It's likely happened to you — an unexplained gas attack, smelly or discolored pee during a routine bathroom break, or a sudden urge to "go, now!" Or maybe you've suffered a painful brain freeze after sipping a delicious chocolate milkshake. There's a scientific reason for the surprising and quirky side effects from everyday foods.
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Why beans make you 'toot'
Beans, beans, the magical fruit … the more you eat, the more you toot! Of course, they’re not actually magical, because there’s a simple explanation for beans’ undesirable side effects. Beans contain sugars called oligosaccharides that humans can’t digest, but the bacteria in our gut can. Bacteria feast on these sugars and break them down into gasses, which eventually get expelled you-know-how. Please don’t let a little flatulence deter you. Beans are so nutritionally dense that they’re well worth the aftermath.
Why you get the coffee rush
Ever had to rush for the bathroom after your morning java break? The caffeine in coffee is a powerful stimulant, and in addition to waking you up, it can accelerate the rate of muscle contractions in your colon and bring on the urge to defecate. It’s just one more way coffee can invigorate you!
Why grapefruit messes with your meds
Grapefruit and its juice, though rich in vitamin C and other nutrients, can interfere with certain prescription medicines, including some blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering meds. Compounds in grapefruit inhibit the enzymes that break down certain medications, which prevents the drugs from being eliminated from the body in the intended way. This can cause a harmful buildup of the drugs in the body, possibly leading to serious side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your medications interact with grapefruit. If they do, no worries, get your citrus fix from oranges instead.
Red runs? Why it may be the beets
If you ate beets recently, don’t be alarmed when you look into the toilet bowl to discover a sea of red! It’s not blood — it’s just the result of the deep red pigments, called betacyanins, that give beets their ruby color.
Many factors impact whether or not the pigments survive the journey through the digestive tract, which explains why only some people get “the reds” after munching on beets. Other foods containing red pigments such as tomatoes, watermelon, and pomegranates can produce a similar effect, so don’t run to your primary care physician just yet!
Why asparagus makes your pee smell
Enjoying a side of asparagus with dinner can cause your urine to take on an unpleasant odor that’s reminiscent of rotten eggs or boiled cabbage. Why the stink? When sulfur-containing amino acids in asparagus are digested by the body, aromatic sulfur compounds are produced and then excreted into the urine, thus giving your pee a foul smell. (These sulfur compounds are similar to the odor molecules responsible for a skunk’s stinky fragrance.) Scientists have discovered that only some individuals are equipped with the genetic ability to produce these smelly compounds; likewise, only some people can detect the odor.
Peeling onions? Why they make you weep
A series of chemical reactions explains why the simple act of chopping onions can bring on a fit of sobs. Slicing an onion ruptures the vegetable’s cell membranes, which releases an enzyme called “lachrymatory-factor synthase” and sets in motion a series of events that ultimately produces a volatile sulfur gas. When the gas drifts into the eyes, it causes a burning sensation which triggers the tear ducts to wash away the irritant. Freezing an onion for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing can slow down the enzymatic reaction and help you avoid tearing up. Or, follow my lead: I wear onion goggles while chopping. I may look dorky, but at least I can see!
Ow! Why ice cream freezes your brain
Nothing ruins a delicious bite of ice cream or sip of smoothie like sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia — or, more commonly, brain freeze! Scientists theorize that those awful seconds of shooting pain to the head are triggered by a cluster of nerves on the roof of the mouth that are highly sensitive to abrupt changes in temperature. When these nerves come into direct contact with cold food, they send signals that rapidly alter blood flow in your brain, and an intense, pounding headache results. To avoid this annoying problem, try to eat and drink cold foods slowly and, if you’re using a straw, aim it away from the roof of your mouth.
Why that nightcap wrecks your sleep
A drink or two in the evening may help you get to sleep faster (hence the term nightcap), but it definitely won’t help you get a solid night’s rest. Alcohol causes the brain to spend a greater proportion of time in the lighter stages of sleep versus the deeper, restorative stages. After an evening of imbibing, you may find you wake up earlier than usual or feel less rested the next day. In fact, sleep deprivation (along with dehydration) is one of the main contributors to the dreaded hangover.
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