It might not look (or sound) pretty, but chewing gum is common practice and many people like it for different reasons. Chewing gum might help us to relax, focus or get rid of that oh-so-pleasant garlic taste after eating.
Chewing sugar-free gum is most touted for its positive effects on oral health, which aids to protect against tooth decay by restoring pH balance and neutralising plaque acids in the mouth.
“A known benefit of chewing sugar-free gum is that it promotes saliva production, which can assist to remove food particles from teeth and reduce the risk of dental decay,” Charlene Grosse, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.
Research also shows that chewing gum may improve aspects of cognitive function and mood, and reduce stress. The study found chewing gum was associated with greater alertness and attention, as well as quicker reaction times.
Chewing gum may also help manage overeating and curb sugar cravings when we’re feeling snacky.
“Chewing gum can be a useful alternative to mindless snacking and emotional eating, as the action of chewing can satisfy cravings and the desire to reach for another treat,” Grosse said.
While chewing gum has dental health -- and possible cognitive and weight management -- benefits, what does it actually do to our digestive systems?
Think about it: the act of chewing gum is similar to eating food, except the gum never leaves your mouth (unless you’ve accidentally swallowed it which is both terrifying and uncomfortable). Is this empty chewing confusing to the digestive system, and does it have negative outcomes?
“The act of chewing does send signals to our digestive system and our body anticipates food entering into the stomach, ready for digestion,” Grosse said. “This means that when we chew gum, there is an increase in the production of gastric juices, which can result in an uncomfortable or noisy, rumbling stomach.”
If you’re a chronic gum chewer, you may have noticed an increased presence of flatulence, to put it politely.
“As we swallow more air when chewing gum, doing so for long periods of time can lead to air moving through the digestive tract and leave our body as gas, or flatulence,” Grosse said.
“Similarly, the notorious ‘laxative effect’ associated with excessive chewing of sugar-free gum is due to artificial sweeteners, which you can recognise by looking for ingredients like sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.”
While chewing these sugar-free gums containing artificial sweeteners in excess may cause an upset stomach, it is the xylitol in sugar-free gum that helps reduce the formation of dental plaque and tooth decay. Chewing gum containing sugar, on the other hand, is linked to a higher risk of dental cavities.
To chew, or not to chew?
“As long as you choose sugar-free gum, chewing in moderation can be part of a healthy diet,” Grosse told HuffPost Australia.
“However, it is important to ensure you are not chewing on gum in place of whole foods, and choosing a wide variety of foods is the best way to ensure you are meeting your nutritional requirements.”