Diet Myth or Truth: Chewing Gum for Weight Loss

Can chewing sugarless gum really help you cut calories?

From the WebMD Archives

Chew on this: Chewing gum can be good for you. Not only can it freshen your breath, it can help you overcome cigarette cravings, improve your memory -- and even help you lose weight.

Contestants on The Biggest Loser use it regularly, and studies have shown that chewing gum can help control cravings, manage hunger, and promote weight loss.

Still, don’t get the idea that chewing a few sticks of gum a day is going to melt off the pounds. A few small studies have shown that chewing gum can help you shave calories. But this won’t lead to significant weight loss unless you also follow a reduced-calorie diet and get regular physical activity.

Sugar-free gum is best because it is usually less than 5 calories per piece, compared to 10 calories for regular gum. In fact, diet plans like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and the American Diabetes Association consider sugar-free gum a "free food." (But "free" doesn’t mean unlimited amounts; some artificially sweetened items can have a laxative effect if over-consumed.)

Weight Loss Benefits of Chewing Gum

Research from the University of Rhode Island showed that people who chewed gum consumed 68 fewer calories at lunch and did not compensate by eating more later in the day. Chewing gum also helped the study participants satisfy their cravings and resist fattening treats. And there’s more: Gum chewers actually burned about 5% more calories than non-gum chewers.

Another study, from Louisiana State University, indicated that chewing gum was helpful in controlling appetite, decreasing participants' daily intake by 40 calories and reducing snack cravings.

If you cut 50 calories a day or so by chewing gum, then make another small lifestyle change -- like switching from 2% to 1% milk or taking the stairs at work -- you can easily cut 100 calories a day. And that could add up to losing 10 pounds in a year.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of chewing gum comes if you routinely reach for a stick of gum instead of something more caloric like a doughnut or candy bar. Substitute gum for a snack-size bag of chips once a week, and you could lose two pounds in a year.

Continued

Here are some tips for saving calories by chewing gum:

  • Chew gum when you have the urge to eat a snack between meals.
  • Pop a piece in your mouth to signal the end of the meal, or to prevent mindless munching while watching TV or at a party.
  • Keep some in your purse or briefcase to help you resist high-calorie temptations.
  • Keep your mouth busy with a piece of gum while you cook to prevent nibbling.

Don't Overdo It

Although chewing gum can help you cut calories and avoid fattening snacks, it's important not to go overboard.

Most sugar-free chewing gums contain a low-calorie sweetener called sorbitol. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is poorly absorbed by the small intestine and acts like a laxative. A study in The British Medical Journal tells of cases of chronic diarrhea, pain, and unexplained weight loss that was traced to excessive consumption of sorbitol-containing gum (15-20 sticks daily).

Chewing gum can also lead to swallowing air, which can cause bloating. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, recommends alternating gum with a solid piece of hard candy.

Bottom Line

Think of gum chewing as another tool in your weight loss kit – one that can help you manage hunger and cravings, and add up to calorie savings over time. Results will not be dramatic – but then again, it's not difficult to chomp on some gum to satisfy your yearning for sweets.

Still, make sure you don't forgo nutritious snacks like vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grain crackers, and fruit. And don’t forget to keep your sugar alcohol in check by limiting consumption of foods and beverages containing sorbitol.

WebMD Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES:

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman; author, The Flexitarian Diet.

American Dental Association web site.

Obesity, 2009.

American Society for Nutrition, scientific sessions and annual meeting, New Orleans, La., April 2009.

British Medical Journal, January 2008; 336:96-97.

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