Gum has no business in food. Not many people even know what xanthan gum, guar gum or locust bean gum are but that is definitely changing because they are popping up in packaged foods everywhere. I’ve suffered from a gum sensitivity for almost 20 years and I believe there are lots of people out there also suffering but they don’t know it yet. So, what are these gums? They are essentially sugar that is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose. After the fermentation period, the polysaccharide (sugar) is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. They are used today as food additives, normally for thickening, stabilizing and essentially helping to extend shelf life. In the oil industry, xanthan gum is used in large quantities usually to thicken drilling mud and it is also found in paints and pesticides.  What? Yes, that’s exactly what I said. This all sounds very chemical, so what business does it have in food.
Xanthan gum, specifically, was discovered in the early 60s by an American chemical researcher and it was approved as a food additive after animal testing in 1968 and like many other additives has not been reviewed since.  This of course was during the pre-era of the packaged foods craze and when shelf life for manufacturers became a popular topic. Today, there is a movement back to clean eating, less ingredients is better or at the very least knowing the ingredients. These gums add sugar, extend shelf life and provide zero nutritional value to the foods they are added to, but more importantly they add undo stress to the digestive system.
Here’s the crazy thing, gums are starting to pop up consistently in our food, mostly packaged goods on the shelf or in a freezer at a grocery store or food you may be eating in a restaurant. I’ve been following the “gum additive” labels for many years, so I can tell you first hand that it is becoming more and more popular. My list of foods I can’t eat has grown significantly in the last couple of years, I’m sure this list will surprise you.
These food products in your cupboard, fridge or freezer may contain gums:
- Bottled salad dressings
- Ice Creams, sorbets and sherbets
- Packaged almond, soy and coconut beverages
- Packaged french fries (yep, that’s what I said, even the ones you may order from a restaurant
- Cheap balsamic vinegars
- Canned soups
- Jellies or jams
- Instant oatmeals
- Soft tortilla shells
- Mainstream bagel brands
- Lots of frozen foods
- Pastry fillings
- Gluten free products
- Fancy mustards, like dijon or honey
Please note: not all brands of these food products contain gums.
My friend Stacey Smith who is a Holistic Nutritionist and owns Vitalife Digestive Wellness Clinic, in Toronto wrote this about xanthan gum:
“Xanthan gum is a binding agent, considered safe for human consumption. It is widely used as an alternative to gluten in many products. While generally considered safe, it can cause digestive upset for a lot of people. I think a lot of the reason for this is that it is a product of common allergens, wheat, corn, soy or dairy. If you are sensitive to any of these allergens, then in fact that may be why products with xanthan gum are causing problems for you. Also, the fact that it is a binding agent means it attracts water, meaning it can attract water to your stool, increasing your number of bowel movements. So in effect, it can contribute to diarrhea and excessive gas and bloating. The best way to test if you have a sensitivity to it, is to eliminate it from your diet and see if your digestive symptoms lessen.”
I try my hardest not to feed any gums to my kids, but as the years pass it’s becoming harder and harder. When you buy packaged goods off the shelf or eat at a fast food restaurant, you will more than likely find a “gum” on multiple labels and yes, with a busy lifestyle it’s hard to steer clear.
As I continue on this journey to learn about food I wanted to bring this subject up as a reminder to read labels, know what you are eating and hopefully inspire you to make food that doesn’t require a label. We cannot be perfect all the time but we can be more knowledgeable about what we are feeding our families and avoid the unnecessary where possible.
Have you had unexplained upset stomachs, sluggish bowels, bloating, diarrhea and can’t figure out what the problem is? Take the gum sensitivity challenge, monitor what you eat, note how you feel and eliminate it if it’s best.
,  Xanthan Gum. (n.d). In Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthan_gum