Do You Know Nutrition: What happens to the gum I swallow?

By Phylis Canion
May 22, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

When I was growing up, my mother always told me not to swallow my gum because it would stick in my stomach for years. My kids are 3 and 6 and now enjoy chewing gum. I find myself telling them the same thing. Is that just an old wives tale, or is there something to it?

Technically speaking, your mother is partially right. Gum is manufactured to be chewed, hence the name "chewing gum," and not to be swallowed.

Although your stomach cannot break gum down like it does food, your digestive system can move it along the normal intestinal activity until it passes out of the system within two to three days rather than years.

To better understand the process, it is important to look at the ingredients. The basic ingredients of chewing gum include sweeteners, corn syrup, food colors, softeners and a gum base known as gum resin. All of these ingredients are easily digested, except the gum resin, which is a plant exudation consisting of a mixture of gum and resin.

Gum is the gelatinous, sticky substance that comes from certain bushes and tree bark in Africa or Asia and is water soluble. Resin is usually not water soluble.

The original chewing gum dates to the Aztecs and their use of chicle, the first ingredient used in making gum from the sapodilla tree. They chewed chicle to clean their teeth, since there was no toothpaste.

How big a problem is foodborne disease?

There are more than 250 foodborne diseases, according to the Center For Disease Control, caused by consuming contaminated food and drink.

They are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. The CDC estimates that each year in the U.S., one in six Americans (or approximately 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne disease.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health experts estimate that the yearly cost of all foodborne diseases in the U.S. is $5 to $6 billion dollars in direct medical expenses and lost productivity.

Since Jan. 1, there have been more than 147 foods/food products recalled because of listeria contamination, salmonella risk, mislabeling of ingredients, undeclared allergens and possible health risk.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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