Xanthan gum is a food additive made from sugar that is fermented by a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. Fermentation of sugar creates a broth-like substance, which is then solidified by adding alcohol. This solid substance is dried and turned into a powder.
The sugar used to make xanthan gum may be derived from:
When added to water, xanthan gum powder quickly disperses and forms a stable, viscous solution. That is why xanthan gum is often added to foods as a:
- Thickening agent
- Suspending agent
What happens to xanthan gum in the body?
Because xanthan gum is a soluble fiber, it is not digested and instead swells when mixed with water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestine. This gel-like substance stimulates the digestive tract to move and push out stool. Because of this, xanthan gum may help relieve constipation.
Soluble fiber can also trap sugars in foods, causing a gradual release of sugars into the bloodstream. This prevents blood sugar spikes, which are often seen in diabetics. In the long term, this helps with blood sugar control.
What products contain xanthan gum?
Examples of products that contain xanthan gum as a food additive include:
- Salad dressings
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Butter and low-fat spreads
- Frozen foods
Xanthan gums are used as thickening agents in many personal care and beauty products, including:
|Icing and glazes||Adhesive|
|Pet foods||Binding agent|
|Salad dressings||Emulsifying agent|
|Sausage casings||Film formation|
|Ice cream, salad dressings||Stabilizer|
|Processed meat products||Swelling agent|
|Cheeses, frozen foods||Syneresis inhibitor|
|Jams, sauces, syrups, pie fillings||Thickening agent|
|Ice cream, cheese, milkshakes and milk drinks, puddings, pie fillings||Synergistic xanthan-galactomannans mixtures, gel formation, and gel stabilization|
|Ice cream, instant soups, chocolate drinks, milkshakes||Viscosity control|
|Fertilizers, herbicides||Carrier, suspending agents|
6 potential health benefits of xanthan gum
Xanthan gum has some potential health benefits, although more research is needed to prove its efficacy in treating some of the following conditions:
- Constipation: Xanthan gum swells in the intestine and forms a gel-like substance that stimulates the digestive tract to push out stool.
- Trouble swallowing: Xanthan gum helps with swallowing difficulty. The gum thickens the saliva, making it easier for the food to pass down the throat, thereby reducing the risk of choking.
- Diabetes: According to one study, eating muffins with xanthan gum appeared to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- Sjogren’s syndrome: This is an autoimmune condition that damages glands that produce saliva and tears. Applying xanthan gum to a dry mouth can act as a substitute for saliva.
- High cholesterol: Xanthan gum in high doses may lower blood cholesterol levels, although sufficient evidence is lacking to support this claim. A previous study found that men who took xanthan gum for about 3 weeks found a 10% reduction in cholesterol.
- Dry eyes: Xanthan gum may be able to effectively treat dry eyes caused by inflammation. A study has shown that xanthan gum reduces burning sensation, tearing, foreign body sensation, and light sensitivity in people with dry eyes.
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Is xanthan gum safe to ingest?
According to the FDA, xanthan gum is generally safe when consumed orally:
- Food products containing 0.05%-0.3% of xanthan gum
- Medications containing up to 15 grams of xanthan gum
There is no recommended amount specified for xanthan gum. Even 20 grams of xanthan gum has been proven to be safe. However, inhaling xanthan gum can be dangerous. Workers handling powdered xanthan gum should be cautious because it can cause flu-like symptoms as well as nose and throat irritation.
Xanthan gum should be avoided by:
- People with severe allergies to wheat, corn, soy, or dairy: Xanthan gum can be derived from wheat, corn, and soy, so people with these allergies should avoid food products containing xanthan gum.
- People taking certain medications or undergoing a planned surgery: Since xanthan gum can lower blood sugar levels, people on diabetes medications should avoid large amounts of xanthan gum.
- People with fecal incontinence: People who have difficulty controlling their stools should not use xanthan gum because it may worsen the problem.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid xanthan gum although there isn’t sufficient evidence to avoid its use.
- Premature infants: A study has shown that premature infants who are fed xanthan gum can develop severe gastrointestinal problems.
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US Food and Drug Administration. Food Additive Status List. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list
EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS), Mortensen A, Aguilar F, et al. Re-evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive. EFSA J. 2017;15(7):e04909. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7009887/
WebMD. Xanthan Gum. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-340/xanthan-gum
Metcalf E. Xanthan Gum. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/xanthan-gum-uses-and-risks
Paquin J, Bédard A, Lemieux S, Tajchakavit S, Turgeon SL. Effects of juices enriched with xanthan and ß-glucan on the glycemic response and satiety of healthy men. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Apr;38(4):410-4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23713534/
Microbiology Notes. Xanthan gum. https://microbiologynotes.org/xanthan-gum-introduction-structure-applications-and-production/
Science Direct. Xanthan Gum. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/xanthan-gum
International Food Additives Council. Xanthan Gum. https://www.foodingredientfacts.org/facts-on-food-ingredients/sources-of-food-ingredients/xanthan-gum/
Woods CW, Oliver T, Lewis K, Yang Q. Development of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants receiving thickened feeds using SimplyThick®. J Perinatol. 2012 Feb;32(2):150-2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22289705/
Pérez-Balbuena AL, Ochoa-Tabares JC, Belalcazar-Rey S, et al. Efficacy of a fixed combination of 0.09 % xanthan gum/0.1 % chondroitin sulfate preservative free vs polyethylene glycol/propylene glycol in subjects with dry eye disease: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. BMC Ophthalmol. 2016 Sep 20;16(1):164. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27645318/
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