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Beans & Gas: Clearing the Air

More than a decade ago, the Quarterly Journal of Medicine published a review entitled: “Vegetarian Diet: Panacea for modern lifestyle disease?” The answer was in the affirmative, noting those eating vegetarian appear to have less obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancers, kidney disease, maybe less stroke, less age-related vision loss, less diverticulosis, fewer gallstone and of course, less constipation. But after going through the laundry list of benefits, the researchers did identify two drawbacks of a plant-based diet: 1) the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which I’ve covered previously, and 2) increased intestinal gas production. So on one hand, we have half of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, and on the other, flatulence.

Let me start off by saying that intestinal gas is normal and healthy. When patients present to physicians complaining of too much gas, they are typically instructed to go home and keep track for a week. “Although this may sound complicated,” wrote researchers in a gastroenterology journal, “we have found that patients rather enjoy keeping such a record.”

Americans report passing gas an average of 14 times a day, with the normal range extending up to a frequency of 22 times daily. Many people who think they have too much gas fall well within the normal range, concludes famed flatologist Michael Levitt, M.D., “and they simply have to be informed of their ‘normality.'”

Wondering who funded this research? You may be surprised that the real ground-breaking work in this area was done by NASA in the 1950s—our grandparents’ tax dollars hard at work. NASA was genuinely concerned that astronauts might suffocate, or some spark would ignite the methane. So papers with names like “Recent Advances in Flatology” represent space age research! As one NASA research scientist recommended, “it may prove advantageous to select astronauts…who do not normally produce large quantities of flatus.”

I’ll never forget the first time I lectured on the subject. I asked if anyone in the auditorium cared to venture a guess as to how many times a day the average person passes gas. I was expecting the students would posit maybe 5 or 10 and then I could wow them with the fact that no, the norm is more like once every waking hour, up to 22 times a day. But the first guess? 200. OK, so maybe some people do have too much gas! For those wanting to cut down on emissions, here are some tips (I’ll try not to be too long-winded :).

Flatulence come from two places: swallowed air, and fermentation in the bowel. Things that can cause you to swallow extra air include gum chewing, ill-fitting dentures, sucking on hard candies, drinking through a straw, eating too fast, talking while you eat, and cigarette smoking. So if the fear of lung cancer doesn’t get you to quit smoking, maybe fear of flatulence will.

The main source of gas, though, is the normal bacterial fermentation in our colon of undigested sugars. Dairy products are a leading cause of excessive flatulence, due to poor digestion of the milk sugar lactose, though even people who are lactose tolerant may suffer from dairy. One of the most flatulent patients ever reported in the medical literature was effectively cured once dairy products were removed from his diet. The case, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records, involved a guy who, after consuming dairy, experienced “70 passages in one four-hour period.” Cutting the cheese, indeed.

Other poorly digested sugars include sorbitol and xylitol in sugar-free candies. The fizziness in soda is carbon dioxide, which gets absorbed by our gut, but the high fructose in the soda’s corn syrup may be another culprit. Cruciferous vegetables may also contribute (kale-force winds?). Some grains can do it—the word pumpernickel stems from Middle German and means, roughly, “goblin that breaks wind.”

Beans have been christened the musical fruit, but could it just be a lot of hot air? A randomized controlled crossover study published last week, “Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies,” concluded “People’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated.”

Noting that “An increasing body of research and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans supports the benefits of a plant-based diet, and legumes specifically, in the reduction of chronic disease risks,” they started people on pinto beans, black-eyed peas, or vegetarian baked (navy) beans. During the first week, 35% reported increased flatulence but that fell to 15% by week three, 5% by week five, and 3% by week eight. Much of the bad rap for beans grew out of short-term studies in the 60’s that didn’t account for our body’s ability to adapt.

Long-term, most people bulking up on high-fiber foods do not appear to have significantly increased problems with gas. In the beginning, though, “A little bit of extra flatulence,” reads the Harvard Health Letter, “could be an indication that you’re eating the way you should!” The buoyancy of floating stools from trapped gasses can in fact be seen as a sign of adequate fiber intake. The indigestible sugars in beans that make it down to our colon may even function as prebiotics to feed our good bacteria and make for a healthier colon.

Even if at first they make us gassy, beans are so health-promoting that we should experiment with ways to keep them in our diet at all costs. Lentils, split peas and canned beans tend to be less gas-producing. Tofu usually isn’t an offender. Repeated soakings of dried beans and tossing the cooking water may help if you boil your own. Worse comes to worst, there are cheap supplements that contain alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme shown to break up the bean sugars and take the sail out of your wind.

Odor is a separate issue. The smell appears to come primarily from the digestion of sulfur-rich foods, so to cut down on the stench, experts have recommended cutting back on foods such as meat and eggs (hydrogen sulfide is called “rotten egg gas” for a reason). In “Contribution of Dietary Protein to Sulfide Production in the Large Intestine” researchers found that meat-eaters generated as much as 15 times the sulfides as those eating vegetarian.

