Gums are common additives, with ingredients such as xanthan gum, guar gum and carrageenan acting as thickening, stabilizing and emulsifying agents.
But recently, these gums have been used more extensively in non-diet and diet foods alike. They are especially common in foods marketed to people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity: in short, people who want gluten-free foods.
Yet people with digestive issues – some of whom may be buying foods that contain gum to avoid gluten – seem to be at higher risk for gum sensitivity.
People with gum sensitives or allergies may find it difficult to determine the food making them sick. They can embark on elimination diets and still not find the culprit, because the problem is coming not from the food, but the gums within.
In this blog post, we’re going to look which types of gums can cause digestive issues.
First used as a food additive in the late 1960s, xanthan gum gets its name from a bacterium used during fermentation, Xanthomonas campestris.
You’ll find it in fruit juices, soups, ice cream, sauces, syrups, gravy and salad dressing, as well as in personal care products such as toothpaste and shampoo.
And while xanthan gum has been shown to have some health benefits, like cholesterol lowering and cancer fighting properties, there’s also evidence that it’s on the list of gums that can cause digestive disorders.
For example, a study at the Centre for Human Nutrition in 1993 found that people who consumed large doses of xanthan gum experienced more frequent bowel movements, softer stools, increased gas and altered gut bacteria.
Guar gum is made from the guar bean, a legume grown primarily in India and Pakistan. Like xanthan, it’s a common food additive, found in breakfast cereals, puddings, yogurt, ice cream and kefir.
And like xanthan, guar gum has some health benefits. It’s been shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and may even improve gut health.
A study at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil in 2012 found that patients with constipation saw a marked drop in the concentration of harmful bacteria in their digestive system.
And a 2015 study at Italy’s University Federico II showed that guar gum improved IBS symptoms and increased stool frequency and reduced bloating in some patients.
So why are we talking about it under the heading “gums can cause digestive issues”? Because in some cases, guar gum can cause loose stools, increased gas and diarrhea, although these are typically mild.
If you’re asking, “Which gums can cause digestive issues?” carrageenan should be at the top of the list.
“The Natural Ingredient You Should Ban from Your Diet”
That was Prevention magazine in 2013, talking about carrageenan, an additive used to give dairy products a thicker consistency.
“Although derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response similar to that your body has when invaded by pathogens like Salmonella,” wrote Prevention’s Leah Zerbe.
Carrageenan causes inflammation, leading to bleeding and ulcers. Other research has shown a connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancers in animals.
Zerbe also covered this issue for Rodale’s Organic Life earlier this year, and noted that the National Organic Standards Board has voted to remove carrageenan from its national list. But this decision is an interim recommendation that needs to be verified by the USDA, which isn’t expected to take up the matter until November of next year.
Until then, the Cornucopia Institute has this list to help you avoid organic foods with carrageenan.
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