As a keto dieter, you’ve probably come across some strange sounding ingredients in your packaged foods.
The rule of thumb is to always eat foods with ingredients you know and can pronounce. However, there are some exceptions to the rule.
If you’re wondering what this xanthan gum is all about and if it’s safe to consume while following keto, then you’re in the right place.
Turn over any gluten-free baked goods package, and you’ll likely see xanthan gum on the ingredient panel. Seeing the word “gum” on your food label may give you pause, but ingredients like xanthan gum are more common than you may think.
The reason these gums are becoming so popular?
They’re particularly useful for replacing the cohesive nature of gluten. In traditional baked goods, the gluten found in wheat helps to hold all the ingredients together, giving bread its chewy consistency.
In gluten-free and keto baking, however, gluten isn’t an option.
Xanthan gum acts as an emulsifier, thickening agent, and stabilizing agent in food products. This functionality makes it a valuable ingredient for manufacturers that are looking to avoid common allergens like eggs and wheat.
How It’s Made
Knowing how food additives are made can help clarify which ones should be avoided, and which may be okay in moderation.
Xanthan gum is made through a simple fermentation process in which a carbohydrate source is fermented by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. Notice the similarities in the name?
The xanthan gum is then dried into a powder, which can be rehydrated to activate its functionality.
Despite its strange sounding name, xanthan gum actually comes with a few potential health benefits. Let’s take a look at what the research says.
#1 May Ease Constipation
When you add xanthan gum to liquid while baking it acts as a bulk-forming agent, creating a gel-like substance.
This same behavior happens in your digestive tract when you consume xanthan gum. The bulk-forming and gel-like properties can help move things along, and increase peristalsis — muscular contractions in your digestive tract.
If you’ve ever suffered from constipation, you know how uncomfortable, and even painful, it can be. The common issue with constipation is the inability to move through stool your digestive tract.
In one study, researchers gave a group of volunteers xanthan gum and then tract their bowel movement for the day. The researchers found that the xanthan gum provided an increase in stool movement through the digestive tract. This resulted in more frequent bowel movement as well as increased overall output.
In other words, it helped them have more frequent and larger bowel movements. The researchers stated that xanthan acts a highly efficient laxative[*].
#2 Lowers Blood Sugar
Xanthan gums gel-like properties can help slow gastric emptying in your stomach. Which means that your digestive juices have a longer time to work on the food you eat, and nutrients are absorbed more slowly[*].
One of the benefits of slowing down gastric emptying is that blood glucose rises more slowly. This is a huge deal for diabetics since the primary issue with diabetes is high blood glucose.
Researchers are always looking for ways to help people manage diabetes through diet. One group of researchers decided to test out xanthan gums ability to delay nutrient absorption by giving a group of diabetics muffins containing xanthan.
For 12 weeks the groups received 12 grams of xanthan gum a day and then had their blood sugar tested. The researchers found that those consuming the xanthan muffins had lower blood sugar both while fasted and post feeding[*].
#3 Lowers Cholesterol
A pleasant side effect of xanthan gum, when being studied in diabetics, was a reduction in total, and LDL cholesterol[*].
In another study, researchers gave a group of volunteers 10-13 grams of xanthan gum daily for 23 days. The researchers measured several biomarkers and found that at the end of the study, serum cholesterol had decreased by 10%.
They also noted a significant increase in bile acids in the stool of the volunteers. This indicates that the binding activity of xanthan may have contributed to reductions in cholesterol[*].
#4 Sjorgen’s Syndrome
Sjorgen’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease which attacks the glands in your mouth and eyes that make tears and saliva. People suffering from Sjorgen’s experience dry eyes and dry mouth, and typically need either eye surgery or medicated eye drops.
The dry mouth condition can lead to issues with eating, speaking, and swallowing, as well as taste perception.
Research shows that xanthan gum may provide lubrication and moistening properties for people suffering from dry mouth due to Sjorgen’s. European drug companies are currently testing whether this could be a viable treatment.
So far, it seems that the effects are based primarily on the individual’s specific needs. People that can produce small amounts of saliva appear to benefit the most from xanthan[*].
#5 Supports Tooth Enamel
An interesting place that you may find xanthan gum hiding is in your toothpaste. While this may seem like a strange place for a bulk-forming additive, xanthan actually has properties that can support the enamel of your teeth.
Poor diet, age, and bacterial imbalance in your mouth can all cause demineralization of your teeth. When your teeth demineralize, they become weaker, and cavities can form.
Xanthan can reduce demineralization, and may even support remineralization, by acting as a protective barrier against acidic attacks. It is hypothesized that xanthan can absorb to your enamel, and therefore protect it from erosion[*].
#6 May Inhibit Tumor Growth
Although no human trials have been conducted, it looks like xanthan gum may have anti-tumor activity, as is seen in animal studies.
In one study, researchers inoculated a group of mice with cancer cells, and then fed the mice xanthan gum. They also conducted test-tube studies to see what the activity of xanthan gum would be on cancel cells in petri dishes.
In the test-tube study, the xanthan gum increased cancer-fighting immune cell activity. In the mice model, researchers found that xanthan gum significantly halted tumor growth and prolonged the life of the mice[*].
Not bad for a food additive.
#7 Weight Loss
Xanthan gum may support weight loss by slowing gastric emptying and enhancing feelings of fullness.
When a group of diabetic volunteers were given xanthan gum, they not only noticed decreases in blood sugar, but the volunteers also reported enhanced fullness[*].
The gel-like formation of xanthan once mixed with water (or digestive juices) creates a sensation of fullness in your stomach. This should, in theory, lead to less hunger and subsequently, less food intake[*].
Research specifically aimed at determining xanthan gums weight loss properties is scarce, but may be seen as a potential side benefit.
Due to its laxative effect, people with digestive issues should be careful when consuming xanthan gum. Research shows that it may increase gas, and also increase the frequency and amount of your stool.
While this is excellent news for someone who struggles with constipation, it may not be good news if you tend towards diarrhea[*].
It should be noted, however, that the amount of xanthan gum consumed in the studies on constipation is far greater than you would find in your typical slice of keto bread.
Xanthan gum can help to control levels of blood sugar, likely due to its ability to slow your digestion. However, for people who are already taking diabetes medication, this may cause a significant dip in your blood glucose levels[*].
The amount of xanthan found in most foods shouldn’t be a problem, but avoid taking in large amounts at a time if low blood sugar is a concern.
Xanthan gum is the product of a fermentation process with the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris and a source of carbohydrate.
The source of carbohydrate can vary but may include corn, barley, or whey. This means if you have an allergy to corn, wheat, or dairy, you may want to check the source of carb for the fermentation process.
In order to produce xanthan gum, bacteria need to ferment sugar. However, in the fermentation process, all the sugar gets eaten up yielding a zero net carb product. Therefore, xanthan is keto-friendly.
Depending on the substrate used for fermentation, xanthan can either be vegan or not. The only non-vegan substrates typically used are whey and lactose.
Some manufacturers may use wheat or barley as a substrate for fermentation. If this is the case, then trace amounts of gluten may be present. If you’re buying xanthan gum to bake with, you can find products labeled gluten-free in most stores.
Xanthan gum has a wide range of uses and can make gluten-free and low-carb cooking a lot more satisfying when applied to recipes properly.
Some common uses of xanthan gum include:
Xanthan can help thicken products like sauces, soups, and smoothies. On a keto diet, you often have to omit other thickening ingredients like bananas, arrowroot, and tapioca due to high-carb count.
Xanthan comes in to add a thicker consistency to your liquid-based food items.
Emulsifiers help fat-based ingredients like oil combine with water in a food system. Think about homemade salad dressing made with oil and vinegar. Left to their own devices, the oil and vinegar will naturally separate.
Add an emulsifier, however, and the two ingredients will mix and combine beautifully.
As an emulsifying agent, you can find xanthan gum in foods like salad dressing and ice cream.
Xanthan gum acts as an excellent replacement for gluten in baked goods. Gluten typically provides that soft and chewy texture you know and love. By acting as a binder, xanthan gum holds your ingredients together and provides a gluten-like consistency.
At the same time, it binds your ingredients together in a way that allows for air pockets just lie gluten. This provides a leavening action on baked goods.
Where To Buy It
Xanthan gum is becoming a more popular ingredient as more people go gluten-free and low-carb. Common grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts carry xanthan, and you can also find it online.
If you have trouble finding xanthan gum, or for one of the reasons listed above it won’t work for you, there are plenty of alternatives. Xanthan is all about functionality, not taste, so replacing it with ingredients with similar functionality can usually do the trick.
Here are some xanthan alternatives:
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 xanthans thickening functionality as well as its binding quality.
Depending on the texture you’re looking for, you may want to add water to your psyllium before you add it to your recipe. If you throw it in dry, just be aware that it will soak up some of the liquid.
Ground Flax Seeds
Ground flax seeds are also rich in fiber. They can act as a binding agent in your dough, while also adding moisture and texture. You’ll want to add water to flax (about 2 tablespoons for each tablespoon of ground flax) before you add it to your recipe.
If you’re avoiding xanthan for allergen purposes, then guar gum makes an excellent alternative. Guar gum is not made by fermentation but is extracted from the guar bean. Therefore, no carbohydrate substrates are necessary.
It functions very similarly to xanthan, but you will want to use a bit more guar in your recipes — about 1 ½ times guar to xanthan ratio.
When you add chia seeds to water, they form a gelatinous substance that 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).
For smoothies, you can just add chia seeds directly. One note — it may take 10 to 15 minutes for the chia seeds to form a gel. You’ll also want to stir them around a bit so they don’t stick together.
Egg whites are an excellent xanthan alternative in baked goods. They work as excellent binders, holding everything together, and they also help bread rise. Be careful not to go too crazy with the eggs whites, however, or your bread may become too fluffy.
The typical substitution for xanthan would be one egg white for every tablespoon of xanthan gum.
Guar gum and xanthan gum are often used interchangeably in gluten-free and keto recipes. Each has its own benefits and downfalls, with one of the primary benefits of guar being the allergen-free claim.
One downfall of guar is that it can be a little more temperamental than xanthan in some food systems. For instance, guar doesn’t work very well in hot liquids, so you’re better off using xanthan in stews and warm sauces.
Guar also doesn’t mix well in acidic solutions like salad dressings made with vinegar or lemon. For these types of recipesm you’ll want to stick with xanthan gum.
However, guar does work very well in cold and room temperature recipes like ice cream, smoothies, and pie filling.
Sometimes when following a ketogenic diet, you have to get a little creative with your ingredients.
Xanthan gum offers a fantastic alternative to gluten and carb-heavy ingredients that you typically use for thickening, binding, and emulsifying. It’s excellent for creating a gluten-free keto flour, or as an add-in to bulk up a smoothie.
Although the name may sound more like chemical than food, xanthan gum a safe and keto-friendly ingredient.
If you’re a stickler for whole food ingredients, however, then try psyllium, chia seeds, ground flax, or egg whites for similar functionality.