There are healthy sulfur-rich foods, such as garlic and cauliflower. If you’re about to embark on a long trip in a confined space after a big meal of aloo gobi, Pepto-Bismol® and generic equivalents can act as a windbreaker by binding up the sulfur in your gut to eliminate odors, but should be used only as a short term solution due to the potential for bismuth toxicity with chronic use.

Then there are the high tech solutions, such as carbon fiber odor-eating underwear (cost: $65),  which were put to the test in an American Journal of Gastroenterology study that included such gems as “Utilising gas-tight Mylar pantaloons, the ability of a charcoal lined cushion to adsorb sulphur-containing gases instilled at the anus of eight subjects was assessed.” Assessed, that is, by a panel of fart-sniffing judges. And the name of the charcoal lined cushion? The “Toot Trapper.”

To reiterate, though, intestinal gas is normal and healthy. No less than Hippocrates himself was quoted as saying “passing gas is necessary to well-being.” As one chair of gastroenterology wrote in a review of degassing drugs and devices (and yes, Dr. Fardy is a real name), “Perhaps increased tolerance of flatus would be a better solution, for we tamper with harmless natural phenomena at our peril.”

 – Michael Greger, M.D.

Reposted from One Green Planet


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

81 responses to “Beans & Gas: Clearing the Air

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    1. Hello Dr. Greger – I recently discovered your site and LOVE the information you provide. I wasn’t sure where else to post this, I do realize this thread is a bit dated. I’ve read many conflicting articles on beans – one camp seems to believe them to be a superfood, while the other condemns them as a food not fit for human consumption due to their high lectin content. If indeed beans must be cooked to reduce their toxicity to tolerable levels, are they really as healthy as they are claimed to be? I’m a bean lover, but have given them up because a nagging voice in my head makes me tend to agree that any food that must be cooked and/or processed before it can be consumed by humans is perhaps not the best food for me to be eating. Do you have any thoughts or insight on this? Your response is much appreciated!

    2. For years have been eating whole food plant based and for years have been suffering with chronic painful gas and more tummy issues. I find ALL nuts, ALL beans and ALL cruciferous veggies are like poison to my body, but….I kept on eating them in all different ways to PROVE I would get used to them. They were promoted as being so healthy and crucial in my diet. I tried small portions, soaking forever, pureeing, sprouting etc and etc, but nothing, NOTHING helped. I read every plant based book, took every plant based course and just felt miserable. How could such a healthy diet leave me so unwell? I surround myself with all the plant based doctors books and search for answers. Well here’s the answer….CUT OUT THE FOODS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL AWFUL. The hard part was going back to animal products. But now I have my lactose free yogurt, my eggs, chicken, fish, non crucif veggies, some fruits and not one tummy problem the last few days. I had forgotten what tummy peace was. Of course my ideology is shattered ,but please, everyone, …if you find many plant based foods leave you with tummy issues, then stop eating them and rethink your diet. The article above on the musical fruit makes it sound trivial and not a big deal. IT IS A BIG DEAL. Too much promotion of vegan plant based diets leads to many caught up in either food disorders or quietly suffering behind the scenes from their “healthy diet” but they are not feeling great. I hope I have not permanently damaged my tummy from years of eating these foods that were clearly irritating my insides. I am worried I may have other damage because of this “healthy eating”. I will do blood work to see shortly. It was very hard to give up my ideology about whole food plant based and eating all these “healthy foods” that seemed so important to balance out my diet. Don’t spend years if your gut tells you somethings wrong. I still love all these doctors and Dr. Greger is amazing on all levels. Remember that every body is different. Healthy food for one can be a poison to another. Trust your gut.

      1. Hi Jen,

        I’m glad you figured out what was causing your problems. You are correct, that it is not good to be in digestive distress!

        I had several months of problems, myself. I was able to fix my issues. I forward this, only on the chance that it may be helpful to you. I completely accept that my solutions may not work for you.

        Oh, by the way. Everyone should check their vitamin D status. 1/3 of the general population is deficient in Vitamin D. In my case, my body does not make vitamin D from sunshine. I was getting at least 10 times the sunshine as recommended by most authorities, plus a supplement with 200 IU of vitamin D, and my blood vitamin D was 16, seriously deficient. As a result of being Vitamin D deficient, my hip bones are at the bottom of osteopenia, almost to osteoporosis. That’s why I got the vitamin D blood test. I cured the D deficiency with 2500 IU of D3 daily. Now my blood level is 35 to 40. Also, I was seriously lactose intolerant for 30 years (age 30 to 60). A year after curing the D deficiency, I noticed that my lactose intolerance had gone away. I carried lactase pills for 30 years, and I am totally lactose tolerant for 10 years now. Of course, I am mostly dairy free, so it doesn’t matter much. The point that a possible cause of digestive enzyme deficiencies, could be vitamin D deficiency.

