As a dietitian, people are always asking me what they should be eating. My answer is usually something along the lines of, “Eat a diverse plant-based diet with animal products as an accessory to your plant-based meal. When buying packaged food, focus on those that have a small and recognizable set of ingredients.” Seems simple enough. However, there are always those sneaky ingredients in food labeled as “healthy” that my clients are never that sure of: gums. Whether it's xanthan gum, guar gum, or locust bean gum, these ingredients are popping up again and again, often on an otherwise very easy-to-understand ingredients list. So what’s the deal with these ingredients, and should you be avoiding them?
Different gums are used for different things. However, most gums act as binding and thickening agents that help products, like protein powder, bind together and allow for even dispersion of material in a liquid. While most gums are widely considered safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they may cause digestive problems over time and can even affect our gut microbiome. (1) To gain a bit more knowledge about the most popular gums used in healthy foods and drinks, our dietitians have covered the most common varieties of gums below. Read further for an overview of what it is, what it's used for, and how it can affect the body.
This type of gum is one of the most common and is usually found in salad dressings, baked goods, sauces, and many other items. Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, which is basically a carbohydrate with a small amount of soluble fiber. (2) This means it can't be broken down or absorbed by your body, and it contains no calories. Despite it sounding healthy, it is definitely not a health food. Actually, polysaccharides are considered a FODMAP, so if FODMAP foods bother you, it’s best to stay away from gums as they may cause gas, bloating, and other symptoms. Additionally, new research now shows that xanthan gum affects our gut microbiota. (3) Many people have experienced distress recently in the fitness industry, where trending media encouraged people to make protein “ice cream” by adding Xanthan gum and protein powder into a blender. This created a lot of backlash with many people claiming to have GI discomfort as a result of using Xanthan gum. One person even reported going to the ER because she accidentally used 1 tbsp and became very ill. As with everything, the poison is in the dose. Specifically, in protein powders, it is an issue because many people blend it, which allows for more air to get trapped inside. Although this helps create a thick and creamy shake, swallowing that air may leave you with a lot of GI distress.
This gum is essentially a gel found in candies or cheeses that are actually made from a type of algae! Similar to Xanthan gum, Agar Agar is usually used in small amounts, so it is unlikely it will have any effect on the body. However, there are some risks of agar that should be considered as well. It’s important to consume agar agar with plenty of liquids. When it’s mixed with water, it swells up and becomes gelatinous. If it’s not mixed with enough water, it can block the esophagus and lead to swallowing difficulties or even worsen bowel obstructions. (4)
Locust Bean Gum
Locust bean gum is extracted from the seeds of the carob. It’s most commonly used as a thickener in food production, particularly in natural or organic foods that are free of highly refined ingredients. It is a soluble fiber and has been linked to lowering blood sugar in large amounts. However, it can produce some unwanted side effects. Gastrointestinal side effects, such as gas and bloating, have been associated with about 10% of consumers. (5)
While gums are considered safe in small amounts, it is important to be aware of their effect on digestion and gut microbiota. If you are experiencing digestive issues, take a look at some of the products you are consuming on a regular basis. Your GI distress may be related to the overconsumption of processed foods using additives like gums.
Luckily, you don't have to worry about any added gums in Corperform Protein Powder! To give our protein powder the best consistency, we passed on any type of gum and added glucomannan instead. Glucomannan is a dietary fiber usually made from the root of the konjac plant, which has been used as both a food and medicine in Asian cultures. Glucomannan actually helps to treat GI issues, such as constipation, by absorbing water to form a bulky fiber. (6) Additionally, glucomannan can reduce the levels of glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure and can enable weight loss. Its wide-ranging effects prevent many chronic diseases through the regulation of metabolism. (7) Coreperform is also filled with other nutritious ingredients providing 8x more potassium than a banana and 8x more iron than steak!
If you have been avoiding smoothies because you can’t seem to find a protein powder that works for you, try CorePerform! Developed with evidence based nutrition research to keep your core in mind.
- Ostrowski, M.P., La Rosa, S.L., Kunath, B.J. et al. Mechanistic insights into consumption of the food additive xanthan gum by the human gut microbiota. Nat Microbiol 7, 556–569 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-022-01093-0
- Todd PA, Benfield P, Goa KL. Guar gum. A review of its pharmacological properties, and use as a dietary adjunct in hypercholesterolaemia. Drugs. 1990;39(6):917-928. doi:10.2165/00003495-199039060-00007
- Devaraj RD, Reddy CK, Xu B. Health-promoting effects of konjac glucomannan and its practical applications: A critical review. Int J Biol Macromol. 2019;126:273-281. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.12.203