Check the nutrition label on almond milk, soups, sauces and certain other foods, and you might see guar gum listed as an ingredient. Like locust bean gum, gellan gum and similar "gums," guar gum is widely used in the food and personal care industries, says the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
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Guar gum, made from the guar bean or Indian cluster bean, is used to stabilize, emulsify and thicken the texture of foods and some industrial products, ACE explains. Some gums — including guar gum, gellan gum and locust bean gum — are made from food. Others, like xanthan gum, are the product of bacterial fermentation.
Although guar gum may have some benefits, there also can be negative side effects of consuming this and other gums in excess. Understanding how guar gum functions in the body can help you determine whether to reduce or eliminate this additive from your diet.
About Guar Gum
Guar gum is a polysaccharide — a complex combination of carbohydrates made up of the sugars galactose and mannose. It has wide-ranging applications in various industries due to its thickening, emulsifying, binding and gelling properties, according to July 2016 research in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. Guar gum is also known for its quick solubility in water, pH stability and biodegradability.
With eight times the thickening potency as cornstarch, guar gum holds up well against freezing, thawing and heat, says ACE. The Food and Drug Administration includes guar gum on its list of foods that are generally recognized as safe for consumption, or GRAS. Federal regulations specify the amounts of guar gum to use in various food products — ranging from 0.35 percent in baked goods and baking mixes to 2 percent in processed vegetables and vegetable juices.
Because guar gum is low in calories and high in fiber, it may help you stay full for longer stretches and aid in weight control, says ACE. It also may help to normalize blood sugar and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
One small study including people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) found that partially hydrolyzed guar gum improved IBS symptoms, according to research published in the March-April 2015 issue of the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology. Among the participants, there was an overall reduction of bloating and an increase in the number of stools.
Guar Gum and Gluten
Guar gum may also act as a binding agent in gluten-free products, ACE adds. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, is responsible for the elastic, "springy" quality of bread-related products, explains a December 2018 review in Frontiers in Nutrition.
Guar gum and other types of gums are types of "gluten replacers," says Frontiers in Nutrition — helping to retain the qualities of bread and similar products while eliminating gluten from the ingredients. For some people, gluten triggers an immunological response that causes damage to the small intestine. As such, eating gluten-free products — in some cases, products that may contain gums — can be a way to avoid this inflammatory reaction.
However, if your diet revolves around eating gluten-free foods containing gums, you may experience digestive problems, including abdominal gas, bloating and loose stools, according to ACE. If you eat a gluten-free diet and you're experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems, check the labels of foods you're eating for guar gum and other gums. It's possible this additive is causing your digestive distress.
ACE adds that the use of guar diet pills can result in a large amount of gel in the GI tract and can potentially obstruct the esophagus and intestines.
Other Types of Additives
ACE advises getting familiar with the different types of gums and how the body typically responds to them. In addition to guar gum, other types of gums include:
- Carrageenan gum: This seaweed-derived gum may cause GI inflammation. It's often used in non-dairy milks, ice cream, cottage cheese and other processed foods as a thickener and emulsifier.
- Xanthan gum: This gum is a byproduct of bacterial fermentation of corn, wheat and other grains. ACE notes that high doses of xanthan gum can cause gas, softer stools, increased stool output and other GI issues.
- Locust bean gum: This bean-derived gum, like other bean-based foods, may also cause GI issues such as gas. It also may interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron and calcium.
- Acacia or Arabic gum: This gum is derived from the sap of the acacia tree and is classified as a prebiotic. It may help to stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria, says ACE, making it one of the healthier choices for food additives.
Focus on a Healthy Diet
If you're eating gluten-free or otherwise consuming products containing guar gum or other additives, take note of how your body responds to them. Some people may be sensitive to additives and experience side effects from eating them. If that's the case, you may do well to avoid them.
If you're pregnant or lactating, err on the side of caution when it comes to safety of gums, adds ACE. Always check with your health provider if you're unsure which foods are best for you.
When you focus on eating whole foods rather than those that have been highly processed, you'll create a healthy eating pattern that's in step with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
These guidelines recommend a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, limited fats and fat-free or low-fat dairy. Eat no more than 10 percent of your diet from added sugars and saturated fats, and limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day.
Whether you're pregnant, eating gluten-free or simply working to eat a healthier diet, reducing your consumption of processed foods — including those that contain gums — can help you improve your overall health, says ACE. In time, eating healthy can help you reduce your risk for diseases and other health conditions.
- American Council on Exercise: "Gums: Is There Danger Lurking in Your Food?"
- International Journal of Biological Macromolecules: "Guar Gum as a Promising Starting Material for Diverse Applications: A Review"
- Food and Drug Administration: "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Gluten-Free Products for Celiac Susceptible People"
- Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology: "Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome With Constipation: Effects of Gender, Age, and Body Mass Index"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"