        My issues were irritated bowel movements (stingy with mucous). Also burning urine, and very frequent urination. I figured out 3 things that helped me a lot.
        * I was eating salads with some chewy fibrous things. I cut them out.
        * I was eating a 2 cup smoothie in the morning, plus a large bowl of oatmeal. I reduced to 1 cup smoothie, which helped a lot. My smoothie contained Tofu, which is from soybeans, which are hard to digest, for me.
        * I was eating a cup of beans and a cup of wild rice, in one portion. I realize that my stomach enzymes for digesting beans, are a bit weak. So, I wait 30 minutes after the previous thing I ate, and then I eat 1 cup of beans-rice mixture. Then I wait 30 minutes, and eat the 2nd cup of beans-rice mixture. I eat nothing else for another 30 min. One cause of digestive problems are when more food comes into the stomach, after eating beans or cruciferous veggies, or nuts, and pushes the beans out of the stomach too soon. If the stomach has not finished doing it’s part of the digestive process, the inadequately digested (from the stomach) beans get into the intestine, and the bacteria make irritating byproducts.

        You mentioned smaller portions, which is valuable. It is important not to eat anything else after, for 30 min.

        You could try Beano, as a diagnostic check. If taking Beano helps you tolerate beans, etc, then you know the problem is due to low stomach enzymes, like me. If Beano does not help, it could be allergies, or something else. I would suggest trying 2 or 3 or 4 pills, to see if the Beano helps.

        I hope this is helpful to you or someone else.

        Best regards,
        Stacy (EnginerGuy)

      2. Hi Jen,
        Your stomach might be feeling better in the short term but you’re now on the path to cancer and a plethora of other lifestyle diseases due to ingesting animal products. Had you tried a low fodmap diet before returning to the SAD diet? Many people are unable to break down certain sugars in foods and this diet has helped many people work out what disagrees with their body. Just a suggestion, I wish you well.

      3. Hi Jen,
        I see you have completely ignored the thousands of edible plants that doesn’t necessarily include the three things you mentioned.
        Instead of nuts and beans, enjoy tofu, avocado, jackfruit (maybe). I’m not going to tell you all the food you can eat, but your ignorance is the only harmful thing to “your previous ideology” of not harming/exploiting animals, being healthy and more sustainable for the planet.

      4. Try using Asafoetida (Hing) when cooking pulses. Be warned, it smells like rubber when raw but like leeks/onions when cooked.

        Chef use it for pulses but also for Jerusalem Artichokes which give shocking (and painful) wind. Would be worth trying with green veg too?

        Be warned, it smells like rubber when raw, but tastes like leek when cooked

        Hope it helps


    3. Im eating pulses from two days…in morning..
      And from 1 day i haven’t gone to washroom…. Im drinking lots of water 4-5 ltr a day…..
      And i have a bad smell gas…..
      What to do?

    4. I swithed to a WFPB diet in august and everything was going great. My bowel movements were regular, I never even had to use toilet paper (I always checked, but squeaky clean) and my flatulence didn’t smell that much even though I ate probably a kilogram of cabbage a week.

      I am not a strict vegan and during a traditional meal I ate some sausage, bacon and lamb meat together with a traditional norwegian food which is basically grated potato mixed with water and some of the aforementioned meats.

      After that my stool hasn’t been the same and my flatulence often smell bad which is very annoying.

      Any tip?

      Breakfast: Rolled oats cooked in water with flax, sunflower and unhulled sesame seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, date syrup, an apple and a kiwi.

      Lunch: Usually couscous or bulgur with some kind of legume, lemon juice, different spices, yellow bell pepper and carrots

      Dinner varies but it’s always high in fiber, often lentils, legumes, white rice and different sauces.

    5. Indians add Asafeotida to pulses to reduce the flatulence when cooking pulse vegetables and chefs use Asafeotida with Jerusalem Artichoke which can also cause flatulence.

      Where some Indians do not eat onions, they replace them with Asafeotida.

      Asafeotida smells like rubber but when cooked taste vaguely of onions.

  1. Kale-force winds—I love it. Lately I’ve been getting lazy and just eating my kale raw, much like you would a stalk of celery. Dr Greger, I believe you advocate making a green smoothie out of the kale for maximum nutrient absorption. Is my laziness costing me nutrapoints?

    1. Hi Mike,
      You probably would get a bit more nutrients with proper cooking of the Kale. However you don’t loose much and the important thing is to eat your greens. Doing smoothies is a convenient way to get nutrients. You can view previous videos for more information.. Raw Food Nutrients and Best Cooking Methods.

    2. Mike: I remember one of Dr. Greger’s videos that talked about needing to get some fat with your greens in order to get certain nutrition. In other words, if you eat it raw without say nuts or rubbing a little oil in, then you are missing out on some good nutrition.

  2. Dr. G,

    I recently heard that the reason humans produce gas after eating beans is because they contain raffinose which is a starch that is poorly digested due to a lack of the enzyme galactosidase. The MD claimed that adding baking soda to the soaking liquid reduced the raffinose. Have you heard anything about this?


    1. Yes indeed, research dating back more than 25 years (“Effect of Processing on Flatus-Producing Factors in Legumes“) found that adding baking soda to the soak water of dried beans before cooking (about 1/16 teaspoon per quart) significantly decreases the content of the raffinose family of sugars. The study I profile here in Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air that concluded “People’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated” used canned beans, though, which I find to be much more convenient. If you have the time, though, it’s hard to imagine a better nutritional bargain than dried beans, peas, and lentils.

