Thankfully, science has chosen to investigate these claims, with several studies being conducted in recent years to determine whether chewing gum does indeed aid weight loss.
Regular Chewing Gum
Chewing gum regularly as an alternative to having a snack between meals does appear to have some weight loss benefits. One stick of chewing gum contains between 5 and 10 calories, depending upon the brand and whether it is a sugar free product or not. In comparison to chocolate, crisps or any other typical unhealthy snack, there is a huge difference in calories consumed.
Simply by choosing gum over a different snack does decrease the number of calories eaten in a day. Depending upon the user’s diet in general, this may not contribute to weight loss, but will certainly prevent excess weight gain. WebMD has calculated that if chewing gum stops a person eating around one bag of crisps per week, they could lose two pounds over the course of a year. Whilst this does not seem like a large amount of weight, it has to be remembered that this example is only a small substitution compared to taking on a very restrictive diet.
What Does the Science Tell Us?
There is increasing evidence from clinical trials that the regular use of gum can decrease the number of calories consumed in subsequent meals. University of Rhode Island conducted a study that showed that people who chewed gum consumed 68 fewer calories at lunch and did not compensate by eating more later on in the day.
Chewing gum also helped the study participants satisfy their cravings and resist fattening treats. Gum chewers actually burned about 5% more calories than non-gum chewers, suggesting that they had higher metabolic rates. Whether this is a direct link or merely a coincidence is not fully established.
Another study, from Louisiana State University, indicated that chewing gum was helpful in controlling appetite, decreasing participants’ daily intake by 40 calories and reducing snack cravings.
Obviously these are all small figures, and it would take a significant amount of time for any amount of weight loss to be noticeable without taking other measures. It may be that the chewing of gum should be considered not as a dieting aid, but as a part of the person’s daily routine. Overvaluing the importance of supposed weight loss aids can actually cause people to put on weight, as they are more careless with their eating choices, as they expect the diet aids to counteract these extra calories.
Another study from Glasgow Caledonian University found that those who chewed gum between meals felt markedly reduced cravings for sweet snacks in particular, noted a decreased perception of hunger in general, and finally ate 36 calories less per meal than those who had not chewed on any gum. Those conducting the study attributed the weight loss potential of chewing gum to be due to the importance of “orosensory stimulation in promoting satiation”.
Fewer Meals But Higher Calories?
This is not a one-sided debate, however. A recent study from Ohio State University found that gum chewers ate fewer meals compared to non-gum chewers, but that their meals were larger, higher in calories, and less nutritionally balanced. Considering that the gum being tested was Nutratrim weight loss gum, which is marketed as being a product that “boosts metabolism and helps to curb food cravings”, this is a very discouraging study.
Another phase of the same study has highlighted the fact that people who have just chewed menthol gum are much less likely to choose fruit as a snack than people who have not been chewing gum. Instead they were more likely to select a savoury carbohydrate based snack such as crisps. There is speculation that this is because the strong menthol flavour alters the perception of flavour on the taste buds, which makes fruit taste bitter. This is similar to the effect of orange juice tasting bitter after brushing your teeth.
Chewing on gum causes salivation, which is essentially the first step of digestion. By chewing and salivating, the body may begin to anticipate food, which would cause the consumer to become hungrier. It may be that this causes people to then make more careless food choices, as well as larger meals.
Diet Chewing Gums
On the back of the diet pill industry, there is a growing market for chewing gums that are designed to aid weight loss. These often contain extra ingredients that have been associated with boosting the metabolism or suppressing appetite. These diet chewing gum brands are invariably more expensive than regular chewing gums, although may be cheaper than the diet pills they are directly competing with.
Diet chewing gums have the potential to be effective because of sublingual absorption, which is the process by which the active ingredients are absorbed under the tongue. Diet drops operate on the same principle.
In theory, more of the active ingredients are absorbed by sublingual absorption than if they were absorbed in the intestines after passing through stomach acid in pill form. This is because the acid in the stomach is strong, and so can destroy many of the active ingredients before they can be absorbed. However, many diet gums have such low levels of their active ingredients that even if the absorption rate is increased, the amount of key ingredients is still tiny and most likely insufficient to cause significant or even weight loss.
One such brand of diet chewing gum is Slimgum which supposedly will (although didn’t make our approved list);
aid weight loss, help cravings and maintain a healthy and energetic metabolism.
There are six main ingredients; Green Tea, Chromium, L-Carnitine, Thiamin, Biotin and Green coffee bean extract.
