Just how safe is chewing gum?
Posted on 25th May 2022 at 07:26
Chewing gum is probably one of those things you’ve never given a second thought to.
Well, unless you’ve stood on it on the pavement – “thank you” to the person who couldn’t be bothered to put it in the bin (!). Or, perhaps, when using it as a breath freshener or as a distraction while trying to give up cigarettes. Or simply winding up your parents with all the chewing and bubble blowing. Moving swiftly on…
With chewing gum being chewed rather than eaten – well, usually (!) – most people never stop to wonder about its ingredients except, perhaps, for checking whether it’s sugar free. And if you need a quick reminder on why artificial sweeteners don’t quite live up to the hype, click here and here for a rather different perspective.
If you do read the entire ingredients list, you may not be much wiser. Here’s one from a well known product in the UK which comes in a green packet (!):
Sorbitol, Gum Base, Glycerol, Natural and Artificial Flavours, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate; Less than 2% of: Aspartame, Mannitol, Acesulfame K, Soy Lecithin, BHT (to Maintain Freshness), Colour (Blue 1 Lake).
If you noticed the first ingredient – Sorbitol – and realised it’s an artificial sweetener, well done. However, if you read a little further on, you’ll find it isn’t the only one. There are others – three – to be exact. Aspartame, Mannitol and Acesulfame K. However, this isn’t what we wanted to focus on today, although it’s a good reminder as to just how creative food manufacturers can be in concealing the ingredients in their products…
Instead, we’d like to focus on the second ingredient, gum base. Have you ever wondered what on earth that is?
Well, having carried out a quick straw poll of those around us, most people – us included, we hasten to add (!) – thought it was some sort of natural gum or resin that gives gum its “chew.”
While this may have been the case historically – when chewing gum was a medicine using natural tree resins and flavours coming from natural herbs and spices – these days are long gone. Instead, the gum base is a rather unappetising mixture of chemicals, plastics and waxes derived from, of all things, fossil fuels. Companies keep the exact ingredients of their particular gum base a trade secret, but they contain various fillers to provide texture and bulk; emulsifiers to keep the flavour and colour and softeners and elastomers, whose role is self explanatory.
With petroleum based products and plastics linked to many health issues, particularly hormonal disruptions, it’s not surprising the ingredients of chewing gum are raising concern. Especially, as the target markets for chewing gum are teenagers and young adults. True it isn’t meant to be eaten but, being chewed in the mouth for a period of time, it’s very easy for substances to pass through the mucus membranes lining the mouth directly into the blood stream.
Added to this, as we’ve previously mentioned, is the question of how it’s disposed AND how long it then takes to break down. Plastic based items are notorious for being slow to degrade and for inadvertently finding themselves in places where they shouldn’t be. The sea and other water courses, for example.
So, when you pull it altogether, it comes to a rather unappetising combination. A product made from fossil fuels, sweetened with artificial sweeteners – not forgetting the artificial flavours and colourings – and one that’s hard to dispose of and break down. Oh, and if you’re using it to help lose weight, the bad news is that all the chewing doesn’t trick the brain for one moment into thinking your stomach is full. It’s simply a distraction, no more than that.
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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