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Ask Tufts Experts December 2017 Issue

Q. Why do I get gas and bloating from sugar-free gum?

 

A. Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian, Frances Stern Nutrition Center, Tufts Medical Center explains: “The gas and bloating you experience when chewing sugar-free gum is not uncommon. For one thing, we naturally swallow a lot of air while chewing gum—sugar-free or not. Extra air swallowed can mean extra gas. But the main reason for bloating when you chew sugarless gum is the presence of sweeteners called sugar alcohols.

“Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that are slowly and incompletely absorbed in the body. They are found in a number of sugar-free products, including gum. The most common sugar alcohols you will likely see include xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol and erythritol. Fermentation and incomplete digestion of these sweeteners in the large intestine (colon) lead to gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Everyone’s tolerance is different, and usually gas and bloating happens when you consume large quantities at one time.

“To identify sugar alcohols, review the ingredients and look for anything ending in “ol.” Take an inventory of all sugar-free foods in your diet and identify the sugar alcohols to estimate the total amount you are taking in.

“My suggestion would be to keep track of just how much gum per day you are chewing and perhaps start cutting back. You can also chew sugar-free gums that do not contain sugar alcohols. You do not have to ban these foods from your diet altogether, but it is worthwhile to find your personal threshold—whether that is a few pieces per day to a few pieces per week.”

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