Digestive Health

Updated 05 August 2014

Gas and diet

Gas can be a very embarassing problem. Changing your diet and avoiding certain foods may help you save face.


Step 1: Understanding the relationship between gas and diet
Gas refers to belching and flatulence – something which affects all of us. It has been estimated the average healthy young male passes excess gas thirteen times a day.

Fibre is the main cause of gas and since fibre is necessary in a healthy diet, flatulence and belching can be seen as a sign of good health!

If this condition persists and is excessive, it may be advisable to have a medical examination to try and determine what the underlying causes are, e.g. gastritis, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and enzyme deficiency.

Some of the common causes (dietary causes indicated in bold) are:

  • Eating non-digestible foods such as fibre.
  • Eating foods that your body cannot tolerate (as in lactose intolerance which occurs when you lack the enzyme which digests lactose or milk sugar).
  • Eating beans. There are carbohydrates in beans that cannot be digested by our enzymes so the bacteria in the colon have to break it down. The result is colonic gas.
  • Acute pancreatitis.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Malabsorption (which occurs when your intestine is not able to absorb nutrients) often accompanied by diarrhoea.
  • Use of antibiotics.

Step 2: Adopting new healthy habits

  • Cut down on fibre intake.
  • If you suffer from pancreatitis or irritable bowel syndrome, seek treatment.
  • Avoid excess intake of antibiotics.
  • Seek medical attention if you suffer any other symptoms or if gas causes pain.

Step 3: Understanding the basic principles of a diet to reduce gas
Intestinal gas may increase temporarily after starting a high-fibre diet. The condition usually disappears on its own once your body has adjusted to the new diet. Also try the following:

  • Do not eat milk products for a week as you might be lactose-intolerant.
  • Avoid rich, spicy foods or fizzy drinks, coffee and all forms of alcohol.
  • To decrease the presence of foul-smelling amines in the intestine, you could decrease the amount of protein, primarily meat, in your diet. However, it is advisable to see a nutritionist before doing this.
  • Avoid foods like navy beans, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, legumes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, and melons.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
  • Increase your intake of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is found in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach.


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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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