Good Question

Why Do Healthy Foods Give Me Gas?

Beans, broccoli, and many other plant foods can be major gas triggers

Markham Heid
Published in
3 min readMar 30, 2021
A unidentifiable woman carrying a bag of fruit and vegetables over her shoulder.
Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

In my household, for reasons that are obscure even to me, “fart” is a bad word. At some point, my wife and I must have decided that we didn’t want to hear our kids use the F-word all the time, so we adopted “toot” as a gentler substitute. Beans and other legumes are often on our menu, and things can get pretty tooty around here.

The medical term for gas is “flatus.” While gas production varies from person to person, research has found that healthy people “pass flatus” up to 25 times a day. According to a 2013 study in BMJ, a lot of plant-based foods — legumes in particular, but also whole grains, some fruits, and many vegetables — are common gas triggers. To find out why this is so, I spoke with Robert Lustig, MD, a digestive health researcher and emeritus professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

Lustig says it all comes down to the microbes that populate the human gut. These bacteria number in the billions and play an indispensable role in health and digestion. “Your gut is just a bag of bacteria, and they eat what you eat,” he says.

Fiber is a part of plant foods that the gut can’t break down and absorb. It passes basically intact through the GI tract — improving the healthy flow and absorption of other food molecules — until it reaches the colon, which is where the bulk of the gut’s bacteria live. Some of these bacteria feed on fiber, and one of the byproducts of this feeding is gas, Lustig explains.

While the gas is unfortunate, bacteria that break down fiber also produce a number of metabolites, including short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which reduce gut inflammation and do other good work for us. Butyrate, for example, is an SCFA that supports the health of the epithelial cells that form the gut’s protective lining, Lustig says. Fiber is also considered a prebiotic because it encourages the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria.

Despite all these benefits, some people purposely avoid fiber-rich foods — especially legumes — in order to dodge gas. This is a problem. According to nutrition resources from the University of California, San Francisco, the average…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.

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