Xanthan gum is a food thickener made from bacteria that infect numerous plants. It is an ingredient in a wide variety of foods, as well as products such as toothpaste. Though it may offer some health benefits, it is used primarily to change the texture of food, not for any specific health need.
Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, a type of sugar that is made from a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, through a process of fermentation. Xanthomonas campestris infects a wide range of cruciferous plants, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, causing diseases such as black rot and bacterial wilt.
Manufacturers make xanthan gum by pulling bacteria from many different plants. The finished product does not contain any viable bacteria, so there is no risk of xanthan gum causing infections.
Fast facts on xanthan gum:
Xanthan gum thickens food and other products, and also prevents ingredients from separating.
Non-food products, such as oil and cosmetics, also contain xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum may help lower or stabilize blood sugar.
As with any food or food additive, some people may not tolerate it.
Potential health benefits
Some research suggests that xanthan gum can improve health in the following ways:
Lowering or stabilizing blood sugar
A 2016 study found that xanthan gum could lower the glycemic index of rice. After a group of people ate rice that was coated with xanthan gum, their blood sugar levels were lower.
The benefits were most significant when participants consumed rice covered with xanthan, instead of using xanthan gum before or after meals.
So foods containing xanthan gum might offer the most potent blood sugar-lowering benefits.
Xanthan gum may also stabilize blood sugar. A 2013 study found that xanthan gum mixed with beta-glucan (a type of sugar found in plants) could help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Some research suggests that, when taken in very high doses, xanthan gum may lower cholesterol levels. A 1987 study, for example, found that men who consumed xanthan gum for about 3 weeks experienced a 10 percent reduction in cholesterol.
There is little evidence that xanthan gum is beneficial on its own in the treatment of high cholesterol. A newer study has yet to be done to confirm these results.
Saliva substitute and treating dry mouth
Xanthan gum may be a useful and safe saliva substitute for people who experience chronic dry mouth. Some varieties of toothpaste for dry mouths contain xanthan gum to help lock in moisture.
Because xanthan gum helps to bind water, it may also help act as a laxative. The food thickener swells in the digestive tract, helping the intestines to remain moist and supporting gastrointestinal function.
Making it easier to swallow
Some diseases can make swallowing difficult, especially when the mouth and throat are dry. A 2014 study found that xanthan gum could help people with dysphagia, a swallowing disorder, safely swallow their food.
Xanthan gum does this by thickening food and saliva, making it easier for both to move down the throat. This could reduce the risk of choking and make eating safer.
Role in gluten-free food
For people with celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity, foods containing gluten can cause intense stomach pain, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms. Flour and other ingredients in many baked goods contain gluten.
Gluten-free products rely on substitutes that can make them resemble the texture, crumb, and flexibility of gluten-containing bread. Xanthan gum thickens food and binds moisture, potentially improving the properties of gluten-free baked goods.
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