      1. Don’t forget to rinse the beans after soaking in baking soda… it isn’t supposed to be included in the final product. Also, adding carrots to your cooking the beans is another old fashioned way of reducing gas when cooking beans.

  3. […] mind is that we can draw our own conclusions based on the information our mind’s collect. Start here, with the illustrious Dr. […]

  4. I’m a vegan who eats mostly plant based whole foods(some processed) diet and I still have foul smelling farts. I think I surpass the normative 22 farts per person per day as well. Since I was a child I’ve always had an excess of gas and even taking medications has never helped. I’m sure shifting from a carnivorous diet to a plant based diet has helped my overall health but I’ve never been able to decrease the odor or consistency of this natural(but embarrassing) bodily function. 

    1. There
      basically 5 common causes for excessive flatulence:

      1.   Consuming too many carbs

      2.   Consuming indigestible foods, this is
      an individual issue i.e. lactose intolerance is a common problem

      3.   Excessive enzymes: again an
      individual issue two people can eat the same meal and only one of them will develop
      gas, simply because his intestinal tract contains more enzymes. It all depends
      on the amount and type of bacteria in the large intestine.

      4.   Chewing food and swallowing air:
      chewing food properly alleviates the work the intestinal tract has to do i.e.
      less gas. Swallowing more air than normal ie. chewing gum will do just the

      5.   Intestinal infections: eating
      contaminated food or drinking contaminated water will cause intestinal tract
      problems; I assume this is not the problem.

      Cutting the
      amount of carbohydrates and avoiding foods that you know cause you problems can
      be very helpful and again I assume you have tried this to some extent.  Chamomile, peppermint, sage and marjoram are
      the common herbs that help alleviate flatulence.  Hot pepper and ginger can also be helpful.  Over-the counter Bean-O is touted to work but
      I’m always wary of over-the counter products.

    2. I have a similar problem and have found that consuming more fiber (in the form of a supplement) and using magnesium supplements for a kind of laxative effect is really helpful. The problem appears to be transit time. I calculated that it took about three days from the time I had a meal until it left my body, and that gave the food a lot of time to go rotten in my gut, causing really uncomfortable stuff to happen. Someone else on this website recommended a book called “Cure Constipation Now” which is where I got the idea to consume more fiber and use non-irritating laxatives to speed things along.

    3. I know vegans who say that they don’t think they can eat legumes at all because of bloat, and they worry about not consuming their essential aminoacids. I know soaking the legumes before cooking is usually recomended, but could sprouting have an even better effect on their diggestion?

      1. Oh, definitely, sprouting helps a lot. IT makes everything easier on the gut, and nutrients are more readily absorbed. I love my sprouted stuff!

  5. Aloe may help.  It is easy to find the juice in health food stores these days.

    Also, James Duke recommends carminative herbs:  allspice, cloves, cornmint, caraway, dill, fennel, horsebalm, peppermint, sage, and thyme.

  6. I try to wash beans.. Dr. Klaper suggest that has comes from the hemi-cellulose (sp?) coating.. I find canned beans don’t cause problems but in an effort to decrease sodium I starting soaking and boiling.. I fart more now..   however, I did mix in some kale and mushrooms.

  7. I found this interesting and hilarious! I read portions of it to my kids, and they were laughing so hard. My son is now an aspiring flatologist.

  8. Dr. Greger, your puns in this article had me laughing so hard that I was crying! Thanks for the good info and for a great laugh as well!

  9. You REALLY make learning and reading about health a fabulously fun experience with lots of belly laughs Doc. If you’ve seen my many posts now since I found this site, you know I don’t agree with all and I am a bit of a wordy gurdy, but I want you to know my “professional” ;) disagreement/parrying detracts naught from my general appreciation and respect of your work and my recognition of magnanomy of this site. Yur awesome.

  10. 70 farts in a 4 hour period? Yep, I could do that. My family and I have not eating animal products in over 3 years now and although the rest of my family is not afflicted, I am plagued with emission of the most offensive olfactory insults. I love legumes and cruciferous vegetables. I don’t drink soda and don’t eat garlic very often. Bean-O did nothing to help. I tried the vegan equivalent to Bean-O and it also did nothing to help. Thankfully my family accepts me as “Farty Pants”, but I work indoors and find this gas problem to be cruel and unusual punishment for those around me. I easily pass 5 toots an hour during waking hours. I love the foods I eat and eat a very healthful whole food plant-based diet. Is it possible that I have some abnormal gut bacteria? Putting “toot trappers” aside, what else might I try to help? Three years should have been enough time for my gut to adjust. (According to my nutritional journal I am consuming about 40 or more grams of fiber a day.) Any ideas?

