Green Parenting: Is Chewing Gum the Most Poisonous Thing in Your Purse?

Chewing gum is one of the biggest thrills my four year old can think of when it comes time to check out of the grocery store. The brightly lined shelves around the cash register call out to her and taunt her with their cartoonish writing and yummy smells. She pleads with me to buy her some, but after flipping the packages over and reading the ingredient list, I put it back down, much to her disappointment. I try to tell her that it’s made of bad stuff that will harm her and I have to protect her from all that I can while giving her the healthy stuff to make her body strong. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I think she is starting to get it.

Tired of just saying these ingredients are bad, I decided to do a little in-depth research on just what is in gum and what are those ingredients’ side effects. Here is a list of the most common ingredients in the most popular chewing gum products on the market (1):

  • Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol, Maltitol
  • Gum Base
  • Glycerol
  • Natural and Artificial Flavors
  • Hydrogenated Coconut Oil and Starch
  • Aspartame –Acesulfame
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Colors (titanium oxide, blue 2 lake, red 40)
  • BHT
  • Malic Acid, Citric Acid

Let’s break each of these items down:

Sorbitol is a sugar substitute. It is frequently used in “sugar free” chewing gum. Sorbitol has been linked to GI tract issues: bloating, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea and rectal bleeding.

Dateline, June 2003: Popular sugar-free fruit pastilles, mints and chewing gum contain sorbitol in rather large amounts (42% – 50%) (5,6). This means a single tiny 25g purse-pack of fruit pastilles contains easily enough Sorbitol to cause gastro-intestinal distress and diarrhea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Gum base is the ingredient that gives gum its texture and chewing properties. It is made out of latexes, synthetic rubbers, polyvinyl acetate, wax, hydrogenated vegetable oils, BHT and several other items. Basically some of the ingredients used to make rubber tires, herpes medicine, glue, petroleum and paint.

Glycerol is a sweet, colorless, syrupy alcohol usually obtained from fats and oils. It can cause side effects including headaches, dizziness, bloating, nausea, vomiting, thirst and diarrhea.

Hydrogenated Coconut Oil is a saturated fat, which means it is solid at room temperature. Saturated fats collect in your arteries and can lead to blockages. Saturated fats and hydrogenated or trans fats may cause cholesterol to rise. Trans fats are particularly dangerous because not only do they raise LDL cholesterol or the bad cholesterol but they also lower HDL, which is the good cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol in the blood is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. (2)

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today. It is also one of the most controversial FDA-approved food ingredients to date. With studies on both sides of the argument claiming its safety and its dangers, there are many discussions and studies about this ingredient and its safety.

Soy lecithin is extracted from soybeans, either mechanically or chemically using hexane. It’s actually a byproduct of soybean oil production. Check out this post on Mommybites about processed soy products and why they should be avoided. Basically it surmises that everyone should “avoid processed soy derivatives (soy oil, soy flour, soy protein isolate, textured soy protein and hydrolyzed soy protein) as they are not food.”

Artificial colors or color additive, is any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink. They come in many forms consisting of liquids, powders, gels and pastes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest just released a report called “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risk” that charges these dyes trigger allergic reactions and behavior problems in children and can cause cancer. The group says the three most commonly used dyes – Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 – are contaminated with cancer causing substances. (3)

BHT is a petroleum-based substance that reduces rancidity of products and is on the CSPI’s list of additives to avoid. Basically it makes gum last longer on the self. (4)

Malic acid is an acid found in many sour or tart-tasting foods. When eaten, it produces a mellow and persistent sour taste. Foods that contain large amounts of malic acid often bear a warning, stating that eating large amounts of the product can cause soreness in the inside of the mouth. (5)

Yuck, yuck, yuck. There isn’t one bit of anything on this list that is natural and/or would make me want to allow my child (or myself) to gnaw on it for long periods of time repeatedly for the rest of her life.

So what alternative is there for fresh breath? Try to find a food-grade, organic peppermint oil/spray and spritz it in your mouth for freshness. It will be much better than chewing on rubber, trans fats, petroleum and carcinogens, don’t you think?

 Green Parenting is published every Friday. Questions/comments, please email Elise Jones.


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The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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