People have been chewing "gum" for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks chewed on mastic tree sap, Native Americans in New England chewed on spruce sap and then passed this habit on to European settlers. With the invention of sugar-sweetened bubble gum, modern manufacturing has propelled chewing gum into the same category as candy, but the development of sugarless gum has enabled gum-chewers to indulge in gum -- and to burn a few calories – without sacrificing their oral health.
Calories Per Hour Burned by Chewing Gum
Research conducted at the Mayo Clinic and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that chewing gum burns about 11 calories an hour -- which is approximately 19 percent more than the average person would expend by sitting in a chair for the same period of time. The researchers concluded that the simple act of chewing non-caloric gum during your waking hours could help you lose more than 11 pounds of body fat a year -- without otherwise changing your diet or activity level. This effect could be somewhat negated, if you choose sugar-sweetened gum, which has 11 calories per stick or if you choose low-calorie sugarless gum, which typically has about 5 calories per piece.
Greater Calorie Benefits
When it comes to weight management, burning 11 calories an hour isn't a major benefit if you aren't likely to chew gum for most of your waking hours or if your energy balance fluctuates over time. Chewing gum may help you eliminate a greater number of calories from your diet, though. A 2011 study published in the journal Appetite found that people who chewed gum for at least 45 minutes between meals weren't as hungry as those who didn't chew gum, and that gum chewers are much less likely to crave snacks. Similarly, a 2007 study published in the same journal concluded that people who chew gum after lunch consumed an average of 36 fewer calories at snack time than those who didn't chew gum, and that gum chewers have fewer cravings for sugary foods.
Will Science Burst the Bubble?
Studies on the benefits of chewing gum tend to be small and few studies exist -- and although some of them are promising -- science has yet to reach a consensus as to whether or not chewing gum is a good tool for calorie control or weight management. People who chew gum don't consume fewer total calories per day, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Eating Behaviors. Rather, they eat fewer meals a day and simply consume a higher number of calories at each meal. The same study also concludes that gum chewers tend to consume fewer nutritious foods than non-chewers, and that people who chew mint gum are less likely to eat fruit, because the minty aftertaste makes eating fruit less appealing.
Other Benefits and Potential Pitfalls
The uncontested benefit of gum lies in what it can do for your mouth -- provided you chew the sugarless variety. Because chewing stimulates your salivary glands, popping a piece of gum in your mouth after eating can help you generate enough saliva to wash away the acids your plaque bacteria produce when the bacteria breaks down food. The American Dental Association advocates chewing gum for 20 minutes after eating to help protect against tooth decay. Gum made with xylitol is the probably the best option – the natural-sugar alcohol helps prevent cavity-causing bacteria from clinging to your teeth. Chewing gum can also help you focus and may prevent you from grinding your teeth when you're stressed.
Be aware, though, that sugarless gum is sometimes flavored with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin. Based on available scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has listed these sweeteners as GRAS or "generally recognized as safe." If you have concerns about artificial sweeteners or you want to avoid them whenever possible, you may want to skip products that contain them. You may also want to avoid fruit-flavored sugarless gum. According to a 2011 study published in the British Dental Journal, these gums may contain acids that can contribute to dental erosion.
How to Burn More Calories
If you want to find an easy way to boost the number of calories you burn day-to-day, you don't have to look much farther than your feet. Get on your feet whenever possible, especially if -- like the average American -- you spend a lot of your day sitting. Place your laptop on a standing desk for part of the day and walk around when you're on the phone.
- American Dental Association: Learn More About Chewing Gum
- New England Journal of Medicine: The Energy Expended in Chewing Gum
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Chewing Gum
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Chewing Gum, Sugarless
- Appetite: Effects of Chewing Gum on Short-Term Appetite Regulation in Moderately Restrained Eaters
- Appetite: Short-Term Effects of Chewing Gum on Snack Intake and Appetite
- Eating Behaviors: Acute and Chronic Effects of Gum Chewing on Food Reinforcement and Energy Intake
- The British Dental Health Foundation: Caring for Teeth – Sugar-Free Chewing Gum
- Nutritional Neuroscience: Effects of Chewing Gum on Cognitive Function, Mood and Physiology in Stressed and Non-Stressed Volunteers
- British Dental Journal: Are Sugar-Free Confections Really Beneficial for Dental Health?