Welcome to Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum!

Intriguing Facts from the book of “Oh, Yuck!” The Encyclopedia of everything nasty

FARTS! You’re sitting at your cousin’s dance recital. The room is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Then, without warning, it happens. That unmistakable noise...that unforgettable smell...you have just farted. But before you move to Antarctica, where no one knows you yet, keep reading.


DID SOMEONE IN THE ROOM “CUT THE CHEESE”?

There are tons of clever things to call a fart. But whatever you call it, that gassy feeling has an official name—FLATULENCE (flat-chew-lints). And flatulence ends in farting. Everybody, from the Queen of England to the President of the United States of America, does it. (Feel any better yet?) In fact, the average person crop-dusts a room about 14 times a day. If you could catch all the gas your body makes in 24 hours (and you’d have to be a little odd to want to), it would fill half a quart.
Farts come from two sources. Some farts are simply swallowed air that never got burped out. The rest happen when the bacteria that live in the intestines break down undigested food. The by-product of that breakdown? An interesting leftover gas with an aroma that sometimes smell like rotten eggs. Most of the gas you make is absorbed through the spongelike walls of the intestines. But sometimes, one of the gas bubbles sneaks out when no one is looking. Let’s find out why.

 

BEANS, BEANS, GOOD FOR YOUR HEART

The foods you eat can add to the stinkiness of the air around you. Beans, the butt (sorry) of a thousand jokes, are a troublemaker because they contain a funky sugar called RAFFINOSE that the body simply can’t use. So when you eat beans leftovers for the body to get rid of. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and whole grains also have a lot of this kind of sugar, and eating too much of them can turn you into a little Texaco Station.


FRUCTOSE is another sugar that can make you a real stinker. Many sweetened fruit drinks, and especially sodas, have this ingredient added to them. Start reading those labels or be prepared to pass air!


Ever heard of SORBITOL? That’s a sugar that hangs out in pears, peaches, prunes, and apples. It’s also sometimes used in gum to make it sweet. And yes, it can make you let loose a stink-bomb from time to time.


FIBER, which is found in things like bran, adds to the general stinkiness of a fart. Because the acid in the stomach can’t break down tough fibers, that job falls to the bacteria in the large intestine. And, by now you surely know that where there is bacteria, there’s smelliness.


So, is there anything you can do to keep from becoming airborne every time you eat a bean? Well, believe it or not, being in good physical shape can help. If the muscles that support the intestines are strong, the intestines will work better. (Hit that floor, right now, and give me 50 sit-ups!) Exercise also helps to move things smoothly along through your digestive system. So if you’re feeling a little explosive, try going for a walk. (That’ll also give you the chance to relieve yourself of some of those nasty stink bombs outdoors, without knocking everyone in the room over.)


It’s not just the foods you eat that determine your fragrance factor, but also the speed at which you eat them. Gobbling down a bowl of baked beans at the speed of light is a recipe for disaster. But here’s the tricky part. Each person’s body reacts differently to the foods we eat. Some people can practically blast off after eating broccoli, while others have no reaction at all. Milk, ice cream, and cheese can cause problems for some people because their bodies can’t break down LACTOSE, a natural sugar found in dairy products. (Now you know why they call it cutting the cheese!) For others, dairy products are no problem at all.

ANATOMY OF A FART

What exactly is in a fart? There are five neat ingredients. Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. But sometimes a chemical reaction will also produce hydrogen sulfide, a particularly nasty combination of two chemicals and the same stuff that makes that rotten-egg smell.

 

Ever wonder what makes some farts noisy, and some silent (but oh-so-deadly)? After food leaves your stomach, it heads for your intestines, where wave-like motions called PERISTALSIS (per-eh-stall-sis) squeeze the food and gas along. Certain foods that are hard to digest make for “rougher seas.” The waves come along too fast and the gas surfing along doesn’t have time to get absorbed into the lining of the intestine. (On the other hand, a slow, gentle ride allows the gas to be absorbed.) But when things get rough, well, that “surfer” is going to get slapped around a lot. Pretty soon, the gas finds itself being propelled through your butt at supersonic speeds. That can lead to a noisy exit!

 

Remember that you are not the only person on earth who has ever laid an egg. But please try to help cut down on air pollution. If you feel a toot coming on, be kind and head for the bathroom where you can explode to your heart’s content.

For more reading on FARTS, check out the “Walter the Farting Dog” books by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray and Elizabeth Gundy (illustrated by Audrey Colman).