Gumming up our food. Updated March 1, 2015
I confess, I like ice cream, and I used to indulge quite regularly, but not anymore.
My taste buds prefer to be subtly stimulated rather than blasted with combinations of flavors that leave them confused and reeling with cloying sweetness. Many speak disparagingly of “plain vanilla,” but to me vanilla is one of the most delicious (and natural) flavors ever discovered. What other flavor can better complement the taste of warm homemade apple pie, or luscious berries, or fresh tree-ripened fruits like peaches.
Another feature of ice cream that adds to its delight is its texture. What makes ice cream creamy? Well, uh, could it be cream?
If you are not in the habit of reading the ingredient lists on packaged foods you may not have noticed that within the past couple years every commercial brand of ice cream has added one kind or another of GUM—guar gum, carob bean gum, xanthan gum, tara gum, locust bean gum, cellulose gum—are a few of the various kind of gum you will find in familiar brands, even premium brands like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. Breyers, which I used to count on to avoid artificial ingredients and additives has also slipped.
Sacrilege! I say.
I don’t know what has given impetus to this gummy bandwagon, but I can venture an educated guess. First of all, I would expect that gum is a lot cheaper than cream and thus producers are inclined to use it to simulate the texture of the real thing. Secondly, I suspect that it may have something to do with the anti-fat madness that has for many years been hyped by the media. Women especially seem to have been susceptible to the argument that if they don’t EAT fat they won’t GET fat. Hogwash, I say to that, and to artificial sweeteners, too.
A few months ago, I experienced a sudden onset of severe gastritis that has taken many months and a great deal of effort and expense to resolve. I made some drastic changes to my diet, including avoidance of ice cream, though I still consume large amounts of yogurt and cheese, and I use moderate amounts of butter.
I’ve always been careful about what I eat, avoiding foods containing preservatives and other artificial ingredients, yet my suspicions are that the underlying cause of my problem had to do with something in my diet.
Now, a new study that has just been published has heightened my suspicions. A Los Angeles Times report dated February 25, 2015 says “Consumption of emulsifiers, additives widely used in the production of processed foods, promotes inflammatory bowel disease and a cluster of obesity-related diseases known as metabolic syndrome, and may have contributed to the sharp rise in these conditions over the last three decades, says a new study conducted on rats.”
That study, published in the journal, Nature, reports specifically on the effects of two commonly used emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose (also called cellulose gum) and polysorbate-80 (also known as Tween 80). The study using mice showed that these additives “induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder. Emulsifier-induced metabolic syndrome was associated with microbiota encroachment, altered species composition and increased pro-inflammatory potential.”
The study report goes on to say that, “These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host–microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”
That makes me wonder about the other emulsifiers that are commonly used.
Further background on gum additives can be found at the following sites:
Cellulose gum: http://befoodsmart.com/ingredients/cellulose-gum.php
Study Finds Common Food Additive Promotes Inflammatory Bowel Disease And Obesity. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/common-food-additive-promotes-inflammatory-bowel-disease-and-obesity-mice.
Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum. http://chriskresser.com/harmful-or-harmless-xanthan-gum
The Truth About Guar Gum. http://www.livescience.com/36580-guar-gum-weight-loss-cost.html
In this day of factory farms, mass marketing, and huge supermarkets, I suppose it’s too much to expect to find products that are wholesome, pure, and unadulterated. Even brands that are labeled “organic” cannot always be counted on.
The bottom line:
- Read the labels.
- Inform yourself about the health effects of common additives.
- Try as much as possible to avoid getting your food from the big corporate producers and suppliers.
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More about the gums that are added to our foods. (Addendum of March 1, 2015)
One good source of information about the various types of gum that are used as food additives is the website of Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac According to his website, he “is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He is the creator of ChrisKresser.com, one of the top 25 natural health sites in the world, and the author of the New York Times best seller, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback in December 2014 as The Paleo Cure).”
Here’s a brief summary of his postings on gum additives:
Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris. (1) Manufacturers place the bacteria in a growth medium that contains sugars and other nutrients, and the resulting product of bacterial fermentation is purified, dried, powdered, and sold as xanthan gum. (Makes you wonder who first thought to put it in food, doesn’t it?)
Based on the available evidence, the worst xanthan gum seems to be capable of (in adults) is causing some digestive distress in those who are susceptible by increasing stool bulk, water content, and sugar content. But as I just mentioned, those with severe allergies should also be careful.
I recommend that people with digestive problems generally avoid xanthan gum, not because there’s evidence that it could damage your gut, but because its structural properties make it likely to produce unpleasant gut symptoms
Unlike xanthan gum, which is a product of bacterial fermentation, guar gum is derived from an actual food: the guar bean, or Indian cluster bean, which grows primarily in India and Pakistan. ….Because the animal studies showed no harm even at very high doses, guar gum is now being studied in humans as a therapeutic tool for reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
….even small amounts could cause unpleasant symptoms in those with sensitive digestive systems, and I’ve had patients with gut issues improve after removing guar gum from their diet. With that in mind, I think it makes sense to avoid guar gum if you have gut issues, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or IBS, unless you’ve removed it and added it back in without noticing any harmful effects.
Locust bean gum, also known as carob bean gum, is derived from the seeds of the carob tree. During a two-year animal study, rats were given locust bean gum as 5% of their diet, and no carcinogenic or other toxic effects were observed. (12)
I think the same recommendation I gave for guar gum applies here: if you have gut issues, it would probably be best to avoid locust bean gum. Otherwise, I see no indication that it will cause harm.
Based on the available research, gum arabic seems pretty benign, even for those with gut issues. I certainly wouldn’t be concerned about consuming small amounts of it, although as always, be aware of your individual tolerance.
I’m slightly more skeptical of tara gum compared with the other gums because the toxicity results are less conclusive. Also, while all of the other gums have been tested on humans, tara gum has not. That doesn’t mean it’s not safe, because the available evidence indicates it is; it just means we don’t have as much to go on, and it’s always good to be cautious of new food additives.
Gellan gum is similar to xanthan gum in that it is an exopolysaccharide produced by bacterial fermentation. … To test the safety of gellan gum, the diets of ten volunteers were supplemented with gellan gum at approximately 30 times the level of normal dietary exposure for 23 days. (21) Gellan gum acted as a bulking agent similar to xanthan gum, but no adverse effects were reported. However, a rat study with gellan gum supplemented at 5% of the diet for 4 weeks resulted in abnormalities in intestinal microvilli, which is concerning. (22)
I think those with sensitive guts should avoid it just to be on the safe side. For everyone else, I doubt the small amounts found in food will cause a problem, but it might be best to avoid it if possible.
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