The Manual - A Flatulence Handbook

Colorectal specialist Dr Michael Levitt talks us through the turmoil our bowel endures during the festive period, and how best to minimise damage (to both yourself and your guests).

Of all the stresses on Christmas Day, one of the worst is the constant worry that your bloated, uncomfortable stomach might betray you in front of the in-laws. The Queen's Speech can end up as tense as The Hurt Locker as you shift in your seat in an attempt to suppress an ear-splitting trouser cough.

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"What happens at Christmas is simply the combination of eating more food than normal over successive days, combined with an increase in the consumption of alcohol - particularly beer," says Dr Michael Levitt, the world's leading authority on all things flatulence. "Men tend to suffer more than women. The typical male bowel habit is active - regular, daily bowel actions, a tendency to softer and more voluminous bowel actions and a tendency to produce more flatus, or bowel gas, than women. Men who eat a lot and drink a lot over Christmas experience increased stool frequency, more urgency to get to the bathroom and increased bowel gas."

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Reducing the production of gas is down to minimising the consumption of certain food and drink. "The most gassy foods are fruits and vegetables," says Levitt. "Amongst the fruits, the most gassy are generally the stone fruits - peaches, apricots, plums and grapes, and their dried equivalents including sultanas. Amongst the vegetables, beans, cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts are among the most gassy. Bananas, potatoes and pumpkins probably the least.

"As for alcohol, beer is the most active in terms of laxative effect and gas production. Red wine is less, then white wine and then spirits, which are generally the least active on the bowel."

The advice is simple, then. Fill your plate with spuds, pass on the brussel sprouts and find an alternative to your usual six cans of Boddingtons. Be warned though, going straight for the less gassy bottle of Scotch instead could easily lead to far more embarrassment than simply releasing a ripper in the middle of For Your Eyes Only.