As a life-long gum chewer (yes, even wellness coaches have vices), I’ve been surprised and intrigued by the recent positive research on its supposed health benefits. Could it really be that gum chewing can make you smarter , thinner , less stressed, less forgetful and more alert ?
Whether any of that’s true, I do know that chewing gum after a meal can help digestion because it stimulates the release of enzymes that help to break down the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the foods we eat. Chewing gum also stimulates saliva secretion which helps cleanse the teeth of harmful bacteria. Hospitals even give patients who’ve had digestive tract surgery sugarless gum to help them pass gas - a sign of restored intestinal function. In fact one British study found that chewing gum after colon surgery helped patients return to normal bowel activity (and as a result leave the hospital earlier) than patients who didn’t chew gum .Unless you’re in the hospital, however, it’s not a good idea to chew gum on an empty stomach – it can give you unwanted gas and a stomach ache. Gum chewing on an empty tank is also likely to make you hungrier since the chewing stimulates your body to release digestive enzymes to breakdown the food it thinks it’s getting plus insulin which mops up glucose in the blood stream (and subsequently may produce an unwanted drop in your blood sugar and your energy level). There’s also the potential for swallowing gum. No, it won’t stay in your stomach for 7 years like our parents warned us, but it’s not necessarily something you want in your digestive tract.
It’s important to note that most if not all of these studies used sugarless gums in their research. No surprise there – for we all know from our dentists (and the TV commercials) that the American Dental Association doesn’t endorse sugar-sweetened gums – only the sugarless varieties. Sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup) is on everyone’s hit list right now, so “sugarful” gums are an endangered species. These days there are a plethora of sugarless choices but very few sugar-sweetened gums.
But even if sugarless gum doesn’t cause cavities (and may even help prevent them), are those artificial sweeteners any better for us than sugar? No – and many artificial sweeteners have been linked to other health problems . Furthermore, have you ever noticed most gums are green, blue or red? This means that they also contain artificial colors. Furthermore, just because you’re not swallowing your gum (hopefully!) don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re not ingesting its ingredients. In addition to artificial sweeteners, sugarless gums contain other ingredients that manufacturers are touting as healthful. Some gums on the market even claim to be vitamin-infused. Others contain xylitol , a “natural” sweetener that has been found to have bone-building benefits, but most gums aren’t exclusively sweetened with xylitol and instead they also contain the artificial sweeteners aspartame and/or sorbitol. Researchers at MIT University have even developed an “insulin chewing gum” that may someday allow diabetics to chew rather than inject themselves with insulin. On the other hand, chronic gum chewing may promote Temporal Mandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ ).
Finally, good for you or not, gum chewing is potentially harmful to the environment as it can easily adhere itself to sidewalks and all of us hate getting gum under our shoes. So if you do chew gum, make sure you have something to wrap it in when you spit it out!