If you read the labels of foods before you buy them, you must have come across xanthan gum mentioned in the list of ingredients.
This common food additive is used in many items including ice-cream, salads, and even toothpaste. It is also used in gluten-free baked products as a replacement for the sticky effects of gluten.
Read on to learn more about this popular food additive, its benefits, and side effects.
What is xanthan gum?
Xanthan gum is a microbial polysaccharide which is produced through natural fermentation by a strain of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
When this bacteria is added to sugar from soy, wheat, dairy or corn source, a slimy substance is created. This substance is then made solid by adding isopropyl alcohol and is then dried and turned into a powder.
When we combine this powder with any liquid, a colorless, tasteless thickener and stabilizer is created.
Though this bacteria is a pathogen which is responsible for crop diseases like black rot, bacterial leaf blight, and citrus canker disease, it is safe for humans. The scientists in 1963 discovered it. The FDA has even approved it for use as a food additive.
What are the different uses for xanthan gum?
Xanthan gum has a variety of applications in food, personal care, and industrial products.
Xanthan gum is used in food products to improve their consistency, shelf life, and texture. It prevents foods from separating so that they can flow out of their containers smoothly. Here are some of the food products that contain xanthan gum –
- Salad dressing
- Fruit juices
- Sauces and Gravies
- Low-fat food
- Frozen foods
- Gluten-free products
- Bakery products
Xanthan gum is also used in many personal care products. It helps thicken these products so that they can flow out of the containers properly. Here are some of the everyday personal care products that contain xanthan gum –
Xanthan gum is used in many industrial products. Since it is an effective emulsifier, it is used in brines, drilling and fracturing fluids. It can also withstand different temperatures and pH levels. Here are some common industrial products that contain xanthan gum –
- Adhesives like wallpaper glue
- Fluids for oil drilling
- Tile and grout cleaners
- Fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides
Is xanthan gum safe?
Xanthan gum is generally considered safe to use in limited amounts. According to scientific research, you should not consume more than 15 grams of xanthan gum in a day.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, when 18 volunteers were given 15 grams of xanthan gum for ten days, it caused a significant increase in stool output, frequency in defaecation and flatulence (1).
Another study that tested the effects of xanthan gum on dogs and rats in 1973 showed that it had no significant impact on the survival, growth rate, organ weight or tumors of these animals (2).
In 1987, researchers tested the effects of xanthan gum on five volunteers. When these volunteers were given between 10.4 grams to 12.9 grams per day for five days, the researchers observed no adverse dietary or physiological effects on any of the subjects. All the enzymatic parameters remained unchanged (3).
On the other hand, the sugar that is used to make xanthan gum can come from corn, soy, dairy, or wheat and it is difficult to know which one it is. So, if you are allergic to any one of these, it is better to avoid xanthan gum.
Health benefits of xanthan gum
According to scientific research, there are many benefits of consuming xanthan gum.
1. Helps lower blood sugar
According to research xanthan gum can lower blood sugar and even prevent diabetes if taken in large amounts. Xanthan gum turns the fluid in the small intestines and stomach into a gel-like substance which helps in slowing the digestive process.
This substance, in turn, lowers the blood sugar levels after meals (4).
A 2016 study found that xanthan gum can lower the glycemic index of rice. During this study, when a group of people ate rice coated with xanthan gum, their blood sugar levels were lower (5).
During an earlier study, nine men with diabetes were fed muffins that did not contain xanthan gum for six weeks and muffins that included 12 grams of xanthan gum for the next six weeks.
When researchers tested them, they found that the sugar levels in the participants were much lesser when they ate muffins with xanthan gum (6).
2. Can fight cancer
Xanthan gum can also help in fighting certain forms of cancer by slowing down their growth. During a 2009 study, when mice with melanoma were administered xanthan gum once every five days, it significantly retarded their tumor growth and prolonged the survival of the mice (7).
More research should be done to confirm this anti-cancer effect xanthan gum in humans.
3. Lowers cholesterol
According to some research, when we consume xanthan gum in very high doses, it can reduce cholesterol levels. During a study, five men consumed ten times the recommended amount of xanthan gum(10mg/kg) for 23 days.
Later, after tests, researchers found that their cholesterol levels had decreased by 10 percent (8). We need to do further research on this subject.
4. Treats dry mouth
Xanthan gum is sometimes used as a saliva substitute for people suffering from dry mouth. Some kinds of toothpaste used for dry mouths contain xanthan gum to help lock in moisture.
Patients on dialysis have to maintain a restricted fluid diet, so the prevalence of dry mouth is higher in these patients. During one study when researchers gave 65 such patients xanthan-based saliva substitutes, it reduced their dry mouth significantly (9).
5. Improves digestive health
Xanthan gum increases the amount of water that flows into the intestine. This process creates softer and bulkier stools. It also increases the frequency and amount of stool and is helpful in treating constipation.
During a study when 18 volunteers were given 15 grams of xanthan gum for ten days, it increased their stool output and the frequency of defecation (10).
6. Treats dysphagia
Patients of oropharyngeal dysphagia have difficulty emptying food into the esophagus because of abnormalities in their muscles or nerves.
Xanthan gum-based thickeners help such people swallow their food because of increased viscosity. According to a 2014 study, when a xanthan gum based thickener was given to 120 patients of oropharyngeal dysphagia and 14 healthy volunteers, it increased the safety of swallowing and provided therapeutic relief (11).
7. Fights tooth decay
Xanthan gum is also used in toothpaste because of its protective benefits for teeth. Foods like soda, fruit juices and coffee are acidic are can damage to enamel. Xanthan gum forms a protective layer on the teeth and saves them from any decay.
During one study, soft drinks were mixed with xanthan gum and given to 16 subjects who drank them for 15 days four times a day. The results showed that xanthan gum showed lower enamel loss (12).
8. Helps in weight loss
Because xanthan gum binds to water, people who consume it feel full. Xanthan thus reduces appetite which ultimately reduces calorie intake (13).
Unfortunately, there have been mixed results on studies that checked xanthan gum’s weight reducing abilities, so more detailed studies are needed.
9. Can provide modified drug release
For certain medications, the rate of release into the bloodstream needs to be slow. Xanthan gum can be an excellent solution for these medications as it can modify drug release.
According to research, xanthan gum can extend the release of drugs, which helps in maintaining a consistent dosage over time. This also helps in reducing the need to take prescription (14).
10. Thickens liquids
Xanthan gum can also be used to thicken liquids, and this is especially helpful for people with neurological problems to swallow.
Side effects of xanthan gum
Consuming up to 15 grams of xanthan gum per day is considered safe. However, in some people, it can cause gas and bloating. Inhalation of xanthan gum powder can also cause flu-like symptoms that include nose and throat irritation and lung problems.
Since there isn’t enough research on the use of xanthan gum during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is best avoided during these times.
Xanthan gum lowers blood sugar levels, so you should stop using it at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Also, if you take too much of xanthan gum, it can lead to diarrhea, intestinal gas and altered gut bacteria.
Alternatives to xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is often used as a gluten-free alternative in baking. It can be substituted with many other ingredients in cooking.
- Guar gum
- Psyllium fiber
- Chia Seeds
- Agar agar
Xanthan gum is a popular additive that is used for thickening and stabilizing. It is found in many food, personal care, and industrial products. It has many health benefits including lower blood sugar and cholesterol and improved digestive and oral health.
It can also have some side effects like diarrhea, gas and bloating.