Thickeners – What You Need to Know

Thickeners are one of many ingredients added to processed foods. And they do just that: thicken. They absorb water and form a gel-like consistency. They’re often used to make foods thick and creamy, without having to add a lot of fat.

Thickeners also tend to emulsify and stabilize foods they’re added to. Emulsification allows fats and water to mix better and prevents them from separating (i.e., oil/vinegar salad dressing versus a thicker or creamier emulsified dressing). And “stabilizing” helps the product have a longer shelf-life before the “best before” date.

Thickeners are often found in canned dairy-free milk and any milk that comes in a carton, baked goods, soups/sauces/gravies, puddings/ice cream, etc. Some are even added to dietary supplements!

These thickeners are polysaccharides, which means they’re long chains of many (poly) saccharides (sugars). They’re typically difficult to digest, which makes them similar to dietary fibre. And this also means they can help you feel fuller longer without providing many calories or any nutrients.

They’re naturally-derived but are heavily processed to extract the compound. (Did I say “heavily?”)

 

FUN FACT: food additives are considered anti-nutrients because they reduce the absorption of dietary minerals like calcium.

 

Overall, for the general healthy population, in small doses, these thickeners don’t seem to create massive health concerns. But, even though they’re extracted from whole foods, they’re far from it. Plus, there are lots of reasons to avoid them altogether.

Let’s briefly dive into five of the common ones.

 

XANTHAN GUM

 

Xanthan gum is made by a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. This bacteria can cause diseases in plants (e.g., leaf spot). The xanthan gum is created when the bacteria ferment sugar. Xanthan gum is extracted from the liquid, dried, and ground.

Because it’s like dietary fibre, xanthan gum has been shown to help reduce blood sugar spikes. Its thickening properties can help slow the absorption of sugar, therefore slowing the speed sugar can get into the bloodstream.

In high doses, xanthan gum can act as a laxative and can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It also may act as a prebiotic (food for our friendly gut microbes), but more research is needed.

Xanthan gum should be avoided by infants and people with severe wheat, corn, soy, or dairy allergies.

 

GUAR GUM

 

Guar gum is made from legumes called guar beans. These beans are split, and the endosperm is ground to get the guar gum.

Like xanthan gum, guar gum may reduce blood sugar spikes, act as a laxative, and possibly a prebiotic.

In rodents, guar gum has been shown to increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut).

 

CELLULOSE GUM

 

Cellulose gum is made from wood pulp and cotton. To extract the cellulose gum, the pulp is processed with several chemicals, which are then removed.

Cellulose gum can cause bacterial overgrowth and inflammation in animals who eat large amounts of it. It’s been suspected to be linked with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

 

CARRAGEENAN

 

Carrageenan is made from red seaweed that’s dried, ground, chemically treated, filtered, and dehydrated.

Carrageenan can increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut). It has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, and colitis-like conditions in animals. It has also been used in high doses to cause tumors in animals for cancer research.

Unlike other thickeners, some rodent studies have shown that carrageenan can worsen blood sugar control issues.

 

LECITHIN

 

Lecithin most often comes from soybeans, but can also come from eggs, canola, or sunflower seeds. It’s heavily processed with chemicals and then purified.

Lecithin also contains phospholipids, triglycerides, sterols, free fatty acids, and carotenoids.

One of lecithin’s metabolites (what your body metabolizes lecithin into once it’s absorbed) is linked to heart disease. On the other hand, it does lower serum cholesterol. Overall, the jury seems to be out on its heart health effects.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Thickeners are highly processed food additives derived from nature. They are found in many processed foods because they thicken, reducing the amount of fat needed.

In the body, they can act as a dietary fibre, and may have some of the health benefits of that. But, they can also contribute to gastrointestinal issues, especially in higher doses. They can also be allergenic in small doses.

Do you read your labels to see which thickeners are in your foods? Are you going to look out for these additives? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Recipe (Thickener-free): Creamy Salad Dressing
Serves 8-12

INGREDIENTS

1 avocado, ripe
½ cup coconut milk – use one without added thickeners or make your own like I did here (you may need more to thin)
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dill, dried
1 tsp chives, dried
1 tsp parsley, dried
½ tsp basil, dried
4 dashes salt
4 dashes pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until creamy.
  2. Add more coconut milk or herbs/spices to reach desired consistency and flavour.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add cilantro for additional flavour.

 

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/is-it-paleo-guar-gum-xanthan-gum-and-lecithin-oh-my/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xanthan-gum

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/guar-gum

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/cellulose-gum

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carrageenan

About Me

Hi, I’m Tracy! I create food solutions to feed your life goals. I’m a Nutritionist, chocoholic + superhero fan. Mom to three, wife to one, crazy about all four, and food! When you work with me you’ll learn to savour life and nourish all that it has to offer.

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5 months ago
Tracy Houle Nutrition
I dont know about you but I have been struggling over these last few months. 

All of the things that Im normally pretty good at like staying positive, eating well, and being active have really been challenging for me during these difficult times.