  11. Dear Sir, I don’t know if you are familiar with the Natural Hygiene phenomenon in your country, synthetized by the late Dr. Herbert M. Shelton (1895-1985), one of the few divine Americans I know. The Man taught about the importance of proper food combining for the digestion and asymilation of our food. Talking of legumes, some of which, like soy, are almost 50% carbohydrates and 50% protein, the compounds that cannot digest at the same time at the same place, the timing in digestion here being of very high concern, the Man advised only green salad with legumes, a very simple meal, in order to allow this complex food to digest properly. He explained the process of digestion of beans like this: It needs to be thoroughly chewed and mixed with salivary enzyme ptyalin, the first phase of digestion of starches. He explained that our stomach glands will “wait” for a while for the salivary action in digesting the starch of the beans to take place, “knowing” that the ptyalin will be destroyed in a highly acid environment, and after a while, excretes the highly acid juice in order to digest the bean protein content. So, eating many other things, like bread, starchy vegetables, vinegar and who knows what else with beans, will surely produce digestive problems. And let me repeat Dr. Shelton’s words that if properly combined, our food will not produce fowl gas, and can eliminate even the need for toilet paper, if anyone still uses it. That I could witness myself in my own experimenting with food combining.
    Thank you for your good work and contribution to a healthier society.

  12. Dear Dokter Greger, Would you know if there is any science behind the idea of ‘proper’ food combining for optimal digestion? The basic idea put forward is that different foods require different pH levels to digest properly, and they all have different transit times in de gastrointestinal tract. The belief is that eating certain food combinations – specifically protein-rich foods combined with carbohydrate-rich foods – are harder to digest, which decreases nutrient absorption and promotes gas, bloating and the buildup of toxins. Is there any scientific truth in those assumptions? Thank you so much!

    1. Good question. I think some people feel different (more or less energetic, bloated, or satisfied, etc) when they eat certain foods or combinations of foods, but there is no research I am aware of to suggest a protein-carb combo for optimal digestion. Dr. Greger has shown research on animal protein and carbohydrates leading to increased risk of diabetes, so perhaps the digestive process is subpar in that environment? We know certain food combos like antioxidants/vitamins and fat sources, iron and vitamin C, pepper and turmeric, can influence each another However, I am not sure about pH levels I would think stomach acids tears through any protein and denatures it and packages it as needed for use. Dr. Greger mentions stool pH and colon cancer and how fiber creates butyrate and other health promoting short chain fatty acids. So I feel optimal digestion stars with optimal fiber, like 40 grams, and we have plenty of research on fiber.

  13. Dear Michael Greger M.D., My family and I are new to the world of the plant based diet. We are about a month to 6 weeks in and doing well. However, when we started my wife was hoping that it would help with foul smelling gas. She has severe issues with dairy and sometimes even with meat giving her foul gas. I assured her that I was convinced it would help but it might take some time. She still has pretty bad gas and is frustrated. Nothing seems to give me foul gas, infact you can rarely even tell. What could the difference between our GI tracts be and do you think she may see some difference in the future if she remains on a plant based diet?
    Kind Regards,
    Roy T. Lingenfelter

  14. Sure this thread is old. So what? I would venture to say most of you buy into the narrative and corruption in “climate science”. Put another way, raise your hand if you have the courage and intellectual honesty to be a skeptic to the corrupt hysteria. If you have the backbone to challange The Cult of Glo-Bull Warming. And yes there is heavy corruption in “Glo-Bull Warming” for a variety of reasons, often overlapping. Political reasonsl, personal greed, paychecks, scamming grants, career etc.

    So the article ends with the premise that the methane flatulance of the soon to be over ten billion humans is “harmless”. Yet the GW cult says methane is one of the supposed major contributors. Which is it? Harmless or a horrifically dangerous pollutant that poses a dire threat to thr planet?

  15. I am cooking all the beans & lentils this way: beans I soak with apple cider vinegar for 24 hrs, then rinse well
    & cook with a pinch of Bicarbonate of soda.
    Lentils – I soak for 4-6 hrs, also with Apple cider vinegar then rinse & cook with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda.
    All the various varieties cook much quicker & can be frozen.
    Never had a problem with wind!

  16. Dr. Gregor, on the topic of digestion, what are your thoughts on the theory of food combining for good digestion? Eating fruit alone on an empty stomach, carbs/veg only meals or protein/veg only meals, not mixing starch and protein, not mixing fat and protein etc. Since this I have read this info I have refrained from my afternoon snack of fruit because I don’t want it to “catch up” with my lunch and “ferment”. Is this non-sense or is there truth to eating fruit first thing in the morning and not combining certain foods for great digestion at meal time? Thanks!

  17. In the 70’s I lived in a vegetarian commune with a group of about 60-80 like minded people. The majority of the group were between the ages of 18 – 25, of mixed gender and mainly from a Caucasian background . Members of the group reported significant issues with flatulence, especially from beans , and it did not diminish over the 2 year period. Most of the females experienced severe issues including bloating.

    The Winham and Hutchins study;“ Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies “, referenced by Dr Greger to suggest that issues with bean caused flatulence are over-stated and will diminish with time, does not provide strong evidence to support this claim …… the number of participants is too small to be a valid sample, the amount of beans consumed was small and the study relied on self feedback to draw a conclusion (self-reporting is subjective and prone to error).

    Other studies that measured actual frequency, volume and gas content of flatulence, in larger controlled study groups, show that flatulence is correlated to fibre intake.

