Guar Gum: Is This Food Additive Harmful or Helpful?

June 22, 2017
Guar gum - Dr. Axe

Guar gum (also sometimes called gellan gum) is a common powdered product used to stabilize, emulsify and thicken the texture of certain foods and industrial products — such as bottled coconut or almond milk, yogurts, soups, fiber supplements, and body lotions. There are numerous uses for guar gum spanning several industries, and today it’s estimated that food-industry applications account for the vast majority (more than 70 percent) of the world’s supply of guar gum.

Considered to be a type of galactomannan, guar gum is produced in a similar manner to other natural seed gums that are created by milling the endosperm (seeds) of legumes or grains. While guar gum doesn’t necessarily provide many essential nutrients, it’s low in calories and high in fiber, which may help you feel fuller after eating. On the other hand, like other emulsifiers added to many processed foods, consuming guar gum may come with potential drawbacks, such as causing digestive issues and even triggering leaky gut reactions. It’s certainly not something you’d choose to purposefully consume a lot of, but in moderation it seems to be a better choice than other options.

Guar absorbs a large amount of liquid in the digestive system. It’s considered to work even better as a thickening agent in foods than similar products like cornstarch or locust bean gum. In fact, it can hold almost eight times the amount of water that cornstarch can. And because guar gum works in the same way as more highly processed thickening or stabilizing agents, such as carrageenan, it therefore makes a good natural alternative when cooking, baking (especially with gluten-free flours) or preparing other DIY beauty/household recipes.

Although guar gum might be beneficial for normalizing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, there’s one thing to be cautious of when it comes to consuming guar gum. Watch out for any strong weight-loss claims tied to diet products containing guar gum. Guar is now sometimes used in meal replacement products, diet pills or other weight-loss supplements because manufacturers claim it can help curb your appetite by swelling and absorbing water in the digestive system. The FDA recently fought these claims, especially those made for the product called Cal-Ban 3000, pointing out that excessive use of guar diet pills can obstruct the intestines and esophagus due to forming high amounts of gel in the gastrointestinal tract. (1)


What Are the Benefits of Guar Gum?

1. Helps Form Gluten-Free Baked Goods

Guar gum is one of the most frequently used binding gums in most gluten-free recipes and baked gluten-free products. It can be used in place of wheat flour or other binding products that provide the signature bounce we look for in most baked items. It works by holding water and air in place, making gluten-free doughs less crumbly or likely to fall apart.

Considering that holding together texture is a major obstacle in gluten-free baking, guar gum is an easy way to add crispness, bounce or resilience to things like gluten-free crusts, muffins, pizza dough or bread without using high-gluten wheat products, processed additives or other grain flours.

2. Keeps Ingredients (Including Fats/Oils) from Separating

If you plan on ever trying to make probiotic-rich homemade kefir or yogurt, guar gum comes in handy for thickening and maintaining homogeneity of texture. Same goes for homemade fruit sherbet, ice cream, almond milk or coconut milk. It’s very useful for keeping thinner ingredients (like water) combined uniformly with thicker ingredients (like coconut cream or oil).

3. Might Help You Feel Full

There’s evidence that the high-carbohydrate content of guar means it has a low digestibility and also swells in the digestive tract to provide the feeling fullness. For this reason, it’s often used as a filler or to add bulk to recipes, fiber supplements or laxatives.

Some have found that guar products (or similar fiber products made from the guar bean) can help increase satiety, possibly lead people to eat less overall, slow the digestion of a meal, and possibly help decrease cholesterol absorption and the glycemic index of a meal. (2) One reason that guar gum might help you feel full after a meal is because it increases viscosity in the gut, which causes a slower absorption rate of carbohydrates and stimulates bile production.

 

Pros and cons of guar gum - Dr. Axe

 

4. May Help Slow Down Glucose (Sugar) Absorption and Normalize Cholesterol

Some studies have found that guar gum might have benefits for prediabetics, diabetics or those with high cholesterol levels. Consuming soluble fiber has been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels, and guar is a convenient way to get more into your diet. Glucomannan, closely related to guar gum, appears to beneficially affect total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and even body weight, according to certain studies. (3)

As a type of water-soluble dietary fiber, it also works in the same way that other fibers do (like psyllium huskchicory or inulin fiber) to decrease the rate of sugar absorption within the small intestine following a meal and slow gastric emptying. Studies have found mixed results pertaining to the anti-diabetic effects of guar, but it seems that it has at least mild positive effects that help a portion of patients avoid drastic spikes and dips and blood sugar. (4)

5. May Help Treat or Prevent Constipation

Guar is a common bulk-forming ingredient in laxative supplements/drink formulas because it helps form stool by holding water in the intestines. This may help promote regular bowel movements and offer partial relief from symptoms related to constipation or diarrhea. Although not many studies have been done to prove this, adding more soluble fiber like guar to your diet might help treat symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


Drawbacks to Using Guar Gum and Other Emulsifiers: Potential Side Effects to Consider

Guar bulks up very quickly and can be hard to control once consumed and combined with liquid. In high doses, it’s been associated with serious side effects, including death, along with pulmonary embolism, esophageal tear, small bowel obstruction and luminal obstruction.

