HEALTH

Chew Gum, Lose Weight?  

Chewing a few sticks of gum might be beneficial in the weight-loss department.

Chewing a few sticks of gum might be beneficial in the weight-loss department.

Scientists from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center recently reported research that revealed a connection between chewing sugar-free gum and avoiding snacks. The participants, 115 men and women between the ages of 18 and 54, were all regular gum chewers. They came to the laboratory twice, once when gum was offered and once when no gum was offered. During each of the 2 visits, the participants were given sandwiches for lunch whose nutrients could account for one fourth of their recommended daily caloric intake. Sometime after lunch, they were provided with a large platter of snacks, including complex carbohydrates (both low- and high-fat items) and items that were high in simple sugars. They were told they could eat as much as they wanted to of any and all of these offerings.

They were required to stay in the lab for 3 hours after lunch, during which time they couild either chew sugar-free gum for 15 minutes hourly during those 3 hours or they could choose not to chew gum.

Although the gum chewers still nibbled away at the constant array of snacks provided during the study, their overall snack consumption was reduced significantly (by an average of 40 calories). In addition, they cut back on their consumption of sweetened snacks by 60 calories.

The participants also filled out questionnaires regarding their perceived levels of hunger, energy, and cravings for snacks. On average, the gum chewers reported that they had significantly fewer episodes of hunger and cravings for sweets and that they felt higher levels of energy throughout the afternoon, as well as less drowsiness 2 and 3 hours before the afternoon snack. The researchers concluded from this that chewing gum may play a role in weight management by controlling appetite and reducing cravings for snacks. Despite the relatively small changes in the numbers of calories consumed by the gum chewers, the researchers believed this could have an impact over the long term.

Although previous studies have determined that gum chewing can lower snack intake, this is believed to be the first study that looked at the consumption of snacks in terms of the macronutrients involved (e.g., carbohydrates, proteins, and fats).

What does this mean for you? 
If you're finding that you're struggling with "empty-calorie" snacking, you might want to try sugar-free gum as an alternative to calorie-filled snacks. However, keep in mind that gums based on sugar alcohols, such as the one used in this study, have sorbitol as their main ingredient, a substance that can cause gas, bloating, or diarrhea, particularly if increased amounts of gum are chewed at a sitting. After all (as I tell my patients), sorbitol was first used in the health care setting as a laxative.

So don't go hog wild with a sorbitol- or sugar-alcohol-based gum, especially if it's the first time you're trying it and if you're going to have to be out in public. However, if sugar alcohols don't bother you, and you want to substitute a 5-calorie-or-so stick of gum for a higher- and emptier-calorie snack, chewing this type of gum might save you 60 calories a day, especially if you're a sweet-eater.

And although avoiding 60 calories a day may not sound like much, if you chewed gum 4 times a week in place of snacking on sweets, you'd save about 240 calories per week. At the end of a year, that's a whopping 12,480 calories, which technically represents a little over 3½ pounds. Not bad, especially considering the extra weight you might have put on over that same year by eating the sweet snacks.

 

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