So, I have just returned from a trip with four old friends. We all turn forty this year and this was a chance for us all to get together, reflect, drink a bit too much, do some mountain biking and just generally have a bit of good, old fashioned bloke time.
The fart chorus
Night one was pretty much as expected. We were mountain biking on the following day so had promised to take it easy, yet, when old friends get together, well, we regress to what we did when we used to get together and it got a little raucous. It was a great night. We did call it a day at a reasonable time and went to bed at 12pm.
The following day the signs were starting to show. Farts, burps and acid indigestion. We are not the young men we once were it would seem!
A day of bike riding at Coed-y-Brenin followed which was a hoot and everyone was eating bacon sandwiches (I skipped the bread) then we had a selection of full english breakfasts and cornish pasties after the bike ride.
By the time we got back the fart chorus was in full effect. One of the group seemed to get away with it and he did not drink any beer and stuck with rum. Lots of rum mind – but no beer.
My farts were every 10 minutes – some real force behind them – but no real smell fortunately. One other member certainly had
My Pre Paleo Days
In my pre paleo style eating days I used to have bad guts. Smelly, frequent farting. Awful acid indigestion. Burps. Hiccups. Not nice for me or anyone else. It really used to do my head in with the acid being the worst offender in that respect. Any holiday where there would be good food and alcohol over a sustained two to three day period would set me off on the acid indigestion fart train. Not cool.
When I started to follow a Paleo style diet this largely went away. Stopping eating grains and dairy (and legumes but I never ate a great deal of them anyway) was seemingly enough despite the fact I carried on drinking to some degree.
Certainly now, lager and beer will set me off. Whether this is the gluten in the beer or something else to do with the grains it does not seem to happen with cider which is equally as fizzy. If I stick with clear spirits in moderation then alcohol does not cause me too many problems here. Lager causes problems, dark ales even more so making me believe it is something in beer itself and most likely the grains.
If I avoid the common foods excluded in a Paleo diet and beers of all sorts then my indigestion and flatulence goes away.
Why do we fart?
There are two key reasons why we end up passing wind known as exogenous gas and endogenous gas.
Exogenous gas loosely means gas (or air) that comes from outside. Common reasons for this are smoking, swallowing air, gasping, fizzy drinks, chewing gum and one I am guilty of, eating too fast. This is rarely a major issue and can be easily dealt with by some simple behaviour modification. It certainly makes sense to chew your food as much as possible to ensure proper digestion and extraction of nutrients. In fact, there are several well touted benefits of well chewed food with improved weight management and gut health leading the charge. This kind of gas is fairly normal and unlikely to get too much worse as we age.
Endogenous gas is gas that is created inside of us usually by the digestion of carbohydrates. What is really happening here is that bacteria in your gut is digesting and fermenting carbohydrates that you have failed to digest properly.
Why do we fart more when we get older?
Unfortunately, like so much else, this is a by product of ageing. Things we could get away with eating and digesting are now passing through without proper digestion and our aged innards are no longer able to digest the food properly so our gut bacteria is having a feast and rewarding us with the farts!
There is a school of thought that are modern diet and lifestyle is damaging our gut flora and with the passing of time we have decreased digestive abilities and a number of nasty gut invaders surviving on all the food we fail to digest. This creates a perfect storm in our underpants.
The fart solution
Fortunately, this is pretty easy to reduce in most people and simply following a basic Paleo style diet and cutting out grains, dairy and legumes will be enough to reduce flatulence to normal levels. For those still struggling after implementing the basic changes there are additional foods that can be avoided and other tools you can use to help give your digestion a fighting chance.
These general tips will help most folks and for many may actually be enough to help kick your digestion into gear.
Eat simple meals – easy enough and rather than going for wildly varied stir fries try eating meals that look at lot more like meat or fish and a given vegetable or two. A steak, sweet potato and some broccoli. A piece of fish, some white rice and some asparagus. These kind of simple meals can really help.
Chew food thoroughly – digestion is a multi stage process that should start in the mouth. This involves the chewing to break the food down and exposure of the broken down food to the enzymes in your saliva. Simply chewing your food well (20 times or so) will ensure your digestion starts as it should and will ensure the next stages of digestion can do their job as they should.
Level 1 – should be enough for most folks
To take this further I would suggest a basic paleo diet template which simply put is the avoidance of grains of all sorts, dairy and legumes (beans). I would also suggest removing any processed food and simple carbohydrates. This for me was enough even when I was still not chewing properly and eating too fast.
Avoid the following:
- All forms of dairy (cheese, milk & yogurts)
- All grains and grain products (bread, pasta, cereal etc)
- All legumes (beans & peanuts)
- White potatoes
- Beer & Ale (I know, I know)
This may seem excessive or difficult but give it a shot for 40 days and see how you get on. If your life is compromised by digestive issues then making these changes is worth the effort! Often, people can bring back in a few meals with white potatoes and white rice once the diet is established (and if there are no other health issues).
On the alcohol front I know this is a tough call for many but it can be a major cause of gas and digestive issues. I tend to do okay with Cider so I don’t think it is the gas we are drinking here so much as what the beer, lager or ale is doing to us on the inside. The only way to know is to give it a go. If you must drink during this period try to stick to good wines, clear spirits or relatively clean drinks like whiskey.
Level 2 – for those still struggling
The foods that cause the most issues for all kinds of gut related problems from IBS to simply having too much wind are known as FODMAPs. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are specific carbohydrates that can’t be well digested by some people and as such are digested by the bacteria in the small intestine. The offshoot of this is wind. Lots and lots of wind. Sometimes smelly. Always noisy. Never welcome.
If you have implemented the simple tips and tried a basic Paleo diet template for 40 days and are still struggling then the next step is to eliminate FODMAPs from your diet.
Foods high in FODMAPs include:
- Oligosaccharides – Garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and all varieties of beans.
- Disaccharides – the primary disaccharide to avoid is lactose from milk.
- Monosaccharides – fructose from fruits like nectarines, plums and all stoned fruits.
- Polyols – these are sugar alcohols used in a range of processed, sweetened foods.
Foods low in FODMAPs include:
- Peppers, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, tomato and courgettes
- Bananas, oranges, grapes, melon, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry
- Meat, fish & chicken
- Almonds & pumpkin seeds.
FODMAPs are a little beyond the scope of this post but if you have tried everything else and suspect this may be the issue then for more details take a look at this FODMAP guide from Stanford Health Care.
This largely comes down to digestive issues so once you have found the level at which you are comfortable then you may be able to implement an 80/20 approach and have a few of the foods you have knocked out. Truly, this is very individual and you have to see what works for you. Keeping a food journal during the elimination and reintroduction process can be really useful and I like the online journal system Diaro which you can use on your PC or Phone.
Remember though, my digestion is fine but I go away and start to drink beer and maybe eat some less than perfect food the problems can come back in a transient way. Likewise, it is interesting to watch everyone’s problems pop up from indigestion to skin issues – eating clean will help you just feel better and get more from your day.
Once your digestion has settled down you can try adding in a few additional elements to help build up a strong digestive system and capable gut. Note that I do all these things and if I go off-road then I still get problems so these are tweaks rather than replacements!
- Add some soil based probiotics like Primal Defence Ultra
- Create some fermented foods like sauerkraut
- add some prebiotic foods (garlic, onions, bananas)
Hopefully this is helpful and simply eliminating the big three (grains, legumes and dairy) whilst taking more care to eat simple meals, chew thoroughly and avoid stress is going to make a huge difference. You really have to try it out though, give it a shot for 40 days and journal your results as you go.