Chewing Gum – friend or foe?

It’s often pitched as a good dental hygiene product and the general consensus out there is that chewing sugar-free gum is “healthy”…

extra gum

…or is it?

Extra_gum_donut_by_gehenna_angelAs I reached into my desk drawer for a stick of gum to combat my fishy after-lunch breath, I had a small epiphany-

Could I possibly be getting a dose of nasty chemicals from something as innocuous as chewing gum?

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always found it slightly disturbing the number of times I’ve gone over the ingredients panel and not understood a single scientific mumbo jumbo ingredient that comes with it’s own special numeric code.

Here’s the layman’s explanation on those weird scientific words listed on the back of the gum packet. I’ve used Extra sugar-free gum for this example, but most of these ingredients sound generic to me so it should be consistent across many of the other sugar-free gum ranges. Contrary to the old saying, curiosity may have saved the cat this time!

Read the side effects and research- it’ll make motivated to start swapping the artificial garb with some fresh sprigs of parley instead…



Ingredients pain, oops, I mean pane:



Sorbitol, also known as glucitol, is a sugar alcohol that is slowly metabolised by the body.
It is mainly used in sugar free mints and various cough syrups, and is usually listed under the inactive ingredients. It is also used in diet foods, and sugar-free chewing gum. Sorbitol also occurs naturally in many stone fruits and berries from trees of the Sorbus genus. It is known as a nutritive sweetener as it gives 11 kilojoules of energy per gram as opposed to the 17 kilojoules of energy per gram of sugar and starch. It is about sixty percent as sweet as sucrose with one third fewer calories. It does not promote tooth decay and is helpful for people with diabetes.
Consuming large amounts of sorbitol can lead to abdominal pain, gas, and mild to severe diarrhea. It can also aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and fructose malabsorption.

Read more: Artificial sweetners ( 

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Gum Base

The exact composition of gum bases is usually a trade secret, but generally consists of ingredients from the following categories:
Elastomers: provide the elasticity or bounce, and can be natural latexes (e.g. couma macrocarpa (also called leche caspi or sorva), loquat (also called nispero), tunu, jelutong, or chicle which is still commercially produced), or synthetic rubbers (e.g. styrene-butadiene rubber, butyl rubber, polyisobutylene).

  • Resins: provide a cohesive body or strength, and are most often glycerol esters of gum, terpene resins, and/or polyvinyl acetate.
  • Waxes: act as softening agents and are most usually paraffin or microcrystalline wax.
  • Fats: behave as plasticizers and mainly come from hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Emulsifiers: help to hydrate, the most common being lecithin or glycerol monostearate.
  • Fillers: impart texture and the most commonly used are calcium carbonate or talc.
  • Antioxidants: protect from oxidation and extend shelf-life; the most common type is BHT.

Old gum bases were based on either natural elastomers such as latexes, vegetable gums like chicle, spruce gum, and mastic gum, or alternatively on waxes, e.g. paraffin wax and beeswax, but today synthetic rubbers are preferred.

Read more: Gum base ( 

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Humectant (422)

Glycerol (Humectant, Solvent, Sweet Glycerin) – Sweetener.
There is contention surrounding the origins of Glycerol. Through various industrial reselling practices, a majority of glycerine originates as a by-product of soap manufacturing. Many soaps are manufactured using animal fats. This indicates that even though glycerine occurs naturally in plants, what ends up in food and soap products mostly originates from animals.
Glycerol has approximately 27 calories per teaspoon and is 60% as sweet as sucrose. Although it has about the same food energy as table sugar, it does not raise blood sugar levels, nor does it feed the bacteria that form plaques and cause dental cavities. Glycerol should not be consumed undiluted, as unhydrated glycerol will draw water from tissues, causing blistering in the mouth and gastric distress. As food additive, glycerol is also known as E number E422.