Certain diet pills containing guar gum have been banned in Australia due to potential hazards, and the brand Cal-Ban 3000 has recently been removed from the market in the United States after coming under investigation by the FDA. Some studies have also found an allergic sensitivity to guar gum in people with soy allergies and those with very high exposure to guar beans due to working in certain industrial settings. Common adverse reactions when guar produces an allergic response include trouble breathing, flushing, itchiness, diarrhea and asthma.

Guar gum should be avoided in high amounts in any type of supplement form, including diet pills. It can cause side effects like constipation, choking, or obstruction of the esophagus or intestines due to the tenacious gel-like consistency of the material when combined with water. A safer way to use guar for potential weight loss is to purchase products made with glucomannan powder (also derived from the guar bean). Read directions carefully, do not take more than indicated and monitor symptoms to make sure you’re not at risk for side effects.

Some studies (although not all) have found that glucomannan used for a five-week period along with a controlled diet can lead to decreases in weight compared to a placebo product plus diet. (5) Not all studies have found consistent results, but it seems that glucomannan might be effective for promoting weight loss when it’s combined with an overall weight-reducing lifestyle (i.e, a healthy diet, portion control and regular exercise). I recommend starting with one very small dose per day of powdered glucomannan. Most powdered products suggest a half level teaspoon (two grams) daily with at least eight ounces of water, taken about 30 to 45 minutes before a meal.

Are Emulsifiers Dangerous?

Processed emulsifiers that are commonly added to packaged food products have really come under the gun lately. Various emulsifiers are now tied to health problems like digestive issues, leaky gut syndrome, allergic reactions, inflammatory bowel disease and even serious conditions like colon cancer. Most of the emulsifiers that seem to be most problematic are highly processed and therefore a bit different than guar, such as polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose (often known as cellulose gum).

One reason that food additives like emulsifiers may be potentially dangerous is because they can alter healthy levels of intestinal bacteria. This means it’s possible they will disrupt the mucous layer that lines the gut and contribute to chronic, low-level inflammation that promotes changes in cells in the digestive tract, including in the colon. (6)

Studies are still determining whether guar may be dangerous in other ways — such as contributing to the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines or gut, including E. coli, and decreasing levels of beneficial gut microbes. (7) For now, your best bet is to limit your use of any even somewhat processed food additive (and most additives are!) and choose the best possible brand that you can (more on this below).


Guar Gum Nutrition Facts

Guar gum is created by dehusking, milling and sorting the type of legume called the guar bean (Cyamopsis tetragonolobus). (8) Guar beans contain an endosperm that’s high in the type of sugar called polysaccharides, specially the polysaccharides galactomannans, mannose and galactose. Depending on its uses, once guar gum is formed from the endosperm of the guar bean it may be cleaned with alcohol or another cleansing agent to prevent the growth of bacteria.

When used as a food additive, guar gum is usually found in powder form. A very little bit of guar goes a long way, since it has a very high water-absorbing ability and quickly increases viscosity, even in cold water. (9) In fact, the water-holding capacity and gel-forming tendencies of guar gum allow it to swell in size 10- to 20-fold!

When combined with water or liquid, it thickens to form a gel-like texture, usually which can be well-maintained through moderate changes in temperature or pressure. The powder has a white to yellowish-white color that doesn’t usually change the appearance of other ingredients in recipes. It also doesn’t have much taste or odor at all — in fact, it’s considered virtually odorless — therefore it makes a convenient addition to many types of different food products. Finally, a unique attribute of guar gum is that it’s insoluble in oils, grease, hydrocarbons, ketones and esters, meaning it’s very useful for stabilizing fatty substances.

Guar gum has a variety of uses and can be found in some of the following food, household or beauty products:

  • Adds texture, thickness and/or creaminess to foods like soups or stews. It can be useful to use at home, but avoid processed, canned soups filled with preservatives and sodium.
  • Binds together ingredients in yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products. It does this by preventing oil droplets from separating, which is why it’s often found in products containing a source of fat.
  • Prevents solid particles in dressings, marinades or other mixtures from separating and settling.
  • Keeps ingredients found in plant-based milks (flax, almond, coconut, soy or hemp) from clotting or separating.
  • May help slow down absorption of glucose (sugar) when consumed with a meal.
  • Thickens hair-cleansing products like shampoo or conditioner. Also keeps the texture of lotions from changing by holding oils in place.
  • Forms a gel-like consistency in products that are used on the hair or the body.
  • Adds thickness to toothpastes.
  • Adds bulk to laxatives and might help treat constipation.
  • Helps keep ingredients in medications or supplements bound and free from separating.

 

Products with guar gum - Dr. Axe

 


How to Use Guar Gum in Recipes

Like any other food additive, it’s best to consume guar gum in small amounts. Pay attention to your individual response to consuming guar — or any other additive for that matter. If you notice signs of indigestion, always back off and try using something else.

