Relax, It’s Xanthan Gum
You may have even been told to avoid Xanthan Gum in packaged food products because it’s known to cause diseases in plants. Rest assured that if you are reading this, you are not a plant, and that the in vivo human studies are far more relevant to your understanding of Xanthan Gum as a food additive than the plant ones.
So, if you catch yourself saying “Black Rot ” in protest, just remember that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, not to you. Or, perhaps you recall being maligned against all gums without knowing that some are even super-Paleo and super-useful. Like mastic gum or gum arabic, for instance. The alarmist, anti-gum rhetoric needs to be revisited, nuance must be accounted for.
What is Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris. It is made is by growing the bacteria on a starch or sugar substrate, and the resulting product of fermentation is a gel that is then purified, dried, powdered, and sold as xanthan gum.
This may give you pause, however, many commercially available, perfectly Paleo mushrooms (reishi, cordyceps, etc.) are grown in the exact same manner on a starch or sugar substrate, then harvested, dried, and powdered. No harm no foul there.
Non-Human Study I Find Interesting
Mice are often used as a sentinel for human studies so don’t be quick to dismiss it completely. This is why we go through all of the trouble with PeTA. That said, though it is more relevant than [fearmongering over] plant disease, don’t be so quick as to take it as gospel, either. In one study, entitled “Oral administration of xanthan gum enhances antitumor activity through Toll-like receptor 4”, researchers found that orally administered xanthan gum was able to slow tumor growth and prolong the survival of mice with melanoma. Which is neat.
Human Studies: The Good Stuff
There are not many human studies on xanthan gum, however, this can be accounted for due to the lack of harmful effects observed in non-human, animal studies.
However, human studies have aimed to determine the effects of daily consumption of xanthan gum in amounts significantly greater than anyone would normal encounter in their diet, since xanthan gum typically makes up less than 0.5% of the food product weight.
In one study, “The dietary effects of xanthan gum in man.” 5 male volunteers consumed, for 23 consecutive days, a weight of xanthan gum equal to 15 times the current acceptable daily intake (10 mg/kg b.w.), following a 7 day control period. Results? A reduction in serum cholesterol, increase in fecal bile acid, and an increase in stool output. Of note: the study indicates “The data indicate that the ingestion of xanthan caused no adverse dietary nor physiological effects in any of the subjects. In particular, all of the enzymatic and other parameters that act as sensitive indicators of adverse toxicological effects remained unchanged.”
Cool. So it doesn’t appear detrimental according to this study, and may even exert beneficial effects.
Another study entitled “The effect of feeding xanthan gum on colonic function in man: correlation with in vitro determinants of bacterial breakdown.” had 18 normal volunteers consume 15g of xanthan gum per day for 10 days. This study measured the ability of the subjects to metabolize xanthan gum. Before the trial, only 12 of the 18 subjects could break it down. Afterward, 16 of the 18 could break it down, and a statistically significant increase in the production of hyrdogen and short-chain fatty acids occurred; this indicates bacterial adaptation in the presence of a Xanthan Gum substrate.
Warning: Do not feed Xanthan Gum to Babies.
Although causation is inconclusive, a review of the cases of xanthan gum-associated Necrotizing Enterocolitis in premature infants following the consumption of a xanthan-gum based products suggests that xanthan gum contributed to its development, potentially due to increased bacterial production.
Therefore, I would suggest as a matter of precaution, not giving foods containing Xanthan Gum to your infant. Be sure to recognize this does not negate the aforementioned adult studies.
Xanthan Gum Recognized as a Safe Food Additive:
In 1968, Xanthan Gum was approved for use as a food additive in the US and Europe. While the USA accepts ingredients until they are proven harmful, acceptance as a food additive in Europe requires that they are proven safe. When developing standards and acceptable ingredients within the Certified Paleo program, we refer to European standards first because they are based on safety and scientific research.
Why So Many Food Producers Use Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum often used in gluten-free baking because of its pseudoplastic properties, or, its ability to mimic the consistency that is achieved with gluten. It also works as an emulsifier, encouraging liquids to mix, and as a thickening agent to increase the viscosity of liquids.
Of note, in food production, xanthan gum typically makes up less than 0.5% of the food product weight.
When Xanthan Gum Isn’t Paleo:
The substrate xanthan gum is grown on may be derived from a variety of sources such as corn, wheat, or soy. Some of the offending proteins may remain if the xanthan gum is not produced with a gluten-free or allergen-free focus. However, some producers, like Bob’s Red Mill, have produced a gluten-free Xanthan Gum grown on a starch substrate. Further, as a certification organization, it is our duty to gather product and ingredient specifications to ensure purity and safety of Paleo consumers.
Our certification process involves knowledge of the specific substrates used in the production of Xanthan Gum to ensure safety. It is for this reason that I motion to include the use of Xanthan Gum for the Certified Paleo program, and consider approval on a source dependent basis.