How Many Calories Do You Burn Chewing Gum?

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“How Many Calories Do
You Burn Chewing Gum?” Horace Fletcher proclaimed
one of his obituaries in 1919, taught the world to chew. Also
known as the “Great Masticator,” Fletcher was a health reformer
who popularized the idea of chewing each mouthful more
than 32 times–one for every tooth. It wasn’t put to the test, though,
until nearly a century later. People were told to eat pasta
until they were comfortably full but were randomized to either
“chew each mouthful 10 times,” or “chew each mouthful 35
times” before swallowing. The subjects were told it was a study
about the effects of chewing on mood, but that was just a ruse. What the researchers
wanted to know is whether prolonged
chewing reduced food intake. And those who chewed more felt full
earlier than those who chewed less, such that they ended up eating about
a third of a cup less pasta overall.


If chewing in some way
suppresses your appetite, what about chewing gum
as a weight loss strategy? An article entitled “Benefits of
Chewing Gum” suggested as much, but it was written by
the executive director of The Wrigley Science Institute.
Let’s see what the science says. Big Gum likes to point
to this letter published in The New England Journal
of Medicine back in 1999. Mayo Clinic researchers claimed gum
chewing could burn 11 calories an hour. Critics pointed to the fact that they
didn’t test typical gum chewing, instead chewing the equivalent of four
sticks of gum at a “very rapid cadence.” Specifically, they were
instructed to chew at a frequency of precisely
100 Hertz (Hz) for 12 minutes.


That seemed to burn 2.2 calories,
hence potentially 11 calories an hour. One might have had more confidence
in the Mayo scientists’ conclusion had they not lacked a fundamental
understanding of basic units. A hundred Hz would mean
100 chews per second, which would be a very
rapid cadence indeed. If the 11 calories an hour is true,
though, that might mean you could burn more calories actively
chewing gum sitting in a chair than you would not chewing
gum, upright at a standing desk.


But chewing one small piece
of gum at your own pace may only burn about
three calories an hour, which would approximate the calorie
content of sugar-free gum itself. But, look, chewing off the calories of a piece of sugar-sweetened gum
might take all day. OK, but what about the purported appetite-
suppressing the effect of all that chewing? The results from studies on the
effects of gum chewing on hunger are all over the place. Some
studies show decreased appetite, some showed no effect, and one even
showed significantly increased hunger after gum chewing among women. The more important
question, though, is: are there any changes in
subsequent calorie intake? Again, the findings are mixed.
One study even found that while gum chewing didn’t much
impact M&M consumption, it did appear to decrease the
consumption of healthy snacks. Ah, but they used mint gum,
and the healthy snacks included mandarin orange slices.


So this may have just been an orange-
juice-after-tooth-brushing effect. It can take an hour before
the residual taste effect of mint toothpaste dissipates.
This is bad if it cuts your fruit intake, but what about harnessing
this power against Pringles? An international group of researchers
had people eat Pringles potato chips for 12 minutes, interrupting
them every three minutes to swish with a menthol mouthwash. Compared to those in the control groups-
swishing with water or nothing at all the minty mouthwash group
cut their consumption by 29%. The researchers conclude if a
consumer finds themselves snacking on too many chips, one potential
strategy could be intervening by having peppermint tea,
menthol-flavored chewing gum, or brushing their teeth to
slow down or stop snacking.


What matters,
though, is weight loss. Even if some tweak like gum chewing can
affect the consumption of a single snack, your body could just compensate
by eating more later in the day. The only way to know for sure if gum
chewing can be used as a weight loss hack is to put it to the test,
which we’ll cover next.

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