Guar gum is one of those ingredients that you see on a food label and wonder what the heck it is and why it’s added to so many foods. For vegans, it’s an ingredient that can cause confusion as to whether foods that otherwise appear plant-based are actually vegan or not. So is guar gum vegan?
In this post, we’ll discuss how guar gum is made, whether it’s vegan-friendly, why it’s used by the food industry (and added to coconut milk), and its implications for our health.
What is guar gum?
Guar gum is a food additive made from the seeds of the Indian cluster bean plant, also known as the guar bean plant or gum bean. It’s frequently used as a thickener and emulsifier and provides structure in gluten-free baking.
Guar gum1 is made by grinding the starchy endosperm component of cluster beans, mechanically extracting the gum, and drying the resulting product into a powder.
Is guar gum vegan?
Yes! Guar gum is vegan because it’s derived from cluster beans, which are a plant-based food. Guar gum does not contain animal products and is vegan-friendly since no animal-based ingredients are used as processing aids in its production.
Why is guar gum added to foods?
Guar gum has a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) designation from the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA)2. Food additives with this designation are considered safe to consume when used in approved amounts for their intended purposes in food.
Guar gum is also known by its E number (E412) as approved by the European Union.
As a soluble fiber, guar gum attracts water and can be used to thicken and stabilize foods. It contains a specific type of carbohydrate called galactomannan that is responsible for the gel-forming ability of guar gum.1
Guar gum also conditions dough and provides structure in baking. You’ll often see it added to gluten-free baked goods because it provides structural integrity, serving as a helpful replacement for gluten.
Below is a list of vegan-friendly foods that may contain guar gum and why they benefit from its addition1:
- Dough/bread – softness, increased volume
- Liquids (like canned coconut milk) – thickener
- Non-dairy ice cream – thickener, smaller ice crystals
- Ketchup – improved consistency
- Salad dressings – emulsifier (keeps oil and vinegar combined together)
Health risks & benefits
Food additives tend to garner skepticism about their safety and impact on our health, typically because they’re associated with processed foods, and guar gum is no exception.
We’ll discuss what the science has to say about its potential health effects so you can make the most informed choice possible.
Health risks of guar gum
As a food additive tested for safety, any claims you might see on social media about guar gum being “toxic” can be regarded as false.
Hydrolyzed guar gum (guar gum that has been broken up into smaller pieces) is shown to be non-toxic and does not cause genetic mutations when consumed in doses of up to 2,500 milligrams per day, far more than you would get from foods.1
But what about another common claim – that guar gum is inflammatory, especially in certain digestive conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease? The research on whether guar gum causes inflammation is conflicting and mainly involves studies on rats or mice, not humans.
Rodents don’t always react the same way to things as we do, so we can’t translate the results of these studies directly to humans.
A 2022 study3 in mice with ulcerative colitis found that mice given guar gum had higher levels of pro-inflammatory markers and lower levels of butyrate in the gut, a short-chain fatty acid known for its role in supporting a healthy gut microbiome.
Similarly, a 2021 mouse study4 found severe inflammation in mice with irritable bowel disease who were given guar gum compared to mice given a control diet.
However, other mouse studies found opposite results. A 2021 study in mice with colitis5 saw significantly lower levels of inflammation when they were given guar gum. Interestingly, a 2022 study6 in Cell Reports gave mice with an autoimmune condition a diet of 30% guar gum and saw lower levels of inflammation in the central nervous system.
One of the only studies done involving guar gum and inflammation in humans is a 2019 study7 that involved children with autism spectrum disorder. When the diets of these children were supplemented with partially hydrolyzed guar gum, their constipation improved and they had lower levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.
It’s possible that some people may be more sensitive to guar gum than others. There have been reports8 of abdominal discomfort such as gas and bloating when consuming up to 15 grams of guar gum a day, which is far higher than most people would consume through food alone.
Considering that guar gum is a fermentable dietary fiber, it isn’t too surprising that a high intake could cause some bloating and discomfort, especially when a person’s diet is normally low in fiber.
What about guar gum and IBS? According to Monash University9, guar gum is not considered high in FODMAPs and isn’t likely to cause as much gastrointestinal distress as high-FODMAP foods in people with IBS.
That said, some people with IBS may be particularly sensitive to gums and will experience some digestive distress after consuming them.
Many of the reported health benefits of guar gum come from its classification as a soluble fiber. Soluble fiber slows digestion in a good way, keeping us feeling full after meals and preventing blood glucose levels from spiking as high as they might without the presence of fiber. Because of this, it has been shown to help manage type 2 diabetes.1
Guar gum may also lower cholesterol levels by preventing bile acids in the intestine from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream and from being used by the body to produce its own cholesterol.1
In fact, a 2021 meta-analysis in the Journal of Nutrition, Metabolism, & Cardiovascular Disease10 found that patients with cardiometabolic health issues who took a guar gum supplement anywhere between 100 milligrams to 30 grams per day had lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, with no effect on HDL (“good”) cholesterol or triglycerides.
While these health benefits are supported by research, keep in mind that guar gum as a food additive is typically found in very small amounts in packaged items. These amounts probably won’t be enough to provide the kinds of health benefits seen in research studies.
