What’s In Your Chewing Gum?

Do you chew gum?

What is your reason?Image

Do you  know the ingredients?

In my book, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, I concentrated on food but recently I came across some of the ingredients in chewing gum—a $19 billion dollar industry[1] and I was intrigued about their claims.

Most of us chew gum because we like to chew for taste or to calm stress but gum manufacturers give us other reasons, particularly for diet and sugar-free gums.


A number of gums are using xylitol with the blessing of some dentists because it has been reported to sharply reduce cavities.as an ingredient. One manufacturer claims”:This all-natural sweetener and Super Hero of Oral Awesomeness works as a catalyst for your mouth’s natural defenses, quenches dry mouth, and does more than you probably imagine”. Xylitol has been reported to sharply reduce cavities in teeth. Unlike sugar, it doesn’t ferment in the mouth which is good because you may keep gum in your mouth for a long time. Xylitol may be of use to diabetics because it doesn’t affect insulin levels. It does cost more than sugar.

Is it really “A hero of Oral Awesomeness”? In  Consumer’s Dictionary of Food  Additives, I wrote that it was once labeled a cancer causing-agent because of a study in rats but then declared safe by the Joint Expert Committee On Food Additives because they said it was only “species specific”—meaning it may cause cancer in rats but not in humans. I noted that it can lead to stomach upsets when taken in large amounts.

 Hoodia-containing gum is now being touted as “an appetite suppressor” for those who want to lose weight. Desert Labs is promoting “Snack Less” gum containing hoodia, a flowering plant from the family of Apocynacea. Unilever in partnership with a United Kingdom firm, Phytopharm, lost money when it quit the diet products containing a hoodia species gordonii.  An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition[2] questioned the safety and efficacy of the plant: In the clinical trials, participants had side effects including nausea and raises in heartbeat and blood pressure. Desert Labs reports it is using a different species of hoodia, parviflora. Each gum piece contains 125 mg of hoodia and it takes two or three pieces of gum to suppress appetite the company says.

Desert Labs has declared it product Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) since the Federal Food And Drug Administration now allows manufacturers to make their own self-judgments based on their own evaluation of studies. Critics, however, say you would have to chew 25 pieces to get a significant dose of hoodia and that claims for the gum are not valid.

What About Sugar-Free gums?

Here is brief form of the listings in  A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives of ingredients found in many sugar free gums:

  • SORBITOL. Besides its use in embalming fluid and mouthwashes and hairsprays, it is used as a flavoring. If ingested in large amounts, it can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal upsets. It may also affect the absorption of medications.
  •  GUM BASE. It is probably an exudate from a tree but is not identified by name.
  •  GLYCEROL. A sweet-tasting, oily fluid that helps maintain moisture.
  •  NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS. The FDA does not require them to be specified


  • HYDROGENATED STARCH HYDROLYSATE. The end product of adding water to corn syrup,
  • SOY LECITHIN, A natural anti-oxidant isolated from soy beans
  • ASPARTAME-ACESULFAME. Controversial artificial sweeteners
  •  MANNITOL.A sweetener usually derived from seaweed. If taken in excess, may cause diarrhea, especially if ingested daily
  • CITRIC ACID. A flavoring from citrus fruit.
  •  ASPARTAME, Controversial artificial sweetener
  • MALIC ACID. Derived from fruit and used as an artificial fruit additive.
  •  SUCRALOSE. An artificial sweetener made from sugar. Does not cause cavities and may be used by diabetics.
  • ACESULFAME K. An artificial sweetener. It is not digested by the body but despite two tests in animals that showed an increase in tumors, the FDA declared it safe.
  • COLORS (YELLOW 5 LAKE, BLUE 1 LAKE).All foods containing Yellow 5 are supposed to have it listed on the label because many people are allergic to it. Blue 1 is derived from coal tar.
  • BHT (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS)..A controversial antioxidant, its use is prohibited in the United Kingdom.

The conclusion is ”chew” on the ingredients before you chew your gum.

[2] First published October 12, 2011, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.111.020321 Am J Clin Nutr November 2011 ajcn.020321

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