This post will cover what xanthan is and if it is safe to have if you have IBS. We will also discuss what you can use as an xanthan gum substitute.
We understand with IBS can often leave you feeling confused about what you should eat. And food additives may be a concern of yours, including xanthan gum.
Table of Contents
What is xanthan gum?
Xanthan gum is a fermentable fibre and is produced by fermentation from a bacteria called ‘Xanthomonas campestris’ (1, 2).
It is as a fermentable fibre, as it ferments slowly in the large bowel (2).
You can purchase xanthan gum from supermarkets in a dry, pale powder form (1).
What is xanthan gum used for?
Xanthan gum is used in the food industry as a food additive (1). This means it’s added to modify the food in a certain way.
Xanthan gum specifically thickens foods and in some cases can be a stabiliser. Once added to water, it quickly disperses creating a thickened liquid.
Common food products that may contain xanthan gum include:
- Ice cream
- Salad dressing
Xanthan gum also works great in gluten free baking. This recipe makes a perfect low FODMAP option.
Is xanthan gum safe?
Xanthan gum is an additive in many products. And if you haven’t heard of it, you may wonder if it is safe.
Rigorous testing by the European Food Safety Authority has concluded it to be safe for consumption for both adults and children aged 12 weeks plus (5).
There are some cases where Xanthan gum should be cautioned, such as:
- Infant feeding (4).
- If you have type 2 Diabetes and are on blood sugar lowering medication as it can cause reductions in blood sugars (6).
Is it safe in IBS?
When it comes to IBS symptoms, xanthan gum is better tolerated than FODMAPs.
This is because this fermentable fibre has a longer chain length (2). This means it ferments at a slower rate than FODMAPs. Gases are therefore released at a much slower rate, making them better tolerated (7,11).
Xanthan gum aids movement of water to the intestine. This is because it is a soluble fibre..
As thickened, xanthan gum helps to create a softer stool that is easier to transport through the digestive system. Xanthan gum could therefore help normalise how frequently you pass stool if you suffer from constipation (9).
What is available as a xanthan gum substitute?
Guar gum is a plant sourced gum and also a readily fermentable fibre (11). It is also as a thickener, often with xanthan gum (2).
It has been reported that guar gum has an odd flavour which is why xanthan gum is more commonly used.
There is no limit of guar gum in the diet for adults. Some side effects may occur for some such as increased flatulence (3). But it has been shown to reduce abdominal pain and constipation in people with IBS (12).
Acacia gum is a powder made from the sap of acacia trees with similar properties as xanthan gum.
It is a fermentable fibre and has shown to be well tolerated in human studies (10). Like xanthan gum and guar gum, it is also low FODMAP (9).
The bottom line
You will find xantham gum commonly used in the food industry. It is a safe and natural additive to thicken and stabilise foods.
Xantham gum is not a FODMAP and is usually well tolerated in IBS. However, this is individual. For some, gases released by the fermentation of fermentable carbohydrates could cause symptoms. You could consider using an xanthan gum substitute, as discussed above.
Working with a registered Dietitian can help you learn your tolerance. Other options are available to try if xanthan gum does not suit you.
Written by Camilla Donaldson BSc Hons Nutrition reviewed by Beth Willson Specialist Surgical Dietitian BSc Hons RD
Beth is UK HCPC Registered Dietitian who specialises in gastrointestinal surgery. Beth graduated from University of Surrey in 2020 with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics.
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