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ATLANTA (CNN) — Should you chew gum if you're trying to lose weight?
Possibly, though you certainly don't have to start a gum habit if you don't already chew gum.
Here's the lowdown: Chewing a stick or two of gum won't magically help you shed pounds. Chewing certainly doesn't burn many calories, and it won't undo the calories you just packed away from, say, a large meal or a Thanksgiving feast. Still, for certain individuals, popping a piece of gum could be a helpful strategy when it comes to shedding pounds, especially if doing so helps you steer clear of midday snacking, nighttime nibbling or caving in on dessert.
"I think for some people, it could be a useful tool. ... Everyone has things that can possibly help them on their road to weight loss, and little behaviors like gum chewing can make a big difference for some," said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "The Small Change Diet."
Gum chewing can be useful in two ways, according to Gans. For some, putting something sugary in their mouth after they've eaten can signal that the meal is over. "Some people need something sweet at the end of each meal and will search for dessert. If they pop a piece of chewing gum, maybe it can do the trick," she said. You'll also save the calories you might have otherwise consumed in an ice cream cone or piece of cake.
For others, especially those who crave snacks in between meals and graze a lot during the day, gum chewing could keep your mouth busy while providing few calories in between meals, Gans explained.
One study concluded that chewing gum suppresses appetite, especially the desire for sweets, and reduces snack intake. Specifically, those who chewed gum consumed about 40 fewer calories at the next eating occasion. "Participants reported feeling more satisfied and resisted more decadent foods," said Angel Planells, a Seattle-based registered dietitian and national media spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But in another study, chewing gum didn't seem to influence appetite or food intake. And while gum chewing may reduce the frequency of meals, according to yet another study, people may consume more calories from less-nutritious foods when they do eat.
In one more study, chewing gum regularly for eight weeks did not help facilitate weight loss in overweight and obese adults.
What these findings might suggest is that the effects of chewing gum may differ from person to person and may depend on one's eating personality.
"If you're someone who works from home and you find yourself wandering into the kitchen too many times, or if you keep visiting an office kitchen that's packed with snacks, here chewