Xanthan Gum: The Pros, and Cons to Health
This article will examine the evidence of xanthan gum to ascertain whether it’s harmful or helpful for your health. Xanthan gum is a common food additive that’s usually added to foods as a thickener.
It’s created when sugar is fermented by a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. When sugar is fermented, it creates a broth or goo-like substance, which is made solid by adding alcohol. It is then dried and turned into a powder.
When xanthan gum powder is added to a liquid, it quickly disperses and creates a viscous and stable solution. This makes it a great thickening, suspending, and stabilizing agent for many products.
It was discovered by scientists in 1963. Since then, it has been well researched and determined safe. Therefore, the FDA has approved it as a food additive and placed no limitations on the amount of xanthan gum a food can contain.
Even though it’s made in a lab, it’s a soluble fiber. Soluble fibers are carbs that your body cannot breakdown.
Preferably, they absorb water and turn into a gel-like substance in your digestive system, which slows digestion.
Therefore, your body is unable to digest xanthan gum, and it does not provide any calories or nutrients.
Where Is Xanthan Gum Found?
Xanthan gum is found in food, personal care, and industrial products.
Xanthan gum can improve the texture, consistency, flavor, shelf life, and appearance of many foods.
It also stabilizes foods, helping certain foods withstand different temperatures and pH levels. Additionally, it prevents foods from separating and allows them to flow smoothly out of their containers.
It’s used frequently in gluten-free cooking since it can provide the elasticity and fluffiness that gluten gives traditional baked goods.
The following are some common foods that contain xanthan gum:
- Salad dressings
- Bakery products
- Fruit juices
- Ice creams
- Sauces and gravies
- Gluten-free products
- Low-fat foods
Personal Care Products
Xanthan gum is also found in much personal care and beauty products. It allows these products to be thick but still flow easily out of their containers. It also allows solid particles to be suspended in liquids.
The following are some common products that contain xanthan gum:
Xanthan gum is used in many industrial products due to its ability to withstand different temperatures and pH levels, cling to surfaces, and thicken liquids, all while maintaining a good flow.
Common industrial products containing xanthan gum include:
- Fungicides, herbicides and insecticides
- Tile, grout, oven, and toilet bowl cleaners
- Fluids used in oil drilling
- Adhesives like wallpaper glue
Several studies have found that xanthan gum can lower blood sugar when consumed in large doses.
It’s believed that it turns fluids in your stomach and small intestine into a viscous, gel-like substance. This slows digestion and affects how quickly sugar enters your bloodstream, decreasing blood sugar spikes after eating.
One 12-week study had nine men with diabetes and four without diabetes eat a daily muffin. For six weeks of the study, the men ate muffins without xanthan gum. For the other 6 weeks, they ate muffins containing 12 grams of it.
The participants’ blood sugars were tested regularly, and both fasting and after-meal blood sugar levels in men with diabetes were significantly lower when consuming the muffins with xanthan gum.
Another study in 11 women found that blood sugars were significantly lower after consuming rice with added xanthan gum, compared to consuming rice without it.
Other Health Benefits
Xanthan gum has been linked to other potential health benefits, though these benefits are unlikely to occur without taking supplements.
Some potential health benefits of xanthan gum include:
- Lower cholesterol: A study had five men consume 10 times the recommended amount of xanthan gum per day for 23 days. Subsequent blood tests found that their cholesterol decreased by 10%.
- Weight loss: People have noted increased fullness after consuming xanthan gum. It may increase fullness by delaying stomach emptying and slowing digestion.
- Cancer-fighting properties: A study in mice with melanoma found that it significantly slowed the growth of cancerous tumors and prolonged life. No human studies have been completed, so the current evidence is weak.
- Improved regularity: Xanthan gum increases the movement of water into the intestines to create a softer, bulkier stool that’s easier to pass. Studies have found that it significantly increases the frequency and amount of stool.
- Thickens liquids: It is used to thicken liquids for those who have difficulty swallowing, such as older adults or people with neurological disorders.
- Saliva substitute: It is sometimes used as a saliva substitute for individuals suffering from dry mouth, but studies on its effectiveness have found mixed results.
Xanthan Gum Can Cause Digestive Issues
For most people, the only potential negative side effect of xanthan gum appears to be an upset stomach.
Many animal studies have found that large doses can increase the frequency of stools and cause soft stools.
In human knowledge, large doses of xanthan gum were seen to have the following effects:
- Increased stool output
- Softer stools
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Altered gut bacteria
- Increased gas
These side effects do not appear to occur unless at least 15 grams are consumed. This amount would be difficult to reach through a typical diet.
Moreover, xanthan gum’s ability to alter gut bacteria may be a good thing, as many other soluble fibers alter gut bacteria. They are known as prebiotics and promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
However, more research is needed to understand xanthan gum’s potential as a prebiotic.
Is It Safe to Eat Xanthan Gum
For most people, consuming foods that contain xanthan gum appears to be absolutely safe.
While many foods contain it, it only makes up about 0.05–0.3% of a food product.
Furthermore, a person eats less than 1 gram of xanthan gum per day. Amounts 20 times that have been proven to be safe.
In fact, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives assigned it an acceptable daily intake of “not specified.” It gives this designation when food additives have very low toxicity, and levels in foods are so small that they do not pose a health hazard.
So even though you may eat many foods containing it, your intake is so small that you’re unlikely to experience either benefits or negative side effects.