There’s nothing quite like a hot steaming bowl of Brussels sprouts to divide a dinner table. For some people the thought of delicious, yummy albeit slightly overcooked Brussels is a true joy. While other people would rather eat their own vomit.
Despite their “Marmite” qualities, those mini balls of cabbagey gorgeousness are packed full of nutrition and flavour and are amazingly versatile once you know what to do with them. I really could wax lyrical about the wonders of Brussels sprouts until Christmas has been and gone, and been and gone and…
But as they make their headlining appearance at this festive time of year, the sniggering little question on everyone’s minds is “Why do Brussels sprouts make you fart?”
Well, there isn’t a straightforward answer and the one I do have for you is actually rather scientific, so if you’ll bear with me I’ll do my best to try and explain it.
Along with onions, dairy products and pulses, sprouts are pretty difficult to digest in the stomach and small intestine. This is because they contain a complex sugar called raffinose. Raffinose is broken down by an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase. Our digestive system doesn’t produce a huge amount of this enzyme and when we consume a lot of raffinose, in the form of those delicious balls of goodness, our body has to adapt.
So, although our bowel bacteria is perfectly capable of dealing with excess raffinose, there is a small price to pay in the form of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane emissions. In other words, pretty stinky farts.
And it’s not just Brussels that have this fart factor. Just like Brussels, kale, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage – in fact all members of the brassica family of foods – contain high levels of raffinose and are essentially “fartinogenic”.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Our brassica friends also contain lots of sulphur-containing compounds.
And this, for the plant not your digestive system, is pretty clever because the high levels of sulphur compounds form part of a defence mechanism which aims to deter animals, including people, from eating them.
However, if like me you are a Brussel and general brassica lover, then the defence is useless and you’re going to munch down.
The resulting conversion of these compounds into hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercaptan by your digestive system, added to the emissions produced by the break down of raffinose, and your bottom burps will clear a room in seconds!
So is there anyway to avoid this toxic fartopathy?
Not really – it comes down to a bit of luck. Some people are just more prone to farting than others and others may have been blessed with a stronger bowel constitution.
You can take digestive enzymes, but if you are worried about the frequency or smell of your farts, accompanied by any other symptoms, please see your GP or a registered nutritional therapist like me and we’ll get you back on the digestive straight and narrow.
PS. Very chuffed that I have managed to write an essentially sensible article using the word fart, or variations of it, no less than eight times. Happy Christmas and a Farty New Year! (Make that nine!)