    Other studies, particularly those on IBS and FODMAP response suggest that:

    – gas production in the gut, from fermentation of undigested carbohydrates, is normal and probably has healthy outcomes;

    – a percentage of people have abnormal and excessive gas production, and other issues including bloating and diarrhoea;

    – the primary cause is undigested carbohydrates and the carbs that are behind the gas production varies from person to person (generally they are the FODMAP foods that nutritionists recommend people with ‘sensitive stomachs’ should avoid e.g. fructose, certain oligosaccharides, artificial sweeteners and some other sugars) ;

    – the gases produced are the by-products of bacteria that feed on the undigested food …. these include Hydrogen, Carbon Dioxide, Methane and the pungent Hydrogen Sulphide;

    – The amount and type of gas produced by the bacteria, when presented with the same food varies i.e. the bacteria can be more or less active per gram of undigested carbs;

    – gases produced are not only emitted as flatulence but they also enter the bloodstream and exit via the skin and the breath. Breath testing can be used to test individuals susceptibility to various foods;

    – breath testing indicates variations of adverse response to difficult to digest carbs are dependent on genetics, gender and racial background (in one study the largest production of gas was produced by Caucasian females)s from undigested food

    – in some people other food intolerances also cause excessive gas e.g. dairy products for people who are lactose intolerant;

    – some cases of food indigestibility are due to a lack of specific enzymes (it is unlikely that the inability to digest certain foods because of inherited enzyme deficiencies food will improve with time);
    – response is dependent on the amount eaten. Small amounts are manageable but at a certain level the response increases almost exponentially;

    – continued incidents of extreme anti-reaction to indigestible foods may cause long term adverse health effects e.g. damage to the lining of the gut.

    It seems likely that over time the digestive systems of various racial groups adapted to the food types prevalent in their diet (studies show people with Asian heritage are the least likely to produce gas after eating beans).
    It is also possible that the problem is exacerbated if the offending foods also contain certain types of sulphur that increase the percentage of Hydrogen Sulphide in the gas, hence making the flatulence smell worse,

    Anecdotal evidence also suggests food that has not been adequately digested or certain food combinations can also exacerbate the problem.

    Food preparation e.g. soaking and sprouting, can reduce the amount of indigestible carbs in some foods. In other approaches additives are used e.g. bicarb soda, vinegar or some herbs e.t.c however most of these rely on anecdotal evidence for support.

    In other cases the use of enzymes can over come the problem e.g. enzymatic treatment of milk to reduce lactose.

  18. Well after reading the article i guess flatulence is a sign of good health. Although it should decrease with time i in a stage that i cant stop having them. Ive been on a plant based diet for a year and 4 months and ive been having this problem ever since. How do i reduce this problem? Its making me really uncomfortable on public places daily, i need to leave the room, the odor is really bad and one last thing to add. I go to the bathroom once every two days. sometimes daily and i know this last one is bad. What can i do?

  19. Fermentation in the bowel is the main cause Yes I do agree this point which is mentioned in the this article. I want to add to this that meat is the another cause for this fermentation. I have read this on one site recently here They explained same thing about fermentation. Swallowed air is yet another but I do not think so. I want to give some top 5 foods to aid digestion here Thank you nutrition facts for giving me this opportunity to express my views.

  20. Dr. I LOVE the way you write. You must be an expert writer to be able to present such fun in a serious topic as kale-force winds and “tak[ing] the sail out of your wind.” I laughed my way through reading your piece, as it really was a [pardon the pun] a windbreaker for me too. I actually looked up the issue as I cooked an entire 1 pound bag of dried bried/fava beans for dinner tonight and oh how delicious and buttery they were. But after 4 hours, man, oh man!!! Yikes! Just hold your hornet and run! But of course I do realize beans and cruciferous cookery can crucify one’s quiet evening moment even though they are healthy. I was just wondering whether there could ever be a way to not make the entire household run after i cook a healthy meal.

  21. I thought I would post an update here. There was a time when I gave up beans altogether after eating a cheap rice beans diet for a month. I had the worst gas and was sick. I attributed it to the beans but I realize now that I had messed up my gut flora. At least I think, I never actually went to a doctor. Fast forward a couple of years and a few crazy diets like paleo, keto, juicing etc, and I find Dr. Gregor on youtube. I started a whole plant based diet last May/June 2015. I transitioned into, I cheated ie ate meat, I faltered. I was not perfect but somehow I am now fully plant based with no desire for meat at all. I also eat boatload of veggies and I HAVE NO GAS neither nor cruciferous veggies cause me that crazy “what crawled up her butt and died” gas. Yeah!!! Also I have found so many great cheap easy and lazy vegan recipes that I am no longer tempted fallback on the unhealthy staples of the last 50 years of my life. I think that was the hardest part is to look at all my past “healthy eating” days that were ingrained in me and let them go. It has been a long transition and a few painful episodes of gas, uti infections over the holidays that were directly connected to a few cheats I feel stronger and I feel more confident in not eating meat, dairy fish etc. I don’t call myself a vegan because people associate that with crazy. I just don’t make a big deal about what I eat in public or private. I am definitely happier, and healthier. I still have Cervical Dystonia but I have hope that I have a chance to get my whole life back. A year ago I had not hope and was planning on going to the dignity clinic in Switzerland. So happy to still be alive and fighting. Thank you Dr. Gregor, all your volunteers and everyone that posts on your sight.