A plant-based diet focused on whole, minimally processed fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, soy foods, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, however, is rich in soluble fiber and antioxidants and low in saturated fat, all important factors for improving cardiometabolic health.
Guar gum is a vegan-friendly soluble fiber and food additive used as a thickener, stabilizer, and dough conditioner in many packaged foods. It’s often used in baking to provide structure to gluten-free baked foods.
Guar gum has been shown to be safe and non-toxic when consumed in normal amounts present in food. So far, research on its inflammatory or anti-inflammatory potential and its effects on the gut have been limited mostly to rodent studies, and the results of these studies are conflicting.
Guar gum isn’t expected to cause abdominal discomfort in most people unless consumed in high amounts, more than you would find in a can of coconut milk or a gluten-free muffin.
Of course, some people may be more sensitive than others (especially if you have IBS), so pay attention to any symptoms you experience and how they correlate with the consumption of products containing guar gum.
Is guar gum natural?
Guar gum is a natural substance present in Indian cluster beans. To isolate guar gum for use in foods, cluster beans are ground up, the gum is mechanically extracted, and the resulting product is dried into a powder.
Is guar gum gluten-free?
According to the non-profit Beyond Celiac11, guar gum is gluten-free and safe for individuals with Celiac disease. This makes sense considering guar gum is extracted from a legume, which are naturally gluten-free.
Can I use guar gum instead of gelatin?
Guar gum is a thickener and can be an effective substitute for gelatin, which is avoided on a vegan diet. You’ll need less guar gum, about one-sixth of the amount of gelatin called for in a recipe.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Mudgil D, Barak S, Khatkar BS. Guar gum: processing, properties and food applications-A Review. J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Mar;51(3):409-18. doi: 10.1007/s13197-011-0522-x. Epub 2011 Oct 4. PMID: 24587515; PMCID: PMC3931889.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 21 C.F.R. § 582.7339. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=582.7339. Accessed May 19, 2023.
- Paudel D, Tian S, Joseph G, Prodes E, Nair DVT, Singh V. Guar Gum-Induced Changes in Gut Microbiota Metabolic Activity and Intestinal Immune Response Augments Susceptibility to Experimental Colitis. Curr Dev Nutr. 2022 Jun 14;6(Suppl 1):992. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzac068.021. PMCID: PMC9194036.
- Nair DVT, Paudel D, Prakash D, Singh V. Food Additive Guar Gum Aggravates Colonic Inflammation in Experimental Models of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Curr Dev Nutr. 2021 Jun 7;5(Suppl 2):1142. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzab061_026. PMCID: PMC8180737.
- Jhundoo HD, Siefen T, Liang A, Schmidt C, Lokhnauth J, Moulari B, Béduneau A, Pellequer Y, Larsen CC, Lamprecht A. Anti-inflammatory effects of acacia and guar gum in 5-amino salicylic acid formulations in experimental colitis. Int J Pharm X. 2021 Apr 24;3:100080. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpx.2021.100080. PMID: 33997765; PMCID: PMC8105628.
- Fettig NM, Robinson HG, Allanach JR, Davis KM, Simister RL, Wang EJ, Sharon AJ, Ye J, Popple SJ, Seo JH, Gibson DL, Crowe SA, Horwitz MS, Osborne LC. Inhibition of Th1 activation and differentiation by dietary guar gum ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Cell Rep. 2022 Sep 13;40(11):111328. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.111328. PMID: 36103823.
- Inoue R, Sakaue Y, Kawada Y, Tamaki R, Yasukawa Z, Ozeki M, Ueba S, Sawai C, Nonomura K, Tsukahara T, Naito Y. Dietary supplementation with partially hydrolyzed guar gum helps improve constipation and gut dysbiosis symptoms and behavioral irritability in children with autism spectrum disorder. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2019 May;64(3):217-223. doi: 10.3164/jcbn.18-105. Epub 2019 Mar 7. PMID: 31138955; PMCID: PMC6529696.
- EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS); Mortensen A, Aguilar F, Crebelli R, Di Domenico A, Frutos MJ, Galtier P, Gott D, Gundert-Remy U, Lambré C, Leblanc JC, Lindtner O, Moldeus P, Mosesso P, Oskarsson A, Parent-Massin D, Stankovic I, Waalkens-Berendsen I, Woutersen RA, Wright M, Younes M, Brimer L, Peters P, Wiesner J, Christodoulidou A, Lodi F, Tard A, Dusemund B. Re-evaluation of guar gum (E 412) as a food additive. EFSA J. 2017 Feb 24;15(2):e04669. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4669. PMID: 32625396; PMCID: PMC7010168.
- Monash University. More than FODMAPS: fermentable fibres & IBS. https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/more-fodmaps-fermentable-fibres-ibs/. Accessed May 22, 2023.
- Lin J, Sun Y, Santos HO, Găman MA, Bhat LT, Cui Y. Effects of guar gum supplementation on the lipid profile: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2021 Nov 29;31(12):3271-3281. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2021.08.040. Epub 2021 Aug 21. PMID: 34607737.
- Beyond Celiac. Is guar gum gluten-free? https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/is-it-gluten-free/guar-gum/. Accessed May 18, 2023.