By Nancy Mehlert, MS
Gums are common food additives used to add stickiness, thicken, prevent separation of ingredients, and improve texture. In a small amount, they are generally considered safe.
When larger quantities are consumed, there can be reason for concern. You may be surprised how easy it is to be eating a lot of them! They are common in many organic, non-diary, non-GMO, certified gluten free foods, and are often chosen with the belief that these foods are cleaner. Look for them in nut milks, gluten free foods, salad dressings, protein powders, mayonnaise, non-dairy products, soups, and sauces.
Here are the ones I see most often: carrageenan, xanthan gum, gellan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, and acacia gum ( a.k.a. arabic gum). Only one of them, acacia gum, stands out with some favorable benefits and has the least negative impact when used in small amounts. It is considered a pre-biotic, which means that it can actually feed the healthy bacteria in the gut.
Here are reasons to limit or remove the rest of them from your diet:
- Multiple studies have shown that many gums create GI inflammation, especially carrageenan, which is believed to have the highest potential for harm, especially for those already suffering with gastrointestinal issues.
- Many gums are very difficult to digest and cause diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and stomach pain. It is also common to experience symptoms unrelated to digestion such as a runny nose, congestion, hives or body pain.
- Those with gluten intolerance, gluten allergy, or celiac disease should avoid xantham gum as it is produced by bacterial fermentation of corn, wheat and other grain based sugars.
- Many gums can alter healthy levels of intestinal bacteria in some people. This happens by disrupting the normal mucous layer that lines the gut and contributes to chronic, low-level inflammation promoting changes to cells in the digestive tract, including the colon.
- Agar gum, karaya gum, and konjac gum (a.k.a. glucomannan) can expand in the gut and, without adequate fluids, can cause esophageal and bowel obstruction.
If you already know your gastrointestinal health is compromised in any way, you may want to eliminate these gums entirely. For most people, simply limiting their use to infrequent and small quantities would be wise. Check all your packaged and bottled foods – you may be surprised!
Choose well, be well!