  22. I get the farts about 45 minutes before a bowel movement. It is like friendly “get ready” call. I wish my farts and BM’s would occur at the same time. Eating sugar snap peas and ’12 whole grain’ bread are my main offenders. I average 63g fiber daily and rarely exceed 20g of saturated fat, yes I keep track using a spread sheet. At 55, eating healthy is now a very important thing in my life and keeping track I have a personal competition going.

  23. “…the word pumpernickel stems from Middle German and means, roughly, “goblin that breaks wind.”

    There are varying stories about the origin of that word. My favorite: when his army ran out of white bread, Napoleon was offered a piece of coarse “peasant’s” bread — i.e. whole-grain, black rye bread. After one bite he made a face and gave the rest to his horse to eat. The horse’s name was Pumpernickel, and the rest is history. Well, it was a good story, anyway.

  24. Greetings and thanks so much for this site. I’ve been following this diet actively since the end of January so more or less one month. With the added beans, the excess gas is problematic at this point, so much so that it keeps me from falling asleep and sometimes is painful. Maybe it would ease up over time, but I’m considering using alpha-galactosidase for now. But was wondering if this supplement decreases any nutrient benefits? Thanks in advance,

  25. Gas/bloating from beans and other WFPB foods usually self-resolves over several months at the most. I would expect you to improve, not worsen. I suspect that you may be eating something you shouldn’t. If you list all the foods/drinks that you consume over several days then we might be able to help.

    Dr. Ben

    1. Thank you so much Dr Ben. I could certainly list everything here because I am keeping a daily journal. However, everything I’ve been consuming is coming straight from the Daily Dozen – no exceptions, although I can’t each that much food typically. I usually eat 1 or 2 servings of beans daily, typically canned black beans, pinto or cannellini. A few hours later is when I notice the excess gas – always after the beans. I’ve been trying to eat them earlier in the day so it doesn’t keep me up when I’m trying to go to sleep. I haven’t worsened per se, as I’ve only been on the diet since late January. It’s really since I’ve been on the diet that I’ve noticed it. I do usually eat the beans with onions and/or kale and spinach. But I think it’s the beans for sure. Are the supplements such as Beano detrimental in any way?

      1. I don’t have any experience with the beano supplements. I suggest you completely avoid anything out of a can: always and forever. Use the dry or fresh versions. I use an automatic counter-top pressure cooker so they are done in less than an hour. I also suggest you try cooking lentils and mung beans. I think you may have less of a reaction with them and they cook very quickly on the stove without a pressure cooker and without presoaking. I also suggest you eat a lot of raw fresh green leafy veggies and fresh fruit too, like grapes as these have real probiotics all over them. Your problem may stem from having the incorrect microbiome which could be corrected with these probiotics.

        Dr. Ben

        1. Ok well that’s interesting because Dr G’s video on canned vs dry/soaked and cooked indicated can versions were fine, or even caused less gas. And also you said these issues should resolve over several months and I’ve only been on the diet one month. So I’m confused I guess. But thanks for your suggestions – I’ll see what I can do.

          1. Yes, one month is not enough for a full adjustment. Try the variations though. You may find relief. You can also cut back and re-introduce small amounts of the offending food items over time to give you a chance to adapt.

            Dr. Ben

  26. I just learned from testing eating beans with yam (red or purple skin) would not give me gas. Based on my own anecdotal evidence, there appears to be a digestible sugars in yam that could help us digest the indigestible sugars in beans. Initially, I attributed the success of no gas to taro but repeated meals has proven that yam is the key. My ratio of beans to yam is 1 to 1 cup. Thanks.

  27. I started a vegan diet about a month ago and have noticed that my stool floats now. Is that normal with a vegan diet? I heard Dr. Oz (don’t watch but caught it as I surfed by) saying that floating stool is a sign of a healthy gut. Curious if his statement is true and if floating stool is normal.

    1. This is normal and nothing to worry about. There is no objective published evidence that I’m aware of in support of the health indications of this, but it’s possible.

      Dr. Ben

  28. Regardless of the gas problems everyone else seems to be having, doesn’t the soaking, followed by draining and washing, cause valuable nutrients to be lost?

  29. Help,
    I’ve never really had Flatulence before, and when I did it has never been smelly. I used to have an iron gut. Nothing bothered me. But recently this last year, It’s become off the charts in an volume and smell. I’m not sure what the source is or how to correct it. It appears to happen when I eat fruit. sugars, beans, beer, and whey protein. Other than whey I don’t consume dairy. It also seems worse when I consume probiotic. Worse after evening meals, then rest of the day.

    Any help or thoughts would be useful. It appears I’m becoming intolerant to everything the healthier I eat.

    1. It’s not gluten, bread doesn’t bother me, nor foods with gluten in them, nor rice. Nor meat when I eat it, which is less frequent than ever in my in my life. Broccoli and cabbage don’t really seem to bother Me either.

  30. Wonderfully informative report and humourously written. Thank you for your welcome research on a variety of topics. Always appreciated.

    1. Hi folks,

      Over the last decade, I have figured out 2 issues that cause me digestive issues.

