Xanthan gum does contain calories, but the amount is very small. A typical serving size of 1 gram of xanthan gum contains around 3-4 calories. So while xanthan gum is not completely calorie-free, the amount of calories is negligible, especially when used in small amounts as a food additive or thickener.
What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a popular food additive that is commonly used as a binder, emulsion stabilizer, and thickening agent. It is a polysaccharide or complex sugar derived from bacteria through a fermentation process.
Specifically, xanthan gum is produced by fermenting sugars with a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. This process causes the sugars to form a slimy substance that can thicken and stabilize foods.
Xanthan gum was discovered by scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture in the 1960s. It was first put to commercial use in the late 1960s and was approved for food use in the United States in 1968.
Today, xanthan gum is widely used in many packaged foods like salad dressings, sauces, frozen foods, and baked goods. It helps thicken these foods while also improving their texture and shelf stability.
Nutritional Profile of Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum contains the following macronutrients:
– Carbohydrates: Xanthan gum contains around 90% carbohydrates by weight. The main carbohydrate component is a polysaccharide or complex sugar.
– Protein: Xanthan gum contains a small amount of protein, around 1-2% by weight.
– Fat: Xanthan gum contains virtually no fat.
In terms of micronutrients, xanthan gum does not contain any vitamins, minerals, fiber or other micronutrients.
It is essentially a source of carbohydrates and a very small amount of protein. The carbohydrates in xanthan gum are not digestible by human enzymes. Therefore, despite being high in carbohydrates, xanthan gum is considered a non-caloric fiber.
Calorie Content of Xanthan Gum
Even though the carbohydrates in xanthan gum cannot be digested, it does still contain small amounts of calories:
– 1 gram of xanthan gum contains around 3-4 calories.
– 100 grams of xanthan gum contains 390 calories.
So in a typical serving size of 1 gram or less, xanthan gum only provides a few calories. It would take a very large amount of xanthan gum to make a significant calorie contribution to the diet.
Here is a calorie comparison to other common thickeners per 5 grams serving:
|Thickener||Calories (per 5g)|
|Xanthan gum||15-20 calories|
As you can see, xanthan gum is very comparable to other popular thickeners in terms of calorie content per serving.
Why Does Xanthan Gum Contain Calories?
Xanthan gum contains calories because it is around 90% carbohydrates by weight. Even though these complex polysaccharide carbohydrates cannot be digested by human enzymes, they do still theoretically contain 4 calories per gram like other carbohydrates.
When xanthan gum is burned in a laboratory environment, it releases energy which confirms it does contain calories. However, the human body cannot access these calories since our digestive system cannot break down the complex xanthan gum molecule.
Is Xanthan Gum Considered a Zero Calorie Food?
Xanthan gum is sometimes referred to as a zero calorie food. This is because the calories in xanthan gum are not bioavailable to humans.
However, technically xanthan gum does contain calories (about 4 calories per gram), so it is more accurate to classify it as an extremely low-calorie food thickener rather than completely zero calorie.
Xanthan Gum as a Food Additive
Here is a look at how xanthan gum is commonly used as a food additive:
– Thickening agent – Xanthan gum is able to thicken both water-based and oil-based liquids. It helps thicken sauces, dressings, soups, desserts and beverages.
– Binder – Xanthan gum helps bind ingredients together and prevent separation, such as in gluten-free baked goods.
– Stabilizer – Xanthan gum helps stabilize emulsions and prevent ingredients from separating. It stabilizes salad dressings and helps ice cream stay scoopable.
– Foam stabilizer – Xanthan gum stabilizes foams, allowing them to hold their structure longer. This makes foams thicker and longer-lasting.
– Suspending agent – Xanthan gum can help suspend solid particles, like spices, in liquids evenly. This prevents settling.
– Gluten-free baking – Xanthan gum mimics the properties of gluten to improve the texture of gluten-free baked goods.
– Dairy-free products – Xanthan gum can improve the texture and mouthfeel of dairy-free products like ice cream, yogurt and cream cheese.
