With a cupful of Brussels sprouts comes a bounty of important nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, according to the USDA. But as a food that causes gas and bloating, it can also bring a hefty dose of untimely discomfort. Here's how to sidestep that pitfall.
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What Causes the Gas
Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, along with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, which are all known for being gassy vegetables.
"They contain a type of carbohydrate called raffinose, which is non-digestible in our gastrointestinal tract," says Erin Kenney, RD, LDN, owner of Boston-based Nutrition Rewired. "Bacteria in the large intestine help break down raffinose, but this process creates a lot of gas."
According to Cleveland Clinic, once the large intestine bacteria help to break down the food, hydrogen is produced along with carbon dioxide, which is what exits out as gas. However, foods that produce gas and bloating in one person may not cause problems in another. This is because some common bacteria hanging out in the large intestine may destroy the hydrogen that other bacteria have produced.
"Although this process is typically normal, in some cases bloating could be a sign of a functional gastrointestinal disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional constipation or dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in the gut)," Kenney says. "It is possible that eating Brussels sprouts is exacerbating these conditions."
How to Reduce Brussels-Sprouts Gas
If you love Brussels sprouts but not the gas they produce, there are options. "To reduce the gas-producing effects of Brussels sprouts, consume them more regularly in small amounts so that your digestive system gets used to breaking them down," says Kenney.
On your way out to a date with that special someone? There's help. The herb peppermint has also been shown to soothe a gassy stomach. "To help alleviate your symptoms, you can try drinking peppermint tea after your meal, which can stimulate digestive juices to improve digestion," Kenney says.
An August 2016 review published in Electronic Physician discusses the use of peppermint oil for treating IBS in particular. IBS affects the large intestine and causes stomach pain, bloating and gas. Here's why peppermint is beneficial for some people:
- It reduces gastric motility, the pace at which food moves through the digestive tract.
- It has an anti-spasm effect on the smooth muscles.
- It leads to anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity in the small intestine.
Do the Pros Outweigh the Gas?
If your symptoms are manageable, the tradeoff of a little bit of gas can be worth it for a nutritious vegetable that's beneficial for your overall health. "Low in calories and fat, Brussels sprouts can be a good addition to a weight loss plan," Kenney says. "Their fiber intake can also help keep you full after meals by slowing the release of carbohydrates into the blood."
According to Mayo Clinic, a high-fiber diet can help you:
- Reach a healthy weight.
- Control blood sugar.
- Lower cholesterol levels.
- Have regular bowel movements and maintain bowel health.
Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables have also been studied for their ability to prevent cancers. According to a November 2018 article published in Molecules, cruciferous vegetables contain compounds called glucosinolates. There are more than 200 types of these glucosinolates that work with proteins to repair DNA damage and, it's thought, work to prevent the growth of cancers.
Eating cruciferous vegetables raw — which is easier to do with choices like watercress and bok choy — will provide more of these beneficial effects compared to eating them cooked, according to the Molecules review.
If cruciferous veggies and your digestive system simply can't get along, be sure to get your fill of non-gassy vegetables. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, some of the least gassy choices are:
- USDA FoodData Central: “Brussels Sprouts, Raw”
- Erin Kenney, MS, RD, LDN, HCP, owner, Nutrition Rewired, Boston
- Cleveland Clinic: “Gas: Possible Causes”
- Electronic Physician: “Herbal Medicines for the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review”
- Mayo Clinic: “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet”
- Molecules: “Anti-Carcinogenic Glucosinolates in Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Antagonistic Effects on Prevention of Cancers”
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Tips on Controlling Gas”