Gas and bloating are common gastrointestinal problems that virtually everyone experiences from time to time. The digestive system involves a complex set of processes for breaking down food into the nutrients and energy the body requires to function. Some foods, like beans and other legumes, are famously associated with the production of gas, but there are many other types that can also potentially have the same effect. One of the foods that you might not expect to make you fart more often is broccoli.
Some Facts About Broccoli
Broccoli is a well-known green veggie that is part of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) and is distinguished by flowering heads on thick stalks. Like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, broccoli is also sometimes referred to as a cruciferous vegetable. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are widely regarded as healthy foods because they are generally high in dietary fiber as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Broccoli is especially high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and the mineral manganese.
Broccoli has been grown for food for a long time, and it appears to have first been cultivated by people in the Mediterranean region around the 6th century BCE. Centuries later, it was most likely made more palatable for human consumption by farmers living in the Roman Empire. It eventually made its way to North America by European immigrants in the 19th century. As a primarily cool-weather crop, broccoli can only be grown in more moderate climates. Today, 73% of the world’s broccoli is produced by China and India, with the United States, Mexico, and Spain as the largest secondary producers.
Where Does Gas Come From?
Excess gas that builds up in the digestive tract, also known as flatulence, is a common experience that is a natural byproduct of the digestive process. When we consume food and beverages, our digestive system breaks down the nutrients and extracts the energy needed to fuel our bodies. This process is partially driven by the countless chemical reactions that occur in order to break down food into smaller components. In addition to providing fuel for the body’s cells, though, these chemical reactions also sometimes produce gas.
The vast majority of gas produced by the digestive system is odorless and is typically composed of gasses like nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. The unpleasant odors we most often associate with flatus come from other, rarer compounds like hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan. Though the amount and composition of flatus can differ from person to person, there are some common causes of excess gas that have been identified:
- Swallowing air: Every time we eat or drink, a small amount of air is inevitably swallowed and makes its way down the esophagus. While most swallowed air tends to be expelled back up through the esophagus as belching, some of it can accumulate in the digestive tract and essentially be forced down through the small intestine and large intestine until it eventually leaves through the anus.
- Gut bacteria: The digestive tract is home to billions of mostly helpful bacteria that assist the digestive process. This community of bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, essentially feeds on the undigested carbohydrates (primarily starches and fiber) that make it to the large intestine. When these bacteria break down the carbohydrates via the process of fermentation, gas is one of many possible results.
- Disorders: There are numerous gastrointestinal problems that also include excess gas as a side effect. One of the more common disorders is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition characterized by a set of symptoms such as constipation, indigestion, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence.
- Food intolerance: For some people, their digestive system simply isn’t able to process certain substances in the same way as others. A classic example of this kind of food sensitivity is lactose intolerance; this happens when a person’s body doesn’t produce the enzyme (lactase) that is necessary to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk, ice cream, and other dairy products. When the digestive system attempts to digest these foods, it usually causes a series of symptoms that includes excess gas. Other examples of food intolerance involve gluten and the sweetener fructose.
Does Broccoli Actually Cause Gas?
Because so many foods contain fiber, that means that there are also a lot of foods that can potentially make you gassy. Like the other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli can indeed cause excess gas to buildup in the digestive tract. One of the main reasons for this is because of the high fiber content in broccoli. And as noted above, dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is indigestible and therefore doesn’t get broken down and absorbed like other nutrients in the small intestine. Instead, it goes into the colon where the gut microbiome processes it instead.
The other reason broccoli causes gas is because it contains a particular type of trisaccharide called raffinose. Trisaccharides are complex sugars that are found in many vegetables and whole grains. Raffinose can only be digested by a particular enzyme (α-galactosidase) that is only produced in the large intestine by gut bacteria. When these gut bacteria process the raffinose, gas is one of the normal results of the chemical reaction. How much broccoli you eat and the state of your microbiome are both significant factors in determining how much gas will be created.
How to Reduce Gas From Eating Broccoli
There are many factors that contribute to the development of flatulence, so just eating a little broccoli isn’t necessarily going to cause noticeable amounts of gas. In fact, many people aren’t even aware of passing gas most of the time because it is odorless and silent. Still, for those who rely on broccoli as a tasty source of dietary fiber and nutritional value, it can be annoying to deal with an ongoing gas problem. To reduce the amount of gas the comes from eating broccoli, there are a few different tips to consider:
- Eat less: One of the easiest ways to control broccoli-related gas is simply to eat less of it; that could mean eating less overall or just eating smaller portions. The less you eat, the less raffinose makes it to your colon.
- Cooking: Raw broccoli is a common component of vegetable/dip platters at parties and events, of course, but eating it raw is actually more likely to lead to gas. Instead, by steaming or microwaving it, your body will have an easier time breaking it down.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are foods that have active bacterial cultures in them; examples include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and pickles. While more research is needed, evidence to date suggests that eating these foods regularly can help improve gut health and by extension the digestive process.
- Supplements: If other methods don’t work, you can also turn to over-the-counter supplements that are designed to reduce gas. A great example of this is Beano, a dietary supplement that introduces the missing enzyme (α-galactosidase) that can actually break down raffinose. Beano is usually taken after a meal to ease the digestive process.
Cary Gastroenterology for Digestive Health
Broccoli is an incredibly valuable and versatile vegetable that can be a part of almost any diet, but it can also sometimes cause excess gas to build up in the digestive system. While flatulence is somewhat taboo in most social situations, it remains a natural part of the digestive process. If you have been having problems with excess gas or any other gastrointestinal symptoms, you can always seek out a gastroenterologist to get checked out. At Cary Gastro, we are dedicated to providing excellent gastrointestinal health so you can have the best quality of life. Contact us today to request an appointment.