Read more: Humectant (
Read more: Non vegetarian food additives (

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Mannitol is a polyol or sugar alcohol that was originally isolated from the secretions of the Flowering Ash, called Manna after their resemblance to the biblical food. Chemically, it is similar to xylitol and sorbitol. Mannitol is used as a sweetener for people with diabetes, and is commonly used as a sweetener in breath freshening candies as it has a cooling effect. It is about 50 percent as sweet as sucrose. It does not promote tooth decay and has a low caloric content. Mannitol does not pick up moisture and for this reason it is often used as a dusting powder for chewing gum. Due to its high melting point, it is also used in chocolate-flavoured coating agents for ice cream and sweets.

Read more: Artificial sweetners (

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Sweetener (951)

951 & E951: Aspartame.
Under the trade names Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel, aspartame is an ingredient in approximately 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide, including (but not limited to) diet sodas and other soft drinks, instant breakfasts, breath mints, cereals, sugar-free chewing gum, cocoa mixes, frozen desserts, gelatin desserts, juices, laxatives, chewable vitamin supplements, milk drinks, pharmaceutical drugs and supplements, shake mixes, tabletop sweeteners, teas, instant coffees, topping mixes, wine coolers and yogurt. It is provided as a table condiment in some countries. Aspartame is less suitable for baking than other sweeteners, because it breaks down when heated and loses much of its sweetness. Aspartame is also one of the main sugar substitutes used by people with diabetes.

Read more: Aspartame (

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Emulsifier (322, from soy)

The nontoxicity of lecithin leads to its use with food, as an additive or in food preparation. It is used commercially in foods requiring a natural emulsifier or lubricant.
In confectionery, it reduces viscosity, replaces more expensive ingredients, controls sugar crystallization and the flow properties of chocolate, helps in the homogeneous mixing of ingredients, improves shelf life for some products, and can be used as a coating. In emulsions and fat spreads it stabilizes emulsions, reduces spattering during frying, improves texture of spreads and flavour release. In doughs and bakery it reduces fat and egg requirements, helps even distribution of ingredients in dough, stabilizes fermentation, increases volume, protects yeast cells in dough when frozen, and acts as a releasing agent to prevent sticking and simplify cleaning. It improves wetting properties of hydrophilic powders (e.g., low-fat proteins) and lipophilic powders (e.g., cocoa powder), controls dust, and helps complete dispersion in water.Lecithin is the emulsifier that keeps cocoa and cocoa butter in a candy bar from separating. It can be used as a component of cooking sprays to prevent sticking and as a releasing agent. In margarines, especially those containing high levels of fat (>75%), lecithin is added as an ‘antispattering’ agent for shallow frying.
Lecithin is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for human consumption with the status “generally recognized as safe.” Lecithin is admitted by the EU as a food additive, designated by E number E322. Research studies show soy-derived lecithin has significant effects on lowering serum cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels in the blood.
New studies suggest gut bacteria metabolites of choline promote atherosclerosis in mice through TMAO production and “augmented macrophage cholesterol accumulation and foam cell formation”. Mice fed with egg-yolk derived lecithin developed arterial plaque in spite of no increase in cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

Read more: Lecithin (

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Antioxidant (321)

Man-made antioxidant BHT (butylhydroxytoluene, E 321).
Anti-oxidant in fats and fatty products to prevent rancidity used in a wide range of fat-containing products.
BHT can cause liver damage in high concentrations; (pseudo-) allergic symptoms have also been reported. In some people with a hereditary isomer of a specific liver enzyme it can cause migraine. Due to the side effects, the EU has restricted its use; thus, the number of BHT-containing products will decline in the next few years.

Read more: E321 (

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3 thoughts on “Chewing Gum – friend or foe?

  1. I’m so glad you wrote about this. Gum is certainly not innocent, but it is addictive and toxic. I’ve had an unhealthy love affair with it for years now, battling my demons to not chew even up til this week. The lure of fresh breath, low calories, and something to chew on is a strong temptation.
    Thanks for breaking down the ingredients, I mean nasty chemicals. I still haven’t found a decent alternative to chewing gum. Any ideas besides parsley?

  2. Impressive research you put together here. I never thought of gum that way. I chew sugar free gum in the evening. I find it’s a good way to fend off unnecessary evening snacking. I never spent much time thinking about what was in it though.

    Thanks for stopping by my site. I appreciate it!

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