Yogurt Guar GumThis month we are continuing with the thickener theme and examining another common additive, guar gum.

Guar Gum. It’s always seemed harmless to me, a simple gum used to thicken many familiar foods like yogurts, dressings, ice creams, pie fillings, etc. I really never gave much though to its presence, surprisingly, assuming it was a more natural product. Of course as a food sensitivity Dietitian I have reminded clients that they could react to additives like guar gum, but beyond that I’ve never found any reason for alarm.  So what is guar gum exactly?

Guar gum is basically the ground endosperm of guar beans. Chemically, it’s a polysaccharide formed by the sugars galactose and mannose. The end product, when processed, is a white powder that has 8 times the water-thickening ability of cornstarch. Food manufacturers love it because only a small amount is required to achieve their desired result and because it can also act as an emulsifier and stabilizer. That’s why you will see it used preferentially in so many products. Guar bean in grown in India, Pakistan, the US, Australia and Africa, however India is the largest producer.1

Just poking around in my kitchen I can already see that it’s in my coconut milk, non-dairy yogurt, and salad dressing. You can even buy it on the shelves for gluten free baking or other culinary uses. Bob’s Red Mill sells large bags of it, for example. But …. should there be any cause for concern in using this bean powder?

Thankfully, guar gum has shown to be safe in most cases. It is not a known carcinogen per rat studies. 2  That is great news.  It also appears to be safe in pregnancy.3  Other rat studies have shown the only effects of high dose guar gum to be reduction in blood glucose, improved insulin sensitivity, and weight loss.4 This has led researchers to wonder if similar benefits could be seen in humans. The studies are ongoing but many believe it certainly could.

This all sounds like very positive news to me. I think most of my original assumptions were correct. Out of curiosity I did some digging around on other “gums” and both locust bean gum and gum arabic appear to be safe with similar potential health improvements as noted with guar gum.

The one downside? Guar gum can have adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system, mainly by way of increased gas and bloating.  The intake would likely have to be high, but given the plethora of foods guar gum hides in, it might be enough to upset the system of some. But any high fiber diet could do that for someone, so it may not be simply the guar gum at fault.

Overall rating? I think guar gum overall is safe, although you might experience unpleasant GI effects if you consume an excessive amount. Also, it’s always possible to have a food sensitivity to any substance, so if you suspect any such issues, always remove all additives, including guar gum, just in case.

References:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guar_gum
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12778207
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0278691587902584
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16823722

About Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist