether you call it flatulence or farting, it’s a normal part of the digestive system’s process.

“Gas is produced as your body digests food,” explains Dr. Talia Zenlea, gastroenterologist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “Certain foods are higher gas producers than others and what you eat determines how much gas you have.”

Zenlea says that fruits, vegetables and legumes are some of the highest producers of gas and that everyone’s body tolerates these foods differently. That means, it’s possible for you to experience more gas with foods like spinach, while others may seem unbothered by it.

Similarly, snacking on raw cabbage, broccoli or asparagus may also produce gas, which is why experts recommend you cook these vegetables instead. And just because some fruits and vegetables might make you more gassy, that doesn’t mean you should stop eating them. Instead, try to slowly introduce fiber-rich foods into your diet, such as adding a couple of servings a day and seeing how your body reacts over the course of the week and adjust accordingly.

And, while it might be a good idea to cut back on sugar, it may not be so wise if you’re choosing foods labeled as sugar-free. Replacing the real deal with artificial sweeteners that contain sugar substitutes may not be good for your health according to research, and experts instead recommend you stick to healthy foods that contain natural sugar and antioxidants.

Too much dairy, especially if you’re lactose intolerant, can also cause gas. And if you typically favour dairy-free alternatives over cow’s milk, research suggests that carrageenan – the emulsifier typically used in plant-based beverages — may contribute to intestinal inflammation.

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But the air quality of your gas doesn’t only hinge on what you eat — your habits might also play a role. If you rush through your meals or chug water, you may experience more gas. When we eat or drink, we also swallow air, along with the tiny amounts of gases that exist in the environment. These pass through our gut, and as gas builds up within the digestive system, it eventually comes out the other end. Foul-smelling gas might be caused by something you ate, or in some cases, it may be because of constipation or a result of certain conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, a lactose or gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

The good news is that when it comes to gas, a few simple tricks can help reduce symptoms. Experts recommend avoiding trigger foods and carbonated drinks, eating slowly and consuming smaller meals throughout the day, and being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. If you have trapped gas that’s causing abdominal pain or discomfort, try doing squats or lie on our side and draw both knees to your chest for a few minutes at a time.

Zenlea says that gas on its own, especially if accompanied by a change in diet is not a health concern, unless there is an underlying condition or new symptoms that emerge. Fever, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or bleeding warrant a consultation with a doctor.

Is there something about health that you (or a friend, wink, wink) have always wondered about, but are too embarrassed to ask? Send a note to info@healthing.ca. We promise your ‘friend’s’ secret – and identity –  is safe with us.

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