      *1. Vitamin D deficiency. *

      For 30 years I had the most severe lactose intolerance I have ever heard of. A couple slices of bread containing whey, had bad consequences.
      Painful diarrhea in 20 minutes, and again the next day, was the most common side effect, for me. Bad cases would be 24 hours of painful diarrhea. For 28 years, I carried lactase pills (cheapest as Dairy Digestive Supplement from Walmart). I took 4 pills with the first bite of dairy, and I could eat all the dairy I wanted for 10 minutes. Then I needed another dose. I only ate dairy once or twice a week.

      Background on vitamin D: You can google the benefits of veggies on reducing skin cancer risk, especially lycopene from tomato paste (which I had eaten a lot of). The skin can take more UV without getting burned.
      The skin can take more UV with less DNA damage in skin cell mitochondria, consistent with lower skin cancer risk. Carotinoids become part of the layer of dead skin cells that line our body, and the carotenoids absorb UV, to reduce UV damage. The downside is that we get less UV down to where vitamin D is produced in the skin. The only downside of a whole plant based diet (that I know of) is that it can induce vitamin D deficiency. In my case, I made very little vitamin D from sunlight. I need 2000 to 2500 IU of vitamin D3 daily, to have 30 – 55 of vitamin D in the blood. I discovered my vitamin D deficiency after getting a DEXA scan and found that I had light bones. The doctor tested testosterone (normal) and vitamin D (16), in spite of getting 1.5 hours of sunlight every day at noon, for the last 2 years, wearing only running trunks and maybe a T shirt.

      2 years after I fixed my vitamin D deficiency, I noticed that I was no longer lactose intolerant. I have stopped carrying my lactase pills for 11 years now. Vitamin D is necessary for proper digestive enzymes. The only way to know if you have proper vitamin D, is to get a blood test. My lactose intolerance started 1 year after adopting the Pritikin diet, which included a lot fo tomato paste.

      *2. Sensitivity to some foods, that my be hard for you to digest.*

      When people get older, especially guys, the amount of digestive enzymes in our stomachs can reduce.

      I have issues when I eat lemon or lime. It makes irritated BMs the next day. I just avoid them.
      Stringy vegetables. By this, I mean fruits or vegetables which lave stringy things in my mouth after chewing them. I discreetly spit these out.

      Chew salads very well, to a soup. (This tip was from Dr. Esselstyn.)

      Beans. These are extremely valuable nutrients, but I have trouble digesting them. A solution that works for me is this. I eat a small portion of beans, no more than a cup. I chew very well. I look at my watch. I do not eat anything else for 30 minutes. This allows the stomach to thoroughly digest the beans. The problems happen when the beans are not fully digested, from the stomach’s part, before going to the small intestine. If you do eat something sooner, the new food coming down, pushes the beans out of the stomach, perhaps too soon.

      Another fix is to put the beans through a blender. This helps the stomach enzymes digest the beans more quickly.

      I have the same issue with flaxseed. I cannot eat any more food for 30 minutes. So, I add finely ground flaxseed (1/2 teaspoon for me) to the beans. I think it tastes much better to add nutritional yeast 1/4 teaspoon)(unfortified). Nutritional yeast is a super nutrient, also.
      Even 1/2 teaspoon has benefits.

      I just googled digestive enzymes. I could try them. You could too, as a diagnostic tool, to see if inadequate digestive enzymes are your problem.
      If so, you could take the enzymes, or eat a smaller portion of the problem food, and not eat for 30 minutes.

      Oh, does soaking and rinsing cause valuable nutrients to be lost? Sure, some. But most of the nutrients remain. If the alternative is not eating it, what are you going to do? These issues make us feel badly, and are a tax on our body. It can take months to figure out what foods are difficult for you to digest. A food diary is a good idea.

      Sorry for the long message. I hope it is helpful.

  31. OMG! Could hardly read from laughing so much. You’re the best Dr. G ; )
    Over the years I have perfected the gas free bean!!
    Soak over night (not in the fridge) with just a sprinkle of baking soda.
    Drain put soaked beans in a pot cover a few inches above bean level with fresh water. Bring to a rolling boil. You need to stand there because tons of foaming “scum” will form ( this stuff is the gas culprit) and boil over the sides if you don’t skim and stir. Let it boil a few minutes taking away the scum with a big spoon then let it cool natural about 10 to 15 min. Pour into a colander, rinse and add the “clean” beans to a slow cooker. Cover with fresh water about 3 inches above bean level and set on Low all day while at work, 9 hours. (I sometimes add a couple cloves of garlic, but nothing else. Especially nothing acidic like tomatoes which will make the beans hard.)
    When you get home you’ll have soft creamy delicious gas-free beans!!
    You can add salt and chili powder or whatever at this time too.

  32. Dr Greger, I don’t get any gas from beans at all since I had my h-pylori antibiotics (when it was a problem before).

    I still suffer from reflux though so am trying sauerkraut and low histamine probiotics (recommended on Gojiman’s channel – completing a masters in nutrition).

    Long-term high carb, low fat vegan.

    I hope you see this!!!!

    Many thanks :) !!!!

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