Wednesday, November 30

Xanthan gum, the additive that can help your bacteria

People who decide to read the labels of their food do not win for scares: dozens of compounds with codes and names in Latin that they do not recognize. However, some of these complicated names only represent well-known and harmless ingredients, such as citric acid (found in lemons, E330) or ascorbic acid (vitamin C, E300), while others more recognizable as “sugar” or “vegetable fat” should be much scarier.

Among the exotic ingredients is very often xanthan gum (E415). What is this? Is it healthy, harmful or neutral?

Xanthan gum, a versatile thickener

Xanthan gum is an additive that is used as a thickener or stabilizer. If we are cooking a sauce at home and we want it to thicken, it is likely that we will use a teaspoon of cornmeal. Instead, xanthan gum has many benefits. It has no flavour, is gluten-free, so it can be used in foods for celiacs, and it allows texturing, gelling and thickening any liquid, achieving a high level of viscosity with very little quantity, between 2 and 4 grams per liter of liquid.

Xanthan gum is found in a multitude of products, from your whipped cream to sauces and salad dressings, from packet soups to gluten-free baked goods, ice cream, skim foods and even toothpaste or shampoo.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently reviewed the xanthan gum food safetyconfirming the previous results: it is not carcinogenic, it is not toxic, and the only side effect reported is gas, and this is when ingesting amounts much higher than those used in food.

Xanthan gum is made by fermenting sugar by a bacterium called Xanthomonas campestris. When sugar is fermented, a broth or goo is created, which is solidified by adding an alcohol. It is then dried into a powder, which is what you can buy as an additive.

Xanthan gum is a soluble fiber, the type of fiber that has the greatest influence on health. Like other soluble fibers, xanthan gum is not absorbed in the intestine and does not provide calories. Instead forms a gel that passes into the colon, where it is fermented by the intestinal microbiota. That is, xanthan gum is a prebiotic, food for our bacteria.

Xanthan gum and sugar levels

Precisely for this reason xanthan gum could have health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Several studies have found that xanthan gum may lower blood sugar level when consumed in large doses (about 12 grams per day), which could help treat diabetes.

One possible explanation is that xanthan gum increases the viscosity of food and liquids in the stomach and intestine, making digestion slower and not raising blood sugar as quickly. Other study conducted on 11 women found that blood sugar levels were significantly lower after consuming boiled rice with added xanthan gum, compared to consuming rice without it.

Xanthan gum, cholesterol and cancer

Also, xanthan gum might help lower blood cholesterol levels. In a classical study with men who consumed large amounts of xanthan gum for 23 days, his cholesterol was observed to drop by 10%.

As with many prebiotics and any food with soluble fiber, large amounts of xanthan gum (15 grams per day or more) can cause discomfort such as gas or bloating due to alterations in the microbiota. However, these alterations can be positive because probiotics increase the populations of bifidobacterium, which has anti-inflammatory effects.

This could be the key to xanthan gum’s cancer-preventing properties. Although there are currently no human studies and the evidence is weak, a study with mice with melanoma found that it significantly slowed the growth of cancerous tumors and prolonged their life.

Some people with severe allergies should avoid xanthan gum. The other case of intolerance detected is in premature babies, in which using xanthan gum as a thickener caused inflammation of the intestine. The reason is that in these babies their intestine and their microbiota have not yet developed.

For the rest of humans, xanthan gum is a harmless additive and could also be helping our intestinal bacteria, improving health. In addition, a normal person who consumes industrial foods ingests less than one gram of xanthan gum at the end of the day, and amounts 20 times higher have been shown to be safe.

* Dario Pescador is editor and director of the quo magazine and author of the book your best self Posted by Oberon.

What is all this based on?

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