Chewing Gum: The Good, The Bad and The Unacceptable!

6 min read

A couple of years ago I was visiting my dad’s best friend and his family. After a gorgeous meal when I opened my purse and took out my Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, that very religious and spiritual aunty shook her head in utter disbelief saying,

“I didn’t know that you chew gum! Don’t you know it contains animal bones and pig’s fat?”

Well to be very honest I had not heard of this before and to her credit what she believed wasn’t entirely untrue (though slightly distorted and hugely generalised!) But again isn’t that how it is with almost every distorted belief?

But this article isn’t just about moral issues surrounding chewing gums. Here is what we will be discussing

  • Perceived Benefits of Chewing gum and truth behind the claims.
  • Perceived downsides of chewing gum and whether they are true?
  • How to figure whether your gum is vegan or not

The Good…


Chewing Gum helps fight cavities and also rebuilds enamel.

To clear the basics, chewing gum is a type of candy (a chewable candy that you are supposed to spit afterwards of course!). And what does mommy says about sweet and sugary candy?

“Too much sugar candy will rot your teeth!”

A piece or a strip of chewable gum ends up containing no more than 2grams of sugar. That’s not much right? 2 gram of sugar is not much calorie wise but for those teeny tiny plaque causing bacteria in your mouth, that 2 grams of sugar slowly released over a span of 10 minutes is a heaven sent supply of energy! Yes it will freshen your breath but will not provide any anti-cavity protection.

Sugar free gum on the other hand is shown to not only reduce dental caries and freshen your breath, but also protect your enamel. This is especially true with gums containing sugar alcohols, Sorbito and Xylitol. [1]

Did you know that chewing on xylitol-sweetened gum prevents oral transmission of cavity causing bacteria mutans streptococci! Don’t know about the kiss of life but you can definitely give your SO or your child a kiss of good oral health by chewing on xylitol gum first 😛


Chewing Gum helps you stay focused, alert and also improves memory!

People have reported decrease in stress and anxiety and increase in short term memory retention after eating chewing gum but these claims are not supported by research. However studies does support the claim that chewing gum increases alertness and that might be the reason why it is shown to improve performance in tests. [2,3,4]


Chewing on Gum aids with Weight Loss!

This is a real iffy one. As a dietitian I never learned about it in text books nor have I come across any dietitian ever advising anyone to start chewing gum as a weight loss tip. But a lot of health guru’s and news articles claim this. So here is the result of some digging. One study shows that chewing gum enhances Diet Induced Thermogenesis (amount of calories burned for the digestion itself),[5] but the total of 6-8 extra calories burned by chewing gum, will it really amount to any “effective weight loss”? You decide!  There is another study that shows gum chewing can enhance satiety (feeling of fullness) after meals and significantly reduces consumption of carbohydrate rich snacks. [6]  Then there is this interesting research that shows that chewing a gum just for 10-12 minutes after each meal (3 times a day) is shown to increase Basal Energy Expenditure by ~11% and can result in up to 5 kg of weight loss in a year irrespective of any other lifestyle modifications! [7] So chewing on gum can help curb your snack cravings, it may even help you eat less carbs and also help with weight loss. But in totality, the research is unequivocal and scanty. More research is needed.

As a dietitian I am not recommending my patients to start chewing on gum for weight loss any time sooner!


Chewing on Gum aids with Digestion.

Chewing gum promotes gastric motility and is been shown as an effective therapy in helping regain normal digestive functioning back in patients with gastrointestinal surgeries. [8,9] There are many more studies indicating usefulness of gum therapy in return of normal bowel function in patients undergone gastric surgery. But does that also mean chewing gum can relieve your constipation? Who knows!

Gum has also been shown to be an effective therapy in treating post operative Nausea. [10] And there are also ayurvedic or medicated gums that contain licorice, ginger extracts that claim to help with controlling nausea. But this area certainly needs more research.

So in a nutshell, chewing gum does have some great digestive benefits. Of course more research is needed…


The Bad…


Too Much of Sugar Free Gum can upset stomach.

If you consume a large enough quantity of sugar alcohols like Xylitol, Sorbitol, Erythritol in a short period of time, it can cause some nasty GI problems like gas, bloating and diarrhoea.


Sugar Containing Gum can cause plaques

Yes, as mentioned earlier if you are opting for sugared gum, you are doing more harm to your teeth than good. [11] Five minutes of fresh breath can cause lifetime of plaques…


Excessive Gum Chewing Can Hurt Your Jaw

Excessive gum chewing is shown to cause pain in Jaw joint (Temporomandibular Jaw Pain). This is particularly true for individuals who has misaligned teeth. [12]


And the Unacceptables… Or Are They?



butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are two organic compounds that are used as a preservative in foods due to their antioxidant properties. They take care of free oxygen radicles  and save fats in the food from going rancid. They are considered GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) by US FDA but at the same time some other health agencies consider them to be carcinogenic (cancer causing). The scientific community is divided on this subject as many studies proving it’s carcinogenicity are done on rats. The issue of their safety for human consumption has been controversial and I suppose will stay to be till more definitive research emerges.

BHT is also the preservative that is used in many chewing gums. So next time you buy one, flip the cover and check the ingredient list first.

Want to know about some Natural Antioxidants? Read,

Antioxidants: let your food protect you from all illnesses!


Sugar Substitutes

Other than previously discussed sugar alcohols there are other sugar substitutes that are used to sweeten the gum. Aspertame and Acesulfame K are two such sugar substitutes.

Adding zero calories and tons of sweetness so where’s the controversy in that?

Well Aspartame for one, contains Phenylalanine, an essential amino acid that can be detrimental for individuals born with condition Phenylketonurea (PKU). On top of that it has been popularly accused for being a carcinogen but scientific evidence does not back those claims. So generally speaking, Aspartame is a safe bet, unless of course you have PKU.

And now, Acesulfame K. Well it too is being labelled as a “possible carcinogen” but there is not enough proof to support the claims and as of now it is regarded safe for human consumption.

So! Should you chew sugar free gum or should you not? I would say if you must, opt for sugar free gum that contains Xylitol over Aspertame any day…


And now the elephant in the room that most gum proponents choose to ignore-

Gum components that may be derived from Animals!

Eaten pellet gums lately?

Well thing about gum pellets is most often than not the hard and polished covering/coating is made of Gelatin. Gelatin is a gel forming agent (used in Jell-O) that is derived from various parts of an animal’s body (bones, ligaments, skin etc.).

That is not always the case though. Some use corn starch to form the covering of the pellets. Best way to figure out is, check the ingredient list. Like the one below-

And while you are at it, might as well check for Glycerin/Glycerol in it and whether the manufacture has mentioned the source of it (Vegetable Glycerin or Just Glycerin). Check this label out-

Now the thing about Glycerin is that it is an organic compound that is the back bone of Triglyceride structure in all Fats and Oils. If you know even a little bit of organic chemistry or have read our Best Cooking Oil article you must know what a Triglyceride is…


3 Fatty acid chains when attach parallely to a single glycerol (glycerin) back bone the structure is called a “Triglyceride”. And every oil and fat is made of these triglyceride molecules. So basically whether it’s your normal vegetable oil, uber fancy and imported olive oil, or literally butter or even fat trimmed off a mutton chop, they ALL contain triglycerides and thus glycerol or glycerin. So if your ingredient list just mentions Glycerin, there is no way of telling where that glycerin has come from…

This is not to scare you off or anything! Many people even in India do eat non-veg and may not care about these nitty gritties. But if you do, now you know how to find a vegan chewing gum.

“If you have made it till the end you might be confused, is she pro chewing gum or against it?!

Well I am neither. I personally enjoy chewing it but don’t preach it’s health benefits or scare passerby’s by screaming about how harmful it is for them… I am not a preacher, I am an educator. My aim is to equip you (my readers and the consumers) with the information and the supporting evidence. And to empower you to make your own well informed health choices…

So be informed, be empowered and most importantly…just be you 🙂


PS: Did you know what the chewy part of chewing gum is made of? It’s Rubber! Yup. The same thing that is holding your hair together, making your car’s tyres durable and has spared your little self from getting spanked by helping erase misspelled words  😛

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

She is a Registered Dietitian who does not believe in dieting; She has a Master's Degree in Nutrition but she is not your "I know it all Nutrition Guru!"; She loves food but loves talking about food even more. Her articles are a direct reflection of her personal quest where nutrition science meets real life! Oh, and she is owned by a 3 m.o. naughty kitten :)

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