I needed an inner shakedown!

And what I found was that I needed a really good plan and some accountability.

Starting on Monday, May 3rd, Im committing to a 4-week meal plan to revitalize my health and help me shed a few pounds. 

Wanna join me?

Just send me a quick DM with “I’M IN” and I’ll send you more info.

#healthfirst
#foodmatters
#nutritionist
#healthylifestyle
#cleaneating

I don't know about you but I have been struggling over these last few months.

All of the things that I'm normally pretty good at like staying positive, eating well, and being active have really been challenging for me during these difficult times.

I needed an inner shakedown!

And what I found was that I needed a really good plan and some accountability.

Starting on Monday, May 3rd, I'm committing to a 4-week meal plan to revitalize my health and help me shed a few pounds.

Wanna join me?

Just send me a quick DM with “I’M IN” and I’ll send you more info.

#healthfirst
#foodmatters
#nutritionist
#healthylifestyle
#cleaneating
... See MoreSee Less

5 months ago
Tracy Houle Nutrition
TODAY is EARTH DAY 🌳 (which is really everyday) and if you want to know how small changes can add up to a healthier planet 🌏 check out my newest blog (link below) where I do a deep dive into modern agriculture and how it impacts our health, as well as the health of the planet.

 

Actually, not be an ‘askhole’ but I’d really appreciate if you could take the 10 minutes, or so, to read it.

 

When it comes to farming, we’re in a cultural crisis – and it’s never been more important for food production to evolve and it’s us who will make it happen with our buying power.

 

The good news is that smaller scale, environmentally friendly, and regenerative farming practices are playing a big part in helping to restore lost nutrition in our soil and food, and you can “be the change” with my list of what you can do as an individual today!
 

So, have a read and let me know if you can support your local farmers or share your favourite farm in the comments below.

Two of my favourite local food producers are @farmqueenfoods & @providencehillfarm.ca 
 
https://tracyhoule.com/food_health_climate_change/

TODAY is EARTH DAY 🌳 (which is really everyday) and if you want to know how small changes can add up to a healthier planet 🌏 check out my newest blog (link below) where I do a deep dive into modern agriculture and how it impacts our health, as well as the health of the planet.



Actually, not be an ‘askhole’ but I’d really appreciate if you could take the 10 minutes, or so, to read it.



When it comes to farming, we’re in a cultural crisis – and it’s never been more important for food production to evolve and it’s us who will make it happen with our buying power.



The good news is that smaller scale, environmentally friendly, and regenerative farming practices are playing a big part in helping to restore lost nutrition in our soil and food, and you can “be the change” with my list of what you can do as an individual today!


So, have a read and let me know if you can support your local farmers or share your favourite farm in the comments below.

Two of my favourite local food producers are @farmqueenfoods & @providencehillfarm.ca

tracyhoule.com/food_health_climate_change/
... See MoreSee Less

Comment on Facebook

Very informative. Thanks for sharing !

5 months ago
Tracy Houle Nutrition
Ready for the truth no one wants you to know?

There actually IS a secret tool to getting healthier.

Here’s another secret:
It DOESN’T involve giving up treats and wine forever.

In fact, the way I’ve been able to keep my family and I healthy for the last decade has been largely thanks to the 80/20 rule.

This week’s blog (link below) is ALL about moderation. The word you hear SO MUCH, but never really know how to practically include in your life.

Also on the blog, 15 DELICIOUS (and I mean actually delicious) vegetable recipes.

No, I’m not going to tell you to make a plain salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Let’s talk about VEGGIES that are delicious and taste like our favourite comfort food.

When we start to rekindle our flame with veggies, we remember how good they can taste and how they make us FEEL.

What’s your favourite FUN way to include veggies in your diet? 

https://tracyhoule.com/how-to-rekindle-the-flame-with-vegetables/

Ready for the truth no one wants you to know?

There actually IS a secret tool to getting healthier.

Here’s another secret:
It DOESN’T involve giving up treats and wine forever.

In fact, the way I’ve been able to keep my family and I healthy for the last decade has been largely thanks to the 80/20 rule.

This week’s blog (link below) is ALL about moderation. The word you hear SO MUCH, but never really know how to practically include in your life.

Also on the blog, 15 DELICIOUS (and I mean actually delicious) vegetable recipes.

No, I’m not going to tell you to make a plain salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Let’s talk about VEGGIES that are delicious and taste like our favourite comfort food.

When we start to rekindle our flame with veggies, we remember how good they can taste and how they make us FEEL.

What’s your favourite FUN way to include veggies in your diet?

tracyhoule.com/how-to-rekindle-the-flame-with-vegetables/
... See MoreSee Less

Comment on Facebook

I really enjoyed reading your blog on Veggies! I like the different ideas on how to incorporate more veggies. I love grilled veggies the best but also enjoy making casseroles with different veggies! I cant wait to try some of your new veggie recipes....even the butternut smoothie😬!

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