Ask EN

February 2016 Issue

Guar Safety and Eating Bones & Blood

Q: What is guar gum and is it safe?

guar beans


Guar beans

A: Guar gum, also known as guaran, is commonly used in food production as a stabilizer, thickener, and binder. The seeds of the guar bean are refined into a white powder that is used in baked goods, salad dressings, sauces, plant-based milks, and dairy products. Like locust bean gum, guar gum is a water-soluble fiber high in galactomannans, a type of polysaccharide. Guar gum is eight times more powerful as a thickener than cornstarch. Interestingly, guar gum is used extensively in hydrofracking (the technique of fracturing rock using pressurized liquid) to thicken the water used to move sand underground. This new use has increased the price tremendously and food manufacturers now are looking for alternatives.

The history of guar gum isn’t all rosy. It was promoted as a weight loss aid in the 1980s on the premise that its thickening ability would increase satiety (a sense of fullness), but it was responsible for at least one death due to esophageal obstruction—when taken in its direct form (unlike its use in foods) the product can expand in the throat. Guar gum dietary aids were subsequently banned as over-the-counter supplements. The research is inconsistent regarding weight loss, but there is correlation with guar gum and lower cholesterol levels, probably due to the high fiber content. Some individuals may be allergic to guar gum, and small amounts of soy have been found in it—an important note for those with soy allergies. For others, there are no apparent health risks associated with consuming small, non-supplemental amounts.

—Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Q: Bones, marrow, and blood are popping up on restaurant menus. Is it healthful?

A: The use of bones, marrow, and blood are featured in many cooking traditions, such as sauces, sausages, and broths, dating back centuries. The current renaissance—and health hype—for these animal ingredients has roots in several modern trends, such as the Paleo (“caveman”) diet, cutting food waste by eating the whole animal, and an interest in authentic, traditional cuisines.

Blood sausages, like those served in Ireland and Germany, are high in protein and iron, as well as calories, total fat (the majority is unsaturated) and cholesterol (120 milligrams per 100-gram serving). Bone broth (bones simmered in water) yields a fairly low-nutrient food: one cup provides about 15 calories, 1-3 g protein, and 1 g or less of fat. Marrow consists of primarily unsaturated fat; protein and other nutrients are negligible. Bone, marrow, and blood are all safe to consume in dishes that are cooked to 165 F, and may lend flavor and texture attributes to dishes. However, they are not as fortifying as some myths imply.

—Ellie Wilson, MS, RDN