Is Xanthan Gum Safe? Health Implications Explored

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    Xanthan gum can be found pretty much everywhere. Is it safe? Is it good for you? Get all of the facts right here.

    Demystifying Xanthan Gum

    Xanthan gum is a manmade ingredient that is used in the production of food in order to improve its texture, consistency, and shelf-life. It is also used as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier in the manufacture of industrial, household, cosmetic, and skin care products.

    Xanthan gum is an exo-polysaccharide (type of sugar), and a soluble fiber that is made when glucose, sucrose, or lactose is fermented by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. It is then made into a solid by adding isopropyl alcohol, after which it is dried into a fine powder which is then added to liquid to form gum. This gum then becomes an ingredient in many of the packaged or processed foods you eat, and many of the products you use on a daily basis.

    Xanthan Gum in Food and Personal Care Products

    Xanthan gum can be found in nearly every processed food on the shelf today, including salad dressings, dairy products, fruit juices, soups, sauces, syrups, gravies, ice cream, candies, and bakery products. It is often used in gluten-free and vegan baking as it thickens and binds starches to help trap air and mimic the elastic properties of gluten. The result is typically a baked product that resembles the texture, lightness, and crumb typically achieved with a regular flour bake.

    Xanthan gum is not only popular in the kitchen, however. It can be found in toothpastes, shampoos, body lotions, face creams, shaving creams, and a number of cosmetics. By emulsifying and thickening these products, xanthan gum makes them more visually appealing, and easier to squeeze out of a tube or pour from a bottle.

    Assessing the Safety of Xanthan Gum

    Xanthan gum originally received full food additive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1969. However, in 2017, its approval of Xanthan gum as safe for consumption was re-evaluated and the approval was not considered to be applicable for infants under the age of 12 weeks. It is generally considered safe for most others when up to 15 grams per day are taken; still, in large enough amounts, it may cause potential side effects such as bloating and flatulence. The amount of xanthan gum used in most food products is extremely small and it would be difficult to reach 15 grams in a single day.

    Potential Health Risks and Precautions

    Xanthan Gum Sensitivities

    Xanthan Gum may be made from one of a number of common allergens such as wheat, dairy, corn, or soy. If you have an allergy to any one of these foods, you may need to avoid it as hidden food immune reactivities and sensitivities have been observed in this study. It is always a good idea to speak with your physician or healthcare provider if you are concerned about exposure to this, or any, allergens.

    Special Considerations for Premature Infants

    Xanthan gum has been used as an additive in infant formulas and is considered safe according to this article. Premature infants and those under the age of 16 weeks should avoid it. If you have any concerns, it is important to consult with your physician or healthcare provider before feeding any of these formulas to your child, especially a premature born infant.

    Xanthan Gum and Digestion: What to Know

    For most people, the only potential side effect from consuming xanthan gum is that it can have a laxative effect. Large doses of the indigestible polysaccharide can become problematic, especially in conjunction with your dietary fiber intake. If you already have digestive issues, xanthan gum could make things worse by aggravating an already sensitive stomach. Even if you do not have symptoms of digestive issues, it is a good idea to be mindful of how much xanthan gum you are consuming, as well as how much fiber you are getting in your diet. There is no real data on long-term use of xanthan gum, but the extremely small amounts that are found in many foods is considered to be safe, and highly unlikely to present any problems.

    Possible Side Effects and Interactions

    People Who Should Be Cautious with Xanthan Gum

    Xanthan gum is produced by the bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Originally that medium was corn or soy, but now it is often a glucose solution derived from wheat starch. If you have an allergy to one of these foods, you may want to avoid xanthan gum entirely. There is no real data on its impact on pregnant people or those who are breastfeeding, and though it’s used in extremely small amounts as a food additive, it is a good idea to consult with your physician about xanthan gum.

    Exploring Alternatives to Xanthan Gum

    Natural and Synthetic Substitutes

    There are a number of potential substitutes for xanthan gum, including: Corn starch - it is readily available in most kitchens and it can be used on a 1:1 ratio to replace xanthan gum.

    Psyllium husk - a non-digestible soluble starch that forms a gel-like substance in your stomach. When substituting for xanthan gum, you need twice as much psyllium husk.

    Unflavored gelatin - can be used to thicken any dish, requiring 2 parts gelatin to 1 part xanthan gum. It is not suitable for vegan or vegetarian diets.

    Egg whites - a light and airy substitute for xanthan gum. Use 1 egg white for every teaspoon of xanthan gum.

    Comparing Xanthan Gum and Guar Gum

    Both guar gum and xanthan gum are naturally gluten-free and used to provide important structural elements for baking, such as making the dough sticky and elastic, emulsifying liquids, and helping batter stick together. Guar gum is made from a bean, is high in fiber, and has potential, when partially hydrolyzed, as a prebiotic. There are no significant side effects in either product at doses up to 15g per day. Many proponents believe that xanthan is a better choice when baking, and guar is a better choice for cold foods, though ultimately the difference is a matter of personal preference.

    Weighing the Benefits of Xanthan Gum

    Improving Texture and Consistency in Foods

    Xanthan gum helps thicken and stabilize the textures of products like ice cream, soup, and salad dressing, as well as providing the perfect texture for gluten-free baked goods. It can also be used to help food and drinks thicken, making it easier for people with swallowing challenges to do so without the fear of choking.

    Other Potential Advantages of Xanthan Gum

    Xanthan gum helps put the texture in everything from toothpaste to wallpaper paste.

    The Bottom Line

    Xanthan gum is a food additive that thickens ice cream, soups, salad dressings, sauces, and syrups among many other things. It also puts the texture in the batter to give gluten-free baked goods the same texture as wheat flour baked goods. It is widely used, even in household products like shaving cream and toothpaste, and is considered to be safe in doses up to 15g per day. It is not considered safe for newborns through 12 weeks. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any allergies, or chronic medical conditions, it is always a good idea to consult your physician before making any changes to your diet, medication, or supplement protocols.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.