There is clinical evidence to support the majority of these ingredients and their role in aiding weight loss. Green coffee beans have not yet been roasted contain a higher amount of the chemical chlorogenic acid than roasted beans. For weight loss, chlorogenic acid in green coffee is thought to affect how the body handles blood sugar and metabolism. It is thought that chlorogenic acid has wider health benefits as well (see our investigation on green coffee beans here).
WebMD explain that green tea (see article here) is an incredibly beneficial ingredient to incorporate into the daily diet, and that it may have beneficial effects upon weight thanks to its catechins content. Catechins are a type of antioxidant which has been associated with the stimulation of norepinephrine. This causes a temporary boost to the metabolism. This effect is made more prominent in combination with naturally occurring caffeine that is also found in green tea. As green tea can increase and even change your metabolism, so you burn more calories from fat. Studies show that green tea can also help you keep weight off once you’ve lost it.
Thiamin and Biotin are both B vitamins that are vital in the production of metabolic energy and assist in the breakdown of energy from food. Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a role in how insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Chromium has also been associated with appetite suppression and a decreased craving for fatty foods and carbohydrate based foods.
However, slimgum does not reveal how much of each of these key ingredients is present in each stick of gum. Therefore it is not possible to state whether they should impact upon any user’s weight or not. User reviews generally suggest that slimgum suppresses the user’s appetite a noticeable amount, although as this is based upon individual perception it is most likely not an accurate measure of the effectiveness of the product.
Other diet chewing gums aid to boost the metabolism such as Olympus Sport’s Active gum. Developed by Activator Products and containing Xylitol, it is packed with four B-vitamins – thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), pantotenic acid (B5) and pyridoxine (B6) which are clinically proven to aid energy metabolism and assist in activating the release of energy from food. As these cannot be synthesised by the body, it is important to source them as a part of the daily diet or by the use of supplements. However, in this instance, it may be more efficient and cheaper to invest in a multivitamin that contains 100% of the RDA of each of these B vitamins and to continue to chew on a generic brand of chewing gum that makes no official weight loss claims.
Chewing Gum as a Dietary Aid
No diet chewing gum is going to be as potent as any of the top rated diet pills that are currently available on the market. Marketing chewing gum that has additional ingredients as a diet chewing gum, or as a weight loss chewing gum is going to lead to disappointment from customers, as it will not be as strong as is hoped for.
It is highly unlikely that chewing gum, even one that has additional weight loss ingredients, will cause quick, significant weight loss.
Any Chewing Gum Side effects?
Many chewing gum brands carry warnings on the packets that excess consumption of chewing gum can have a laxative effect. This is most often because of the ingredients Sorbitol and Xylitol, which are sugar alcohols. These are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and act as a laxative.
A study in The British Medical Journal discusses cases of chronic diarrhoea, stomach pains, as well as unexplained weight loss that were traced back to excessive consumption of sorbitol-containing gum (15-20 sticks daily). Xylitol can help to fight of teeth cavities, and so a small amount is beneficial, although not directly for weight loss. Chewing gum can also cause bloating due to swallowing air.
Diet chewing gums often contain sources of caffeine. For example, Slimgum contains both coffee and green tea, which contain naturally occurring caffeine. This ingredient can cause several side effects if consumed in excess amounts, most commonly, dehydration, insomnia, increased urination and headaches. Other side effects from caffeine can include muscle cramps, nervousness and restlessness, stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, increased heart and breathing rate, agitation, ringing in the ears, and irregular heartbeats.
The severity of side effects from caffeine depends on the quantities consumed but also on the individual’s sensitivity to the drug. It is important to remember to drink enough water throughout the day whilst taking a caffeine based product. Caffeine intake from other sources such as soft drinks, tea, coffee, energy drinks and stimulant tablets should also be monitored to avoid side effects from developing.
If related side effects develop, use of the product should stop immediately, and future doses should be reduced. To minimise the chances of side effects presenting, all advice on dosage should be followed.
Whats the Verdict on Chewing Gum for Dieting?
Overall, the clinical research shows a mixed picture about whether or not chewing gum aids weight loss. It may be that individual differences between people, including their eating habits, weight, gender and even perception of taste could be what determines whether chewing gum leads to weight loss.
What is certain is that the differences in weight loss between people who chew gum and people who do not are nominal. There are many other simple changes that can be made to diet and exercise regimes that make a far more pronounced impact upon the weight of an individual.