Ever wonder what “gum” is doing in your favorite ice cream or coconut milk? Join the club.
An additive that has earned face time on more and more food labels in recent years, guar gum often gets overlooked as yet another foreign ingredient in pre-packaged foods. But, foreign doesn’t always translate as “bad for you.”
A soluble fiber extracted from seeds of the guar plant, guar gum is a thickener and stabilizer commonly found in beverages and food to help ingredients bind together (“gum” being the operative word here). As proof of its strength, it has eight times the thickening prowess as cornstarch. And it’s not only found in pre-packaged foods-guar gum is also offered in powder form for cooking purposes, most often in gluten-free baking.
Though the additive has been questioned for certain uses, in food, guar gum may come with quite a few health benefits. Here are a few worth noting:
1. Lowers Your Cholesterol Due to its high soluble fiber content, guar gum is thought to reduce cholesterol absorption, thereby lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported 12 percent lower LDL cholesterol in male subjects receiving 15 grams of guar gum per day for six weeks.
2. Makes You Feel Full Longer
Often used as a filler in baking recipes, guar gum slows digestion of a meal making you feel fuller for longer. For this reason, it has been touted as a natural weight loss aid by suppressing hunger pangs. While considered safe in food products, it’s important to remember that the additive should not be looked to as a diet aid. In the 1990s, the FDA banned guar gum in non-prescription diet products sold in the U.S. due to concerns of esophageal blockage after insufficient fluid intake.
3: Helps Relieve Constipation
Acting as a natural laxative, guar gum has been shown to be effective in relieving constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. Studies have also shown that the additive is effective in reducing abdominal pain and diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
4: Protects Against Diabetes
Guar gum may also protect against diabetes by slowing the rate of glucose absorption. A 2012 study even found that the additive was more effective than the anti-diabetic drug Glibenclamide at lowering blood sugar levels.
5: Provides An Alternative For Gluten-Free Baking
Both guar gum and xanthan gum are called upon often in gluten-free baking because they play a similar role as wheat, rye, and barley (a.k.a. gluten) in conventional recipes. Without it, your confectionaries and pastries would fall apart! Because xanthan gum is often derived from corn-one of the most genetically modified crops in the U.S.-guar gum provides a healthier alternative for those with gluten sensitivities. (Still, many bakers aim to use a bit of both for best results in gluten-free recipes.)
Read more: 6 Gluten-free Baking Mistakes
Things To Consider
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported high levels of dioxins due to pesticide contamination in guar gum food products obtained from India-a large and predominant producer of guar gum. Therefore, when purchasing products that contain guar gum, it’s always best to purchase (certified) organic.
Additionally, because soy protein is an impurity in manufactured guar gum-as much as 10% of the additive-those with sensitivities to soy should be aware of potential adverse reactions.