Does Chewing Gum Help with Weight Loss?

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“Does Chewing Gum Help with Weight Loss?” Chewing gum may only burn
about three calories an hour, but the calorie expenditure is not
just your little jaw muscles at work. For some reason, gum chewing
revs up your heart rate, as much as an extra 12 beats per
minute after chewing two sticks of gum. Here’s your heart rate and
blood pressure five minutes before you start chewing,
then chewing for five minutes, then you stop. That was
them just sitting quietly.

It also works while walking,
increasing your heart rate by about three beats more per
minute, and proving scientifically that people can indeed walk and
chew gum at the same time. But does this translate
into weight loss? Researchers at the University of Buffalo
asked study participants to go for weeks chewing gum before every single
eating occasion or chew no gum at all.

During the gum chewing weeks,
they didn’t just have to chew gum before each meal,
but before each snack or even each drink that
had any calories in it. This may have been
too much for folks, so they ended up
eating on fewer occasions, switching from four meals a day
on average, down closer to three. But they ended up eating more
calories at each of those fewer meals, and so had no overall significant
change in calorie intake, and so, no surprise
had no change in weight. University of Alabama
researchers tried a different tack, randomizing people to chew
gum after and between meals. After two months, compared to those
randomized to avoid gum entirely, no improvements were noted in
weight, BMI, or waist circumference. But what about those few studies
that suggested gum chewing had an appetite-suppressing effect? In this study, people
ate 68 fewer calories of pasta at lunch after 20
minutes of gum chewing. Yeah, but other studies
showed it differently.

Whenever there are conflicting findings,
instead of just throwing your hands up, it can be useful to try to tease
out any study differences that could have potentially
accounted for the disparate results. The obvious consideration
is the funding source. This was a publicly funded study, but that failed Alabama weight loss
study was funded by a gum company, so the outcomes are not
necessarily predetermined. Different types of gum
using different sweeteners may have contributed to
the diversity of findings. That one study showing gum chewing
instead actually may increase appetite, for example, was done with
aspartame-sweetened gum. People reported feeling hungrier
after chewing the sweetened gum, not only compared to no gum but compared to chewing the same
gum with no added aspartame. True, not a single randomized controlled
trial has ever shown a benefit to gum chewing, but they’ve all used
gum containing artificial sweeteners. There was a landmark study that
showed that sip size matters. Have people drink at the same rate,
but give them a sip every two seconds or a quadruple-sized
gulp every eight seconds, and the smaller sip group won out,
satiating after about 1.5 cups compared to 2 cups
when taking larger swigs.

This is thought to be because of
increased oro-sensory exposure; your brain is picking up the more
frequent pulses of flavor and calories. But repeat the experiment with an
artificially-sweetened diet drink and the effect appears to be blunted. So maybe a different type of gum
would have a different effect? The positive pasta study was performed
using gum mainly sweetened with sorbitol, a sweet compound
found naturally in foods like prunes, but, like prunes, can
have a laxative effect. Case reports like this, “An air
stewardess with puzzling diarrhea” unveil what can happen when you eat 60 sticks of sorbitol-sweetened
sugar-free gum a day. Another was entitled: “Severe weight
loss caused by chewing gum,” but not in a good way. A 21-year-old woman
ended up malnourished after suffering up to a dozen bouts
of diarrhea a day for eight months due to the 30 grams of
sorbitol she was getting chewing sugar-free gum
and candies every day.

Most people suffer from gas and bloating
at 10 grams of sorbitol a day, which is about eight sticks
of sorbitol-sweetened gum, and at 20 grams most get
cramps and diarrhea, so you want to be careful
how much you eat. The bottom line is that we
have no good science showing gum chewing
results in weight loss. Could that be because the studies
used artificial sweeteners that may have counteracted
any benefits? Could be, but the most obvious
the explanation for the results to date is that chewing gum simply is not
an efficacious weight-loss strategy, and that’s coming from researchers
funded by the gum company itself.

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