Why do we fart, and what’s up with the odor? Also, is farting healthy or a cause for concern? Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, shares the ultimate guide to passing gas.
Whether you call it flatulence, breaking wind, or farting, passing gas is natural and normal. While people are often embarrassed to discuss this topic, many want to better understand why we fart, if farting is healthy, and ultimately, how to fart less.
Keep reading for answers.
Why do we fart?
We all experience farts, which occur as a result of digesting food. Intestinal gas is released and builds up in our bodies, with some of it absorbed by the body.
However, when excess gas gathers in the upper part of the colon, it puts pressure on the colon wall. Farting, aka flatulence, allows for a painless escape of this excess gas.
There are several common culprits behind why we fart, including:
- Swallowed air: We often take in excess air as we chew or drink carbonated beverages.
- Undigested carbohydrates: Sometimes all your food doesn’t get fully digested by the enzymes in the small intestine. When partially digested carbohydrates reach the colon, bacteria convert part of that food into hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases.
- An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine: Several conditions can lead to bacteria overgrowth, including high blood sugar, lactose or gluten intolerance, and other food sensitivities.
Why do farts smell?
Farts smell for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, the foods we eat and/or an unbalanced diet are associated with smelly farts as well as body odor.
Ironically, the healthier you eat, the worse your farts tend to smell. In particular, while fiber-rich foods (including fruits and vegetables) boost gut bacteria, they also cause you to pass more gas.
Here’s a closer look at three main factors that influence how much our farts smell.
1. High-Fiber Foods
Fiber-rich foods are healthy for you, but they can make you pass more gas. That’s because it takes longer for these foods to break down in your digestive system, so they ferment over time.
Additionally, high-fiber foods are sometimes smelly themselves, which means your farts may be more pungent, too. This is especially true with strong-smelling vegetables, such as:
- Brussels sprouts
Further, have you ever wondered why your farts smell like rotten eggs? You can attribute this specific odor to the sulfur in fiber-rich foods. In addition to the veggies above, foods high in sulfur include red meat, milk, and plant-based proteins.
Additionally, when we feed the bacteria in the gut with high-protein foods, they also result in unpleasant-smelling gas—called hydrogen sulfide—which comes from the bacteria breaking down your food.
2. Bacterial Buildup in the Digestive Tract
When we digest food, nutrients are extracted and sent to our bloodstream, then waste is sent to the colon. If the digestion process is disrupted, there can be an overgrowth of waste, thus causing buildup and consequent issues.
This process may cause a higher volume of foul-smelling gas. Studies show that people with digestive tract imbalances often have diarrhea and abdominal pain. If you suspect this issue, consult your doctor.
Otherwise, farts can also smell due to constipation. If you can’t go to the bathroom regularly, bacteria and odor develop, resulting in smelly gas. Also, on rare occasions, certain medications can cause flatulence if they kill good bacteria in your stomach.
3. Food Intolerances
If you have food sensitivities or intolerances, your gas may smell worse. For example, people with lactose intolerance can’t break down the carbohydrate lactose. As a result, it’s fermented by bacteria in the gut, thus causing foul gas.
Next, gluten intolerance, especially in severe cases, can also cause extra smelly farts. People with this condition experience intestinal inflammation if they consume gluten, which can result in both malabsorption and flatulence.
If you suspect you have a food sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy, talk to your doctor, who can help determine if tests are necessary.
Is farting healthy?
Farting is both normal and healthy, so long as it’s without discomfort and within a standard range.
According to one study, 14 to 25 farts per day are considered normal. Yet remember: A healthy person might notice that they fart more frequently when they eat foods that are more difficult to digest, such as the ones mentioned above.
Again, more often than not, passing gas—whether foul or odorless—shouldn’t be concerning. However, visit your doctor if your gas is accompanied by any irregular symptoms, such as:
- abdominal pain
- muscle pain or weakness
- severe cramps
How to Fart Less If You Have Excess Gas
To reiterate, gas is natural and necessary to dispose of waste in the body. That said, here are five parting tips on how to reduce farting and help make your farts less smelly.
1. Drink more water. This will help move waste through your body at a quicker pace.
2. Try to avoid the foods that contribute to smelly gas. This is easier said than done, but if you know your foods that trigger smelly gas, aim to eat less of them.
3. Eat smaller portions. Be sure to fully chew and swallow each bite of food to encourage healthy digestion and reduce gas production.
4. Consider supplementing. First, broad-spectrum enzymes—such as those in Flatter Me—can help improve digestion and break down food. Also, I recommend including more probiotics in your diet, which nurture your gut and restore healthy bacteria in your body. If you aren’t eating enough probiotic foods such as yogurt, a probiotic supplement like Gut Instinct can also help.
5. Avoid carbonated drinks, which can also produce gas. Swap beer, sparkling wine, and soda in favor of non-carbonated beverages.