- Farts are the result of gas that's built up in the digestive tract
- Some foods, such as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, beans, and fatty meat, can cause gas to smell particularly bad
- Alcohol can also play a role, as can long-term constipation
Much like the colors of the rainbow or flavors of sparkling water, there's an incredibly wide range of farts you can have. Sometimes, a fart can be noisy but otherwise relatively inoffensive; other times, they can be silent, but the smell could probably kill an elephant.
As it turns out, like most other things in life, not all farts are created equal: while some contain odor compounds that make them smell less than pleasant, there are certain factors, such as foods you eat or how much booze you drink, that can make them extra foul.
So what, exactly, makes one fart smell worse than another? We asked health experts to answer the one question that we know is keeping all of you up at night.
Why farts smell in the first place
First things first: Passing gas is completely normal, and everyone does it every single day. In fact, most of us will fart around 15 times a day, says Alex Sherman, MD, of Concorde Gastroenterology in Manhattan.
Basically, farts are the result of gas that gets built up in the digestive tract. After eating, the bacteria in your gut get to work on breaking the food down into nutrients. This process doesn’t always produce a sickening stench, because the gases produced from most foods are actually odorless. But certain foods result in the formation of sulfur-containing gases like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, so when it builds up in your colon and eventually gets released by a fart, the result can carry a rotten egg-like odor.
What foods make some of your farts smell worse than others?
So which foods can take your farts from average to straight-up atomic? Cruciferous veggies, onions, eggs, meat, and of course, beans, are the most common culprits, says David Bridgers, MD, a gastroenterologist with Gastroenterology Associates of North Mississippi. Polishing off a meal that’s extra high in those noxious, sulfur-rich compounds, like a bean and veggie burrito, is a surefire path to Stinktown.
Foods made with sugar substitutes like xylitol or sorbitol (such as sugarless gum, ice cream or cookies) also tend to pose a problem. Your digestive tract can’t break these sweeteners down, so they hang around in your gut for longer and ferment, which can result in gas.
Alcohol can also play a role. Wine contains sulfur, which is why your farts might reek after a night at the bar, explains Samantha Nazareth, MD, a gastroenterologist practicing in New York City. Beer farts can be especially horrific. “Some of those carbs can go undigested and enter the colon, where it starts to ferment and cause stinky gas,” she says.
Finally, constipation can play a role in your gas. If it’s been a while since you’ve gone number two, all that poop is just hanging out in your colon, which can result in some nasty side effects. “There’s more time for bacteria to begin to metabolize these compounds, making for a more malodorous smell to gas that’s produced,” says Bridgers.
How to minimize the damage
While the above foods are the most common culprits of malodorous gas, the truth is that it often depends on your individual digestive system. Some people, for instance, have trouble digesting fructose, which isn't always absorbed well by the small intestine, so fruits that are high in fructose (like apples, grapes, and watermelon) can be problematic for them. Dairy can be another biggie: if your digestive tract has a hard time breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk, you’ll end up extra gassy whenever you eat or drink milk-based foods.
If you don’t want your gas to take center stage during a meeting or a coffee date, know that it’s fine to hold it in for a little while, says Sherman. Just don’t try to do it for hours and hours. “Intestinal gas is meant to be expelled. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to end up feeling bloated and uncomfortable," he says. (If you have a GI disorder like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, letting gas build up for long periods could actually cause your GI tract to puncture.)
If you feel like you’re gassier than usual, take a look at your diet. Keeping track of what you eat and noticing when the gas occurs can help you figure out if a certain food is causing problems.
Cutting out those foods can help, but if you don’t want to give them up, your doctor might recommend taking certain meds, such as Beano, before eating high-fiber foods.
If the gas is accompanied by pain, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea, talk with your doctor about seeing a gastroenterologist, Sherman recommends. A GI specialist can figure out whether you have an underlying problem.
This article originally appeared on www.menshealth.com