If you have been reading food labels lately, you may have noticed that an ingredient called guar gum pops up frequently. What is guar gum? Guar gum is formed from seeds of the cluster bean, or guar plant, which contain galactomannan gum. The seeds are milled and then sifted to provide an off-white powder that turns into a thick jelly when combined with water. This ingredient can help stabilize ingredients in processed foods and improve their consistency, making it a top choice for many major food manufacturers.
Guar gum is now used in hundreds of commercially available food products, including dairy products, bakery items, baby foods, coconut milk, ice cream and other frozen confections, puddings, sauces, and dressings. Guar gum is considered a safe food additive, and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is an indigestible polysaccharide fiber that is known to lower your glycemic index and make your feel fuller, with relatively few calories.
However, recent studies show that guar gum can cause significant problems for individuals with gastrointestinal issues (such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s, or Celiac Disease), or for those with diabetes, or who require regular prescriptions. Guar gum can act as a laxative or can interfere with the absorption of insulin or other prescription medications.
Guar Gum Issues
There are numerous ways that guar gum may cause issues:
1. Dry Guar Gum Can Cause Choking
Some products and supplements contain dry guar gum, and the FDA requires these products to carry a warning label indicating that guar gum can potentially cause choking by blocking your esophagus or throat. Guar gum granules can expand up to twenty times their size in water, posing a real concern throughout the entire intestinal tract. There have been fatal reports of choking or intestinal blockages due to dry guar gum additives.
2. Guar Gum Can Interfere with Absorption
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, guar gum interferes with the body’s ability to absorb some medications taken for diabetes and heart disease, and can even interfere with acetaminophen absorption. In addition, guar gum powders negatively impact the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants like lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene.
3. Gastrointestinal Issues
Guar gum is a soluble fiber that has a laxative effect on certain people, because bulk is being added to their stool. But if you already have intestinal issues, like celiac Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), eating too much fiber can cause some significant GI issue. Though some studies show that guar gum does not cause harm even when consumed at very high doses, these same studies noticed that gastrointestinal issues occurred frequently. Increased gas, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea are common problems that are encountered by those who consume guar gum. So, if you have a sensitive digestive system, it makes sense to remove guar gum from your diet.
4. Soy Allergy
Guar gum can include small traces of soy proteins, which is known to cause allergic reactions in certain people. Symptoms of a soy allergy include gastrointestinal issues including vomiting, diarrhea, and indigestion. Other symptoms include wheezing, tightness, and hives or other types of rashes. And though uncommon, the most serious reaction is anaphylaxis shock, requiring immediate medical attention.
5. Exposure to Pesticides
India is the leading producer and exporter of guar gum, producing over 80% of the world’s supply. Until recently, India’s guar gum has had at least a 0.01 milligram of pentachlorophenols (PCP) per kilogram. PCP is a commonly used pesticide and a disinfectant, and short-term exposure to PCP can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, blood, and nervous system. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies PCP as a probable human carcinogen.
6. Contains Sugars
Guar gum includes both galactose and mannose sugars. So, those who are following a Low-FODMAP diet to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), should avoid guar gum because it is a form of FODMAP. The Low-FODMAP diet was created to prevent fermentation caused by carbs and sugars, because this fermentation can result in uncomfortable GI symptoms.
7. Gluten Cross-contamination
There are a few producers of gluten free guar gum, such as Bob’s Red Mill or Now Foods. But the guar gum used in many commonly available commercially available food products is probably not as carefully sourced, and may be exposed to cross-contamination with gluten.
Consider an Elimination Diet
If you have IBS, or Celiac Disease and are on gluten-free diet but are still having gastrointestinal issues, consider eliminating all guar gum products from your diet for 30 days to see if this leads to any improvements. Though going on an elimination diet may be the last thing you want to do after adjusting to a gluten free life, the goal is to reduce inflammation in your intestines, which will lead to improved health and well-being! The best way to eliminate guar gum from your diet is to eliminate all processed foods for 30 days. Here is a list of foods you can enjoy:
- Meat and Poultry
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Green vegetables
- Leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
Avoid these foods:
- All processed foods
- Dairy products
- All grain products, breads or baked goods
- Artificial sweeteners
It may take a few days, or even up to two weeks, but this elimination diet will give your body a rest, and may dramatically reduce the inflammation in your system that can be brought on by guar gum. It is essential that you stick to the diet to experience the full benefits. Some of the potential benefits you may see include better digestion, less indigestion, more regular bowel movements, clearer skin, more energy, and better sleep.
If you want to try the elimination diet, plan in advance so you are not tempted to cheat. Do a large shopping trip to gather at least one week’s worth for approved’ foods, and try some interesting new recipes from a vegan or Paleo cookbook. Keep the fridge well stocked with green vegetables, and also drink plenty of water each day. Minimize the time you spend in restaurants the next 30 days, so you can be sure to avoid potential cross-contamination issues. Within one week, you will be used to the new routine, and won’t miss the guar gum.