Guar gum is a food additive that's found throughout the food supply.
Though it has been linked to multiple health benefits, it has also been associated with negative side effects and even banned for use in some products.
This article looks at the pros and cons of guar gum to determine if it's bad for you.
What Is Guar Gum?
Also known as guaran, guar gum is made from legumes called guar beans ().
It's a type of polysaccharide, or long chain of carbohydrate molecules bonded together, and composed of two sugars called mannose and galactose ().
Guar gum is frequently used as a food additive in many processed foods ().
It's especially useful in food manufacturing because it's soluble and able to absorb water, forming a gel that can thicken and bind products ().
The FDA considers it to be generally recognized as safe for consumption in specified amounts in various food products ().
In terms of nutrition, guar gum is low in calories but high in soluble fiber. One tablespoon (10 grams) provides just 30 calories and 9 grams of fiber ().
Summary: Guar gum is a food additive that is used to thicken and bind food products. It's high in soluble fiber and low in calories.
Products That Contain Guar Gum
Guar gum is widely used throughout the food industry.
The following foods often contain it ():
- Ice cream
- Salad dressing
- Gluten-free baked goods
- Breakfast cereals
- Vegetable juices
In addition to these food products, guar gum is also found in cosmetics, medications, textiles and paper products ().
Summary: Guar gum is found in dairy products, condiments and baked goods. It's also used as an additive in non-food products as well.
It May Have Some Benefits
Guar gum is well known for its ability to thicken and stabilize food products, but it may also provide some health benefits.
Studies indicate that it could be beneficial for a few specific areas of health, including digestive health, blood sugar, blood cholesterol and weight maintenance.
Because guar gum is high in fiber, it may support the health of your digestive system.
One study found that it helped relieve constipation by speeding up movement through the intestinal tract. Guar gum consumption was also associated with improvements in stool texture and bowel movement frequency ().
Additionally, it may act as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of good bacteria and reducing the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
In a 2012 study, 60 participants with constipation who received a supplement containing guar gum experienced a significant decrease in concentrations of harmful bacteria in their digestive tracts ().
Thanks to its ability to promote digestive health, it may also aid in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A recent 6-week study followed 68 participants with IBS. It found that guar gum improved IBS symptoms, and in some patients it also reduced bloating while increasing stool frequency ().
Studies show that guar gum may be effective at lowering blood sugar.
This is because it is a type of soluble fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugar and lead to a reduction in blood sugar levels ().
In one study, people with diabetes were given guar gum four times per day over a six-week period. The study found that guar gum led to a significant decrease in blood sugar and a 20% drop in LDL cholesterol ().
Another study had similar findings, showing that consuming guar gum significantly improved blood sugar control in 11 participants with type 2 diabetes ().
Soluble fibers such as guar gum have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect.
Fiber binds to bile acids in your body, causing them to be excreted and decreasing the amount of bile acids in circulation. This forces the liver to use up cholesterol to produce more bile acids, leading to a decrease in cholesterol levels ().
One study had 19 obese people with diabetes take a daily supplement containing 15 grams of guar gum. They found that it led to lower levels of total blood cholesterol, as well as lower LDL cholesterol, compared to a placebo ().
An animal study found similar results, showing that rats fed guar gum had reduced blood cholesterol levels, in addition to increased levels of HDL cholesterol ().
Some studies have found that guar gum could help with weight loss and appetite control.
In general, fiber moves through the body undigested and may help promote satiety while reducing appetite ().
In fact, one study showed that eating an additional 14 grams of fiber per day may lead to a 10% decrease in calories consumed ().
Guar gum, in particular, may be effective at reducing appetite and decreasing calorie intake.
A 2015 review of three studies concluded that guar gum improved satiety and reduced the number of calories consumed from snacking throughout the day ().
Another study looked at the effects of guar gum on weight loss in women. They found that 15 grams of guar gum per day helped women lose 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) more than those who took a placebo ().
Summary: Studies suggest that guar gum could improve digestive health and decrease blood sugar, blood cholesterol, appetite and calorie intake.
High Doses Could Have Negative Effects
Consuming large amounts of guar gum could have negative effects on your health.
In the 1990s, a weight loss drug called "Cal-Ban 3,000" hit the market.
It contained a large amount of guar gum, which would swell up to 10–20 times its size in the stomach to promote fullness and weight loss ().
Unfortunately, it caused serious problems, including obstruction of the esophagus and small bowel and, in some cases, even death. These dangerous side effects ultimately led the FDA to ban the use of guar gum in weight loss products ().
However, keep in mind that these side effects were caused by doses of guar gum that are considerably higher than the amount found in most food products.
The FDA has specific maximum usage levels for different types of food products, ranging from 0.35% in baked goods to 2% in processed vegetable juices ().
For example, coconut milk has a maximum guar gum usage level of 1%. This means that a 1-cup (240-gram) serving can contain a maximum of 2.4 grams of guar gum ().
Some studies have found no significant side effects with doses up to 15 grams ().
However, when side effects do occur, they typically include mild digestive symptoms like gas, diarrhea, bloating and cramps ().
Summary: High amounts of guar gum can cause problems like intestinal obstruction and death. The amounts in processed foods do not usually cause side effects, but can sometimes lead to mild digestive symptoms.
It May Not Be for Everyone
While guar gum may be generally safe in moderation for most, some people should limit their intake.
Though the occurrence is rare, this additive may trigger an allergic reaction in some people (, ).
If you have an allergy to soy products, you may also want to consider limiting your intake of guar gum.
That's because commercial forms of guar gum can contain 2–6% protein, and some forms may contain trace amounts of soy protein, which could cause a reaction in those with a soy allergy ().
Furthermore, it can cause digestive symptoms, including gas and bloating ().
If you find that you're sensitive to guar gum and experience negative side effects following consumption, it may be best to limit your intake.
Summary: Those with a soy allergy or who are sensitive to guar gum should monitor or limit their intake.
The Bottom Line
In large amounts, guar gum may be harmful and can cause negative side effects.
However, the amount found in processed foods is likely not a problem.
Though fiber like guar gum may have some health benefits, basing your diet on whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to achieve optimal health.