Sorry gum chewers: “minty fresh” might make you fat.
According to a recent study, chewing mint-flavored gum may make people more likely to choose high-calorie sweet foods. Scientists speculate that this is because menthol, the chemical that makes gum minty-tasting, makes healthier foods — especially fruits and vegetables — taste less appealing.
“The chemical change is the same reason why when you brush your teeth and then drink orange juice, it tastes bad,” study co-author Christine Swoboda, a doctoral candidate in nutrition, told LiveScience.
How the Study Worked
Swoboda enrolled 44 volunteers in her study. Half of these volunteers were asked to choose fruit-flavored or mint-flavored gum; the other half went gumless. Then all the volunteers were asked to play a game in exchange for fruit or chips, cookies, and other sweets.
The study found that the mint gum-chewers were significantly more likely to choose junk food. The fruit-flavored chewers were also more likely to go for the sweets — though not as dramatically.
In a second experiment, researchers also found that people who chew gum eat fewer meals, though don’t necessarily consume fewer calories. In this experiment, volunteers were asked to chew mint-flavored gum before meals and then to keep a food diary.
Swoboda hypothesized that gum-chewers chose unhealthier options for meals because healthy foods didn’t taste as good.
“In their heads, they thought “I have to chew gum before every meal — do I really want a snack of grapefruit?”” Swoboda told reporters. “Whereas, they were like, “I’m so hungry I’m going to eat this double cheeseburger and it will taste the same.””
The news comes as a stark contradiction to previous studies, including one backed by Wrigley Science Institute (the people behind Wrigley’s gum, Big Red, and Orbit gum), that have said chewing gum may decrease one’s craving for sweet or salty snacks.
The Good News on Gum
But it’s not all bad news for gum fanatics. While it may not be good for your diet, chewing gum may be good for your brain.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychology suggests that chewing gum may improve concentration and, when chewed before a test, may boost test scores. Scientists say the repeated chewing motion gets blood flowing to the head, particularly to the areas responsible for concentration.
Some other positive points for gum:
- • Chewing gum may help people recover from colon surgery by stimulating digestive action in the gut, according to a study published in the Annals of Surgery.
- • Chewing gum — or sunflower seeds, or chewing tobacco, or anything, really — may improve reaction time, according to a Japanese study.
- • Chewing gum after a meal may prevent tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
Lim P et al. “Sham feeding with chewing gum after elective colorectal resectional surgery: a randomized clinical trial”
Hirano Y et al. “Effects of chewing on cognitive processing speed”