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Fight hunger - with chewing gum



a person placing a piece of gum in their mouth

About ten years ago I reported on a pair of research articles looking at the effect of gum chewing on appetite and snacking: could chewing gum be an effective weight loss tool? Those studies were not encouraging: the first showed that chewing gum between meals had no effect on what the participants ate later in the day or on their levels of hunger at similar points throughout the day. The second was sponsored by a gum manufacturer and suggested that chewing gum might decrease the amount consumed between meals (as a snack).

An article recently published in Appetite describes a more stringent study: 35 adult men and women, most of whom were regular gum-chewers, participated in what they were told was a study of gum-chewing's effect on metabolism (2017;118:1-7).

First thing in the morning, before breakfast, the participant reported to the lab and relaxed for 45 minutes on a hospital bed doing nothing more strenuous than filling out questionnaires regarding their previous day's food intake, their level of hunger, whether they wanted to eat something sweet or salty, and various mood assessments. For the following 45 minutes the participant had their resting metabolic rate measured by ventilated hood calimetry (a very accurate measurement of calories burned). After ten minutes under the hood the participant was given a piece of gum to chew and after 20 minutes the gum was taken away (I find it interesting to note that the authors were careful not to let the participants blow bubbles). At the end of 45 minutes under the ventilated hood, the hood was removed and the participant repeated the assessments of hunger and mood.

After completing the assessments the participants were given a breakfast shake that provided 30% of their daily caloric requirements as measured by their resting metabolic rates. For the following 3 hours their hunger and emotional states were reassessed periodically, while they were again given gum to chew for 20 minutes on two separate occasions (so they chewed gum for a total of one hour).

Finally they were served a lunch meal of pasta with vegetables and tomato sauce with cheese along with a glass of water. They were served fairly large portions - so that it was unlikely that they would finish the whole meal - and the authors measured how much of that meal the participants ate. After lunch the participants were given a food diary along with careful instructions to record everything they ate, how much, and when for the remainder of the test day, which was turned in later to be included in the analysis.

Each participant went through this process twice: once with gum, and once without: "passing and collection of gum were simulated using the same procedures, except that no gum was given." The primary outcome was how much lunch the participants consumed: did chewing gum between meals affect how much they ate at the next meal?

It appears that it did. Those who actually chewed gum both before breakfast and between breakfast and lunch ate about 28% fewer calories at lunch than they did when they had not chewed gum - and they drank about the same amount of water, meaning thirst was unlikely to be driving consumption. Further, regardless of whether they chewed gum or not, the participants reported eating about the same amount over the course of the rest of the day. Another interesting point is that when they chewed gum before breakfast, the participants recorded lower levels of hunger - even though they had not yet eaten that day.

What this means for you

This suggests that chewing gum might be a useful strategy to help manage hunger. As always, there are caveats: chewing gum alone is unlikely to make a significant difference in your weight - it has a place as one of many strategies in managing your weight, but by no means could you say that chewing gum will lead to weight loss.

First posted: August 9, 2017