We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.
1) Sugar: One serving of Big League Chew (eight gummy strings) contains two grams of sugar, which is almost negligible in regard to dietary health. However, sugary gum can certainly increase your chances of experiencing tooth decay, so sugar-free gum is generally considered to be a better choice.
2) Gum Base: Gum base is a combination of food-grade polymers (a string of molecules that usually contain carbon and hydrogen), waxes and softeners, which provide a tasteless, non-nutritive slate for the sweeteners and flavors in Big League Chew.
3) Corn Starch (Dusting Agent): This white powder coats the gummy strings and acts as a dusting agent, which means it prevents them from sticking together to create one giant gum glob in the bag.
4) Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made of glucose, a sugar found in many foods. It doesn’t get as much negative publicity as high-fructose corn syrup — which has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies (more on that here) — but regular corn syrup can also be debilitating, considering it’s basically liquid sugar.
5) Glycerol: Glycerol is a sweet-tasting liquid found in plants and animals. It has many uses, including making explosives, antifreeze and even Juul pods, but glycerol is usually added to chewing gum as a humectant, which means it provides moisture and prevents the gum from drying out and becoming hard. Despite being in numerous inedible products, glycerol is generally safe.
6) Natural and Artificial Flavor: While natural flavors are literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., blueberry flavoring taken from a real blueberry — artificial flavors are chemical compounds created in a lab that mimic a natural flavor in some way. While that may sound unhealthy, as physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, told us during our exploration of the ingredients in nacho-flavored Doritos, these flavorings are added in such small quantities that they shouldn’t cause you any harm.
7) Soy Lecithin: Soy lecithin is a component of fat found in, you guessed it, soy. It’s typically added to food products as an emulsifier, which means it helps the numerous ingredients found in this chewing gum mix together. In some cases, soy lecithin can also help foods stay fresh while they sit on the shelves.
8) Aspartame: Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made primarily out of two amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein): aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so much less of it is needed to achieve the desired sweetness — this, in effect, helps reduce the amount of sugar and calories in this gum.
Unfortunately, as we learned in our exploration of the ingredients in Diet Coke, several studies suggest that aspartame may actually promote weight gain despite being marketed as doing the very opposite (visit the link above for an in-depth explanation on how that works).
Additionally, Shanahan says that some people are so sensitive to the aspartic acid in aspartame that it causes them to experience headaches, dizziness and even confusion. In other words, steer clear of this ingredient when you can.
9) Acesulfame-K: Also known as acesulfame potassium, acesulfame-K is another artificial sugar, and much like aspartame, it poses some potential problems. Namely, rodent studies suggest that long-term consumption of acesulfame potassium may cause cognitive damage. That said, as with all rodent studies, further research is required to fully understand the effects this ingredient has on humans.
10) Color (Red 40, Red 40 Lake): While certain artificial colors (red 40 being one of them) are known to be carcinogenic, Shanahan assures us that a normal person’s liver should have no problem breaking down whatever miniscule amounts of coloring we consume with our food.
11) BHT (To Maintain Freshness): BHT is a common preservative added to prevent products from spoiling. Studies continue to go back and forth about whether or not it’s carcinogenic, but chances are you wouldn’t consume enough of it while chewing gum to cause you any harm, anyway.
There are certainly healthier chewing gums out there (namely, sugar-free gums). But nutritionally speaking, which gum you chew should be the least of your worries. So, if you really love Big League Chew, enjoy your gum, and make up for not going sugar-free by having an extra serving of vegetables here and there.