A: I too am a habitual gum chewer. About a month ago I went on an elimination diet, which meant I had to stop using sugar-free gum. Gum has always been my one vice, and for the month it was out of my diet, I felt much better. When I resumed chewing gum, I switched to the healthiest brands I could find.
Chewing gum, like many things in the Western diet, does not even remotely resemble the chewing gum of 30 years ago (let alone 5,000 years ago!), when gum was made from sticky substances derived from resins, plants, and grasses. Today, gum is often loaded with corn syrup as well as artificial sweeteners and colors. It's basically junk food, unless you can find a good old-fashioned gum that has no artificial ingredients and has clicle (derived from latex) and natural flavors like peppermint oil and that's sweetened with xylitol.
Chewing gum with xylitol has been actually documented to help reduce tooth decay. Gum has also been documented to help people with GERD (acid reflux), as it increases bicarbonate-rich saliva and neutralizes acid in the esophagus. Other studies (many of them funded by the industry) suggest that chewing gum has mental and emotional benefits: It's been shown to improve alertness, mood, reaction times, and selective and sustained attention.
On the other hand, some people who have TMJ can exacerbate their condition by chewing gum. Gum-laden with sugar can increase dental cavities. Gum contains polyvinyl acetate, which is manufactured using vinyl acetate, a chemical shown to cause tumors in lab rats. Non-stick gums may also be made with phthalates, those hormone-disrupting chemicals that were banned from children’s toys.
After my search, I found some brands of gum that I consider safe: Glee, Spry, and Pur gum. They're clicle-based and sweetened with xylitol. Make sure to read labels. The quickest way to find healthy chewing gum is do some online research or head to your local health food market.
Elizabeth Trattner is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine and a nutrition and integrative medical practitioner based in Miami Beach.
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