Xanthan gum performs all these functions while adding an insignificant amount of calories to foods. A typical serving of salad dressing, sauce or baked good made with xanthan gum will contain at most 1 gram of xanthan gum, providing only around 4 calories.
When used at higher levels like in gluten-free baking, a serving may contain a few grams of xanthan gum and 10-20 calories. But overall, its calorie contribution is still minimal considering the amount used.
Health Effects of Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum has been approved for use in foods in the United States and Canada since the 1960s and 1970s. Numerous regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada have confirmed it is safe for human consumption.
However, xanthan gum can cause digestive issues for some people if consumed in large amounts. Some of the potential side effects can include:
– Gas and bloating – Xanthan gum is not digested and can ferment in the gut, producing gas.
– Softer stools – Xanthan gum can act as a laxative by increasing stool bulk and water content.
– Diarrhea – Large amounts of xanthan gum have a laxative effect and may cause loose, watery stools.
These effects are more likely to occur with doses of 10-15 grams per day. Fortunately, food-grade xanthan gum is rarely consumed at these high levels. At the typical intake of 1 gram or less per day, most people tolerate it well.
Those with severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may still need to limit or avoid xanthan gum, as even small amounts may trigger symptoms. But for most people, xanthan gum does not pose any major digestive problems.
Aside from potential digestive effects, xanthan gum is generally recognized as safe with very few health risks. Some people may have an allergic reaction, so those with severe food allergies should exercise caution. Any digestive or allergic symptoms can be reversed simply by avoiding products containing it.
Is Xanthan Gum Keto-Friendly?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet involves restricting carbs to 20-50 grams per day to reach a metabolic state called ketosis. In ketosis, the body becomes very efficient at burning fat for fuel.
Xanthan gum is considered keto-friendly and can be included as part of a well-formulated keto diet because it contains minimal digestible carbs and calories.
The indigestible carbohydrates in xanthan gum are considered non-impact carbs. They pass through the body without affecting blood sugar or ketone levels.
Typical serving sizes of 1-2 grams provide only 1-2 grams of total carbs and a negligible amount of net carbs. This makes xanthan gum an excellent keto-friendly thickener for sauces, baked goods, desserts and other low carb recipes.
Is Xanthan Gum Paleo?
The paleo diet avoids grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods. Since xanthan gum is produced through bacterial fermentation, it does not technically qualify as a paleo food.
However, some people following a paleo diet make an exception for xanthan gum. While not a naturally occurring food, it is a whole food ingredient made from fermented sugars. Many paleo followers are comfortable using small amounts of xanthan gum as a thickening agent.
But in general, xanthan gum cannot be considered a paleo-approved ingredient. Other natural thickeners like arrowroot, guar gum and tapioca may be better options for strict paleo diets.
Is Xanthan Gum Vegan and Vegetarian?
Xanthan gum is a vegan and vegetarian friendly ingredient. No animal products or byproducts are used during its production.
It is made by fermenting sugars using the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. Since this process does not involve any animal-derived ingredients, xanthan gum avoids ethical concerns around meat, dairy and egg consumption.
All vegetarians who eat eggs and/or dairy products can safely consume xanthan gum. It is also compatible with vegan diets because no animal products are used.
Xanthan gum is a common food additive used as a thickener and stabilizer in many packaged foods. While it does contain a small amount of digestible carbohydrates and calories, the quantities are negligible, especially when used at the very low levels in food manufacturing.
At around 4 calories per gram, a typical serving of 1 gram of xanthan gum only provides 3-4 calories. This makes its calorie contribution insignificant for most people. Xanthan gum can cause mild digestive issues for some people when consumed at very high doses. But at the low intake levels from diet, it is generally well tolerated with few health risks.
For people on ketogenic and paleo diets, xanthan gum should be consumed in moderation but can be included as part of these diets. It is also vegan and vegetarian friendly. Overall, xanthan gum is a safe, low-calorie food additive that most people can consume as part of an overall healthy diet.