If you eat a gluten-free diet, you’ve probably come across “guar gum” in the ingredients label. What in the heck is it and is guar gum healthy?When you think of gum, what comes to mind? Something you chew to freshen your breath. But what about gum in food? Why is it added? And is it healthy?
In this article, we’re going to specifically look at guar gum, which has been used in food manufacturing since the mid-20th century. In addition to guar gum, the most common ones include:
- Locust bean gum (don’t worry, it’s locust-free!)
- Xanthan gum
- Acacia gum
Carrageenan is a controversial gum. Out of all the food-grade gums, carrageenan has the most potential to produce bloating, gas and other symptoms of malabsorption. But guar gum just might be the best in its class for people with leaky gut symptoms.
Why is Gum Added to Food?
But before we take a deep dive into guar gum, why are gums added to food in the first place?
Just like chewing gum, food-grade gum additives have a sticky texture.This prevents processed and home-made baked goods from falling apart. You’ll see guar gum in the list of ingredients in many gluten-free goods. Gluten, of course, is the sticky and fluffy protein molecule in wheat. (Gluten is actually a combination of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin.)
Without gluten, gluten-free foods can easily fall apart. Guar gum is a thickening and binding agent that provides the glue-like structure without triggering gluten sensitivities.
Where Does Guar Gum Come From?
Guar gum is made by taking harvested guar beans (aka cluster beans), drying the seeds in the edamame-like pods and then pulverizing them into a powder. Gums, like guar gum, are basically a fiber-rich flour.
If you’re a devout Miracle Noodle follower, you’re probably already familiar with another type of soluble fiber powder: konjac flour, which is also called glucomannan. Although it’s not very common to refer to konjac flour as konjac gum, the term is sometimes used.
Guar beans are native to India and Pakistan, where the whole beans are also used for food.
What is Guar Gum Used For?But in the West, in addition to its role as a thickening and binding agent, guar gum is used in several industrial applications. And after you read what it’s used for, you’ll probably think that there’s no way guar gum can be considered a health ingredient.
For instance, it’s used to prevent sticks of dynamite from absorbing water. Guar gum is also used in fracking, oil wells, paper products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and more.
But as a dietary ingredient, guar gum might be one of the best sources of fiber for sensitive guts. That’s because it ferments very slowly and is low FODMAP, meaning it doesn’t have a high amount of fermentable carbohydrates that can trigger gas, bloating, constipation, etc.Studies show that guar gum can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There are three forms of IBS: C, which is marked by constipation; D, which is indicative of diarrhea and M, which is mixed. What’s remarkable about guar gum is that it has shown to help alleviate both C and D, which is highly unusual for one ingredient to profoundly reduce the incidence of both. Like konjac flour, guar gum forms a gel-like substance as it moves along the gastrointestinal tract. This makes it bind to excess cholesterol in the blood and help control blood sugar levels.
Research also shows that guar gum helps maintain a healthier gut microbiome by reducing the amount of harmful bacteria called bacteroides.
Partially hydrolyzed guar gum
On some food ingredient labels, guar gum may be listed by its more accurate name, partially-hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG). This is an ingredient that probably doesn’t sound healthy, just like partially-hydrogenated soybean oil—which is in fact very unhealthy.
But PHGG is healthy. In fact, it’s much better for you than raw guar gum that hasn’t been hydrolyzed. All ‘hydrolyzed’ means is that it has water and an enzyme added to it to molecularly break it down. Because it’s partially broken down, it’s in essence, pre-digested. This is why guar gum is easier to digest for people with leaky gut.Anytime you see guar gum listed in the ingredients label, it’s partially-hydrolyzed. Without the hydrolyzation process, guar gum can be extremely difficult to digest and may even be deadly because if you swallow a lot of raw guar gum, it could expand in your esophagus and cause choking.
So don’t purchase cosmetic-grade guar gum to bake gluten-free muffins. Only purchase food-grade partially-hydrolyzed guar gum. Your tummy will thank you for it.