Look for guar products that are as pure as possible and contain as few ingredients as you can find. Rather than using guar gum in many recipes, consider adding texture and stabilization to recipes using other natural methods, like adding flaxseeds, chia seeds, pureed fruit or veggies, or pure coconut milk for silkiness and moisture. Most of all, as part of a healing dietary program, be sure to read labels and try to avoid processed foods that contain multiple food additives that may trigger conditions like leaky gut.

If you choose to purchase and use guar gum, you’ll notice that there are now various guar powders available on the market, with most major grocery stores carrying at least one brand in the baking section (in addition to the guar found in numerous of other canned, bottled or boxed products). The higher-quality, finely powdered guar brands tend to work a bit better at swelling, absorbing water and holding together the texture of baked recipes.

Look for a fine guar powder when using it in recipes over the types that are more coarsely ground. Bob’s Red Mill guar gum is a good choice since it’s minimally processed and often used by chefs and/or bakers. Some recommend that guar gum be used in cold foods (such as ice cream or pastry fillings) more so than baked recipes because there’s potential it might not work as well as other products like xanthan gum. However, this is a matter of personal preference. It’s also advised to skip guar when making highly acidic recipes (like those made with lots of citrus or lemon juice) since this might cause it to lose its texture.

Here are several ways you can use guar gum at home:

  • Add a small amount of guar to homemade almond milk or other milk alternatives.
  • When making sauce, marinade or dressing, especially if you’re trying to keep calories and fat content low, consider adding guar to help add a creamy-like texture. Guar gum is common in fat-reduced or fatless spreads because it replaces viscosity, however these tend to be highly processed, so it’s better to make your own.
  • Guar can help form a smooth texture in homemade lotion, toothpaste or conditioner. For a creamier feel, add guar gum powder to homemade shampoo made with baking soda. Use about 1/8 teaspoon of pure guar gum for the entire recipe.
  • Try guar in gluten-free recipes like gluten-free pancakes, muffins, pizza crust or banana bread.

Bob’s Red Mill recommends the following amount of guar gum for baked goods: (10)

  • Cookies: ¼ to ½ teaspoon per cup of flour
  • Cakes and pancakes: ¾ teaspoon per cup of flour
  • Muffins and quick breads: 3/4 teaspoon per cup of flour
  • Breads: 1.5 to 2 teaspoons per cup of flour
  • Pizza dough: 1 tablespoon per cup of flour
  • For hot foods (gravies, stews , heated pudding): 1–3 teaspoons per one quart of liquid
  • For cold foods (salad dressing, ice creams, pudding): about 1–2 teaspoons per quart of liquid

Keep in mind that although guar gum itself might have certain benefits, there are definitely times when you want to avoid guar gum found in processed foods. Unhealthy foods that are likely to contain guar gum powder include:

  • Processed meats, such as cold cuts, frozen burgers, breakfast sausage, etc. Guar is used to bind together ground meat and hold its texture in place during freezing, storage or shipping.
  • In bottled condiments, such as salad dressings made with refined vegetable oils, high-sodium barbecue sauces or ketchups, sugary relishes and sweetened teriyaki marinades.
  • In canned soups, stews, sauces or veggies. It’s often used as a thickener and stabilizer, especially whenever multiple ingredients with different textures and weights are combined.
  • In dry milk, dried soups, sweetened instant oatmeal, puddings, Jell-o or other custard desserts, gravy, jam or jelly, canned fish in sauce, sugary syrup, and frozen food items that tend to be very high in sodium.

How Guar Gum Is Made, History and Interesting Facts

Today, guar beans are grown all over the world for food, household or industrial manufacturing applications, primarily in countries like India, the U.S., Australia and parts of Africa. India alone produces about 80 percent of the world’ supply of guar gum.

Some of the most important uses for guar gum globally are in the mining, textile, explosives and paper-manufacturing industries. Guar activation has been found to lead to beneficial changes in chemical properties, including decreased hydrogen bonding, increased solubility in water-alcohol mixture and improved electrolyte compatibility. These applications help form and solidify products, while preventing temperature changes, leakage or fluid loss. Guar has become very important in hydraulic fracturing, since due to its dispersibility in water and mineral oil it can push fluid up through solid rock to the Earth’s surface.


Final Thoughts on Guar Gum

  • Guar gum is a stabilizing, thicken food product created by dehusking, milling and sorting the type of legume called the guar bean (Cyamopsis tetragonolobus).
  • Because it absorbs a high amount of water, guar might help make you feel full after eating and may have beneficial effects on blood sugar absorption, digestive health and cholesterol levels.
  • Ways to use guar include adding it to gluten-free baked good, smoothies or shakes, sauces and dips, dressings or marinades, and also homemade beauty products like toothpaste, conditioner or shampoo.
  • While there are some benefits, in high doses guar gum has been known to cause many issues, some even life-threatening, so always use guar in moderation, as a little goes a long way while too much can be harmful.

Read Next: What Is Xanthan Gum? Is It Healthy?


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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1 Comment

  1. Denise Zavagno on

    You include 2 MSG derived/linked ingredients, “natural vanilla flavor” AND “guar gum”. if one is looking to improve digestion this would seem counter-intuitive. Also are your cattle grass fed/grass finished?

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