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I'm trying to eat a healthful diet, but I get huge amounts of gas. What can I do?

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:12pm

You're not alone if you suffer gas when you eat dairy products, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, grains or cereals. The gas is caused by bacteria in your gut fermenting sugars.

Carbohydrates are made of sugars either alone or in combinations. They can be the single sugars, glucose and fructose, found in fruit; the double sugar, lactose, found in dairy products; thousands of sugars bound together called starch; or millions of sugars bound together called fiber. Before any carbohydrate can be absorbed from your intestines into your bloodstream, it must be broken down into single sugars. If it cannot be broken down into single sugars, it cannot be absorbed and it passes into the lower intestinal tract where bacteria ferment it to cause gas.

Half of the world's population develops cramping after drinking milk because they lack the intestinal enzyme that is necessary to break down the double sugar in milk called lactose. These people can purchase the missing enzyme, called lactase (in products such as Lactaid or milk that has lactase added), and drink milk without discomfort. Or they can avoid dairy products.

All humans will have intestinal gas after they eat significant quantities of many whole grains, beans or other seeds. These foods contain triple, quadruple and quintuple sugars and no human has the enzymes necessary to break them down. You can de-gas beans by soaking before you cook them, or you can use alpha-galactosidase products such as Bean-O, which contain an enzyme that splits these complex sugars.

When you change your diet, you build up colonies of the friendly bacteria gradually and the problem becomes less severe. If you are not constipated, a moderate amount of gas is not uncomfortable and is perfectly normal. However, some people still get unreasonable amounts of gas, even after several weeks of adjustment to the new diet. These people may be helped by taking Cipro 500 mg twice a day and metronidazole 250 mg four times a day for one week. Check with your doctor.

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