Healthy Gut

Here’s What Your Farts Say About Your Gut Health

Isadora Baum

Photo: Stocksy/Gillian Vann
It’s never fun to rip one when in a crowd, but you know what? It’s natural. We’re human, and we all fart. However, sometimes some people may pass gas more often than others, and the farts may smell bad, too. That’s why it’s best to know what causes farting in particular—especially which types of foods are best and worst for gut health and digestion—so you can better manage your gut health and gas.

What causes farting, exactly?

Essentially, farts are gas. That gas can come from a combination of things: swallowing air or food, breathing, and how the liver and gut (and the bacteria in the gut) interact. “What ends up in the large and small intestines as a result of these interactions ultimately leads to the production of feces—and, of course, farts,” says functional medicine expert Aaron Hartman, MD.

“Most of the gas you pass from your rectum is from swallowed air," he says. "The rest is produced by bacteria that live in your GI [gastrointestinal] tract and the interaction between the foods you eat, the liquids you drink, and those bacteria,” he says. This makes for an interesting (and sometimes stinky) milieu of gases.

Most of us don't think about passing gas—it just happens. This is the way it should be.

Why is gut health important?

As ancient cultures and modern medicine alike know, good health starts in the gut. The bacteria in your gut work to create postbiotics, or metabolically active chemicals, vitamins, nutrients, and fatty acids that affect our entire body's metabolism. Those then can boost our well-being, digestion, and immune system—as well as keep our farting less smelly and under control.

If your gut is in good health, things will go well. “You will pass gas seamlessly, and you should not really notice you're doing it," Dr. Hartman says. "But if you do notice your gas, then you are passing more gas than typical and you need to think about what you've eaten and drunk."

Most of us don't think about passing gas—it just happens. This is the way it should be. If you notice your gas passing to a large degree, then you might want to have a chat with your doctor.

How does food come into play?

Foods that are rich in undigested non-absorbable fibers, aka prebiotics, are great to feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. But foods like sugar, processed food, and processed wheat can feed unhealthy bacteria and yeast—and thus battle with the healthy bacteria in your gut for the same terrain within the gastrointestinal tract. “This battle can result in bloating and the formation of foul-smelling gas,” Dr. Hartman says.

Interestingly, his training taught him to notice odors associated with certain types of infections. “You learn what scents signify what type of bacteria are predominant in the gut,” he says. “When you have seen people with infections, colitis, C. diff, and so forth, after a while you learn to tell by the gas what kind of strange brew is going on in the bowels."

What are the best foods to eat?

The best foods to eat for gut health are brightly colored and fiber-dense. “One of the newer leading edges of research is looking at plant chemicals like polyphenols and phytosterols,” Dr. Hartman says. These are all fancy words for the colors of vegetables and fruits that feed the bacteria in your gut. “Carotenoids (yellows/organs), polyphenols (purples), naringins (orange), and the like all feed the bacteria in your GI tract,” he says, so work towards eating the rainbow in order to feed your gut and promote better digestion with a normal range of farting.

The next thing to include is fiber. “Some of the best forms are root vegetables, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, resistant starches (such as from cold cooked potatoes), yams, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower,” he says. All these are great sources for the right kind of fiber and the right kind of nutrition for your gut. So, enjoy these in side dishes, stir-fry meals, salads and more.

Try eating foods with probiotics, such as Greek yogurt or kefir. You can also enjoy Greek yogurt in smoothies, as a bowl for breakfast, as a healthy ingredient in lightened desserts and dips, and more.

What are the worst foods to eat?

The worst foods to eat for your gut are processed foods. Period. “Processed corn turns into corn syrup, and processed wheat removes the fiber and the protein, leaving the carbs,” Dr. Hartman says. “The homogenization and pasteurization of processed milk and dairy removes the good bacteria and enzymes." These are examples of how processing can remove the good gut health benefits from the original foods.

“Processing all of these foods affects how our body interacts with the food,” he says. “For example, oil and water should not mix, but homogenized milk is just that,” he says. It is the process of making milk fats and water mix. “This does not bode well for the bowels that are exposed to this processed unnatural product,” he says.

The best way to maintain good gut health is to eat real, whole, and unprocessed food.

In general, the best way to maintain good gut health is to eat real, whole, and unprocessed food. “Organic is a starting point, but the ideal is to know where your food is coming from and to educate yourself about sourcing your food,” he says. (You can look at the Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen from the Environmental Working Group for a crash course.)

Or just simply go for fresh, natural foods when possible and avoid foods that are made with nitrates and other additives (think processed meat, for example). It's a great starting point for gut health, for keeping your gas levels in check, and for ensuring that you won't be the person whose farts clear the room.

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