Starting a ketogenic diet is somewhat like learning a new language. You’re shifting what you eat and how your metabolism works.
While at the same time, you’re diving into a whole new world of food additives and labels.
One of the common food additives found in low-carb recipes and gluten-free baking is guar gum.
It certainly doesn’t sound like it comes from nature — but what’s the deal with this common additive?
What Is Guar Gum?
Guar gum is a food additive used in a wide range of applications. It acts as a thickener, emulsifier, binding agent, and has gelling properties. It’s functionality, coupled with the fact that it can work in a wide range of pH’s and dissolves quickly in cold water, make it a food scientist best friend.
But don’t let the name throw you off, although it may not sound like a natural ingredient it actually comes from legumes called guar beans[*].
Guar gum (also known as guar flour or guaran) is a carbohydrate and is mostly composed of two types of sugars — galactose and mannose. However, the carbohydrate content is mostly soluble fiber — so it has little impact on your net carbs[*].
The Health Benefits of Guar Gum
#1 Blood Sugar
One of the benefits of soluble fiber is its ability to slow down digestion when necessary. Guar gum, being a form of soluble fiber, can slow digestion and therefore the rate at which your body absorbs glucose.
For someone with diabetes of insulin sensitivity issues, this can be quite impactful as it aids in regulating blood sugar[*].
In a three month, double-blind study patients with type 2 diabetes were given guar gum to assess its effects on blood sugar and lipids. The guar gum supplementation resulted in decreased blood glucose both at baseline and after meals. The participants also experienced increased glucose excretion in their urine[*].
Due to gaur gums high fiber content, it may provide support to your digestive system.
Soluble fiber is well known to assist people who are suffering from constipation. In one study, a group of patients with chronic constipation were given 5mg of guar gum daily for four weeks.
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The participants were asked to keep a diary of symptoms, laxative use, and stools. The four-week intervention significantly reduced the transit time of stool, and also increased the number of complete stools that the patients experienced. Thereby improving the symptoms and frequency of bowel movements[*].
Some types of soluble fiber also act as prebiotics, feeding the bacteria in your gut. When guar was given to a group of constipated women, it not only increased the frequency of bowel movements, but it also decreased the amount of harmful bacteria in their gut[*].
Guar may even assist people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a condition that’s not well-understood but often results in digestive issues like bloating, pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
When 86 patients with IBS were given guar gum and asked to keep a journal tracking their digestive response, they experienced significant benefits to common IBS symptoms. At the end of the study, the patients experienced improved bowel movement frequency, along with less pain and bloating[*].
#3 Weight Loss
Another great benefit that soluble fiber provides is a sensation of fullness. By slowing down your digestion, it means that your body feels full or more satisfied for a more extended period of time. This promotion of satiety can help reduce your appetite — potentially leading to less food intake[*][*].
Research shows that consuming a meal with guar gum not only increases your satiety, but it can also reduce your daily caloric intake from whole-day snacking. This subtle type of appetite control can produce profound effects over time by slowly decreasing your food intake if your goal is weight loss[*].
The best part about guars potential weight loss benefits is that you don’t need to take a large amount. Even the small amounts that you get from packaged foods could have an impact[*].
The best way to naturally lower your cholesterol is to eliminate it in your bowel movements. And how is this achieved?
Soluble fiber in your intestine binds to bile acids that are produced by your gallbladder. Bile acids contain several compounds, cholesterol being one of them.
When you eat soluble fiber and subsequently bind your bile acids, it forces your body to pull more cholesterol out of your blood and into bile acid production[*].
The correlation between dietary fiber intake and reductions in cholesterol is well studied. In one study, a group of patients with type 2 diabetes were treated with either guar gum, Metformin, or a placebo. While Metformin helped to reduce VLDL cholesterol, guar gum was able to reduce LDL cholesterol — a potential contributor to heart disease[*].
Potential Health Risks
Although guar gum is GRAS certified (generally recognized as safe) in the U.S., there are some potential downfalls to using this ingredient[*].
The other side of the coin with fiber is that when taken too much, or if your digestive issues are contraindicated, it can cause gastrointestinal upset.
Some symptoms associated with too much soluble fiber include; constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and cramps. Typically, if you have a digestive issue starting with small doses should be indicative of whether or not your digestion can tolerate guar gum.
Due to the bulk-forming quality of guar gum, there is a potential risk for esophageal obstruction (also known as choking). The amount of guar gum found in food products is much lower than any dose that has been seen to cause esophageal obstruction. It is a reminder, however, that when taking fiber supplements of any kind, you must drink enough water along with them[*].
Another uncommon, but potential side effect of guar gum is an allergic reaction. One case study reported that two workers who frequently handled the powder of guar gum developed allergic reactions[*].
Is Guar Gum Vegan, Soy-free, Gluten-Free, Keto?
Guar gum is made of mostly carbohydrate. However — the majority of those carbs are fiber. Since only a small amount of guars carbohydrate content would contribute to your total daily carb intake, it is indeed keto.
In fact, guar makes a great additive in keto baking in place of other ingredients like gluten. That’s why you often see guar gum on the labels of low-carb products and in low-carb recipes.
Guar gum is a vegan ingredient. It’s made entirely from plant sources, legumes, and isn’t processed using any animal products.
Guar gum is not only gluten-free, but it makes a fantastic gluten alternative in baking recipes. This is why you’ll frequently see guar gum as an ingredient in gluten-free baked goods like bread and desserts.
Uses in Cooking
Guar gum has a wide range of functionality in food systems. It can replace common allergens like dairy, eggs, and gluten — depending on what you’re using it for.
As a soluble fiber, guar gum makes an excellent thickener. In place of ingredients like wheat flour and cornstarch, guar can be used to thicken liquid recipes like soups, sauces, and even smoothies.
This thickening property can also enhance the smoothness of your recipe, providing an overall heartier texture and mouthfeel.
Emulsifiers in recipes help oil-based ingredients mix with water-based ingredients. If you’ve ever made your own salad dressing, you would have noticed how after a while the oil naturally separates from the vinegar. The addition of emulsifying ingredients will allow oil and vinegar to stay mixed together.
Guar works as an emulsifier in food products like ice cream and condiments, helping to create uniform texture and prevent separation.
Binders are added to foods to thicken or improve their texture. They can also enhance the firmness of a recipe. Eggs and gluten are common binders used in non-keto baking.
In a keto kitchen, however, you’ll need to look for alternatives to gluten — and guar makes an excellent one. And for people suffering from egg allergies, guar can replace eggs in a number of recipes.
Although guar works perfectly in many keto recipes, there are a few caveats you should be aware of before you start cooking.
Guar gum is not the optimal ingredient to use in recipes containing a lot of acidic ingredients. The acidity can mess with guar’s ability to thicken. If you’re cooking with foods like lemon and vinegar, you may want to use an alternative or increase the amount of guar gum you include.
Xanthan gum makes an excellent stand-in for guar gum in acidic recipes because it is much more tolerant to the pH.
Guar gum works very well in cold food systems. However, it may not work as well in hot foods. For items like soups and stews, you would either want to increase the amount of guar or try using an alternative.
How To Mix
To get the maximum benefit out of guar in your recipe, you should mix it in with the oil components. Once the oil and guar are well mixed, you can add them to the rest of the recipe. Using a blender or food processor is the best way to go.
Always follow the instructions on how much guar to use in a recipe. If you add too much, it may mess with the consistency. Likewise, not adding enough may produce suboptimal results. A little goes a long way with guar, so if you’re unsure, always start on the smaller side and add from there.
Where You Can Find It And Buying Tips
Most grocery stores will carry guar gum, and it’s widely available online. When looking for guar gum, there are a couple of things to be aware of:
#1. For cooking, you’ll want to buy the fine ground powder, as opposed to the more coarsely ground powder.
#2. Avoid partially hydrolyzed guar gum, as this product will not have the thickening and gelling functions of guar.
#3. The only ingredient on the label should be guar gum. This food additive requires no additional ingredients. If there is something else added, it may not only be unnecessary, but it could mess with the matrix of your recipe.
#4. Proper storage is essential for gum ingredients like guar. Due to the soluble fiber content, any moisture it comes into contact with will cause the gum to clump up and lose its functionality.
How To Replace Guar Gum
If you need to replace guar gum in a recipe, there are several alternatives to choose from.
Most recipes calling for guar gum can be successfully replaced with xanthan gum. Xanthan has many of the same properties as guar but actually works better in acidic and hot recipes.
Psyllium husk is a mucilaginous plant that’s rich in soluble fiber. When you add it to water, it thickens up quickly and does a beautiful job holding ingredients together. You can use psyllium to replace guar gum’s thickening functionality as well as its binding quality.
One note on psyllium — Depending on the texture you’re looking for you may want to add the psyllium in with the liquids as it will quickly absorb liquid and you may need to add extra.
Ground Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are rich in fiber and do a very good job with binding. If you’re looking for a replacement for gaur as a binder in baking recipes ground flax is an excellent option. You’ll want to add water to flax (about 2 tablespoons for each tablespoon of ground flax) before you add it to your recipe.
Chia seeds create a gelatinous consistency when you add them to water. They can be used for adding moisture, thickness, and structure to smoothies and baked goods.
Similarly to ground flax seeds, you’ll want to add water to the chia seeds before adding them to baked goods recipes. Add about three times as much as water as you do chia (for example; one tablespoon of chia needs three tablespoons of water).
In applications like smoothies, you can add the chia seeds directly. Just know that they will continue to gelatinize over time, so if you leave your smoothie for a while, you may come back to an extremely thick consistency.
Eggs provide excellent binding functionality in baked goods. Just be aware that they will also create more volume, so if you’re cooking a recipe that does not require volume, you may want to stick with one of the other options.
In the world of keto cooking and keto packaged foods, there are a lot of strange sounding food additives. While it’s always important to try to stick to real, whole foods, sometimes you want to create a meal that requires a little extra functionality.
Guar gum offers a range of functions and is relatively harmless when it comes to side effects. The key is to know how much to use, and for which functions in the food you need to use it.
If you’re someone with very sensitive digestion, you’ll want to start small with guar. However, most recipes only call for a small amount, to begin with — so it will likely not be a problem.
If you do find that you are sensitive to guar gum, then there are plenty of alternatives like psyllium, egg whites, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Xanthan gum is particularly helpful for replacing guar as its functionality overlaps with guars very well. If you’re not sure what ingredient to replace guar with — use xanthan gum.