I got questions about flatulence with a plant-based diet, so let me tell you about your bacteria. We are like walking national parks of billions of bacteria, but we don’t know exactly how many we have, and what exactly they do on, and in us. Some of these create a specific smell that we don’t like, or we adore. The funny thing is that we can do both with the exact same smell depending on the circumstances. Like the bacteria giving us the distinguished odour of the blue cheese from Roquefort that is vastly loved. What if I tell you it is the exact same bacteria that causes your feet to smell? The same kind of smell you love from a cheese, but you probably won’t like as much from feet. Why is that? Convention? That’s another blog about why we are the only animals that don’t like other humans’ smells, and why we are so afraid of smelling what we are, that we rather smell like a rose!
It is the bacteria in our gut that causes the wind produced during digestion to smell or not to smell. We all produce about 1-2 cubic liters of gas (flatus in latin) per day and it has to come out or we will feel bloated and get problems. We also swallow some air if we eat fast, smoke, or get it from carbonated drinks staying in the upper tract, and normally it comes out through the mouth. The digestive gases, often produced in the colon, comes out the other way, and most of it without us noticing. Only the smelly ones are kind of embarrassing in most circumstances. Did you know that we let wind out about 10 times a day, from the mouth or the anus. Yes, it’s been counted. Men more than women, but that could be cultural responsibility too 🙂
As the Roquefort cheese it depends of the composition of bacteria in the gut of each person whether the wind we let out is going to smell bad or not at all. About 50% of us have very active bacteria that like the sulfites and that’s where most of the smelly ones come from. Some have a hard time digesting fiber as our food doesn’t contain much of it today, so when a tummy not used to digesting it gets lots of whole grains, beans, lettuce and other high fiber food it will produce more wind until it gets used to the food and produces more enzymes that can break down the fiber. Fake and processed food produces wind as well, like sugar, sweeteners, additives, and if we are intolerant to say milk or gluten, you will get wind from it.
If you’ve got the smell-producing bugs – and it shouldn’t be hard to tell – it pays to know they love sulfites, which are present in most food but in large amounts in foods like cabbage, broccoli, onions, brussel sprouts, peas, leeks and garlic. So don’t blame these foods, they don’t cause the smelly gases, they only feed the bacteria that makes them smelly. Sulfites are also added to some processed foods during manufacturing, for example long life fruit juices and dried fruit as well as deli meats and wine. The sulfites in wine can be up to a 1000 times more than in nature, and can cause all kind of health issues. Bad, bad!
Until then I recommend you live with the smelly wind, as the benefits of fiber is so great it is worth waiting for your gut flora to adjust to it. Fiber cleans the intestines like a detox of itself and is pre-biotic. It wards off constipation, generates fatty acids that nourish the lining of the colon and helps prevent diseases like bowel cancer. We simply need it to stay healthy. Like Dr. Bolin, one of the greatest gastrointestinal researchers said: “It’s a small price to pay for the benefits a high fibre diet brings.”