Chances are you’ve consumed xanthan gum more often than you realise. It’s a food additive commonly used in everyday products, from your favourite salad dressings to toothpaste, condiments, ice cream, and — more recently — vegan protein powder supplements. It’s probably safe to assume that, if it is packaged, it contains xanthan gum.
While deemed safe to use and totally harmless, there’s no denying that xanthan gum comes with more than its fair share of side effects for some people. And although used in many gluten-free and vegan products, it isn’t always completely gluten-free or vegan. Here, we discuss xanthan gum and how it can sabotage your healthy eating and weight loss goals.
First, What Is Xanthan Gum Doing in Your Vegan Protein?
Xanthan gum is a popular food additive commonly used as a thickener and stabiliser. Scientifically, it is a polysaccharide with high molecular weight produced by a pure-culture fermentation of a carbohydrate with strains of Xanthomonas campestris. Or, in more simple terms, it’s the result of fermenting glucose, sucrose, or lactose with the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris — the same bacteria that is responsible for producing rot on various vegetables. Creepy.
When sugar is fermented, it creates a broth or goo-like substance, which is then turned into a solid — or precipitated — by isopropyl alcohol. Once dry, xanthan gum is ground into fine powder. When added to liquid, xanthan gum powder disperses and creates a viscous and stable solution that is ideal for thickening, suspending, and stabilising various products.
Simply put, xanthan gum is the ingredient that makes products thick and creamy, also improving their shelf life without any changes in texture or consistency. It’s also commonly used in some sweeteners, dry non-dairy creamers, and vegan protein powders to create a lovely, creamy consistency when stirred with liquid, and also to prevent sweeteners from clumping up in your beverages. Xanthan gum is what gives store-bought almond milk that free-flowing, even texture that you cannot achieve at home simply because the texture of natural, additive-free almond milk isn’t meant to be so smooth.
Is Xanthan Gum in Vegan Protein Safe?
Extensive research has shown that xanthan gum is a perfectly safe food additive. Quite intriguing, since it’s the one ingredient that both salad dressings and wallpaper glue have in common.
In one experiment, rats were fed xanthan gum in concentrations of 0.25, 0.50 or 1.0 g/kg body weight per day for two years. Researchers found that rats fed xanthan gum experienced soft stools somewhat more frequently compared to the control rats. No other differences were noted.
Another human study on xanthan gum aimed to determine the safety of this additive when consumed by humans in an everyday dietary setting at levels considerably higher than normally encountered in their diet. As part of this study, five adult men with no GI issues consumed between 10.4g and 12.9g of xanthan gum every day — whereas the Acceptable Daily Intake stands at a mere 10mg/kg. Overall, the participants experienced a reduction in serum cholesterol, as well as increases in fecal bile acid, stool output, and water content.
Still, Xanthan Gum Is Not a Good Idea
While it’s true xanthan gum doesn’t put your health and well-being at a risk, it’s not an ideal ingredient in your protein powder supplement — in fact, it might even sabotage your goals.
That’s because xanthan gum is a soluble fibre and your body cannot break it down. Instead, it absorbs water and other liquids, turning into a gel-like substance once it reaches your digestive system. The result? Your digestion is slowed down and nutrient absorption is affected. This clearly is counterproductive — if your body cannot properly absorb the protein and nutrients in your vegan protein supplement, you’re essentially wasting your money with minimal benefit. Not to mention, it may cause digestive issues such as flatulence, bloating, and constipation, which can interfere with your exercise routine and everyday activities.
If you’re drinking multiple protein shakes every day, your intake of xanthan gum is likely higher as well — which means you’ll be passing softer stools more frequently. This, in turn, can cause dehydration and even result in nutrient loss.
And if you’re suffering from sensitivity to gluten or corn, xanthan gum in your protein powder can only make matters worse. We’ve already mentioned how xanthan gum is made but different manufacturers will have different processes by which they obtain this ingredient. They aren’t always entirely gluten-friendly or vegan. The growing medium of xanthan gum can vary immensely — from corn to wheat, soy, and even dairy — and, in some cases, it is possible that residual protein fractions from the growing medium might make it through into the gum. So while xanthan gum is becoming an increasingly popular thickening, stabilising, and binding agent in gluten-free products, it’s better to stay away from it if you’re a coeliac or suffer from gluten sensitivity.
Don’t Sabotage Your Vegan Protein Powder
There’s nothing more frustrating than working hard towards your goals, only to realise there’s something that’s keeping you from reaching them. Why not ditch your mediocre protein powder and choose a quality vegan protein product instead — free of all unhealthy additives and other ingredients that will only make you miserable and turn your weight loss or healthy eating journey into a torment? With a whopping 22.2 grams of protein per 30-gram serving, White Wolf Nutrition’s Vegan Protein Blend (Iced Coffee) All-In-One is a vegan, gluten-friendly protein powder supplement made from non-GMO, superior organic Belgian golden-yellow peas. It is extracted through a natural process to ensure maximum bio-availability, sweetened with organic Australian stevia, and flavoured with natural, ground Arabica coffee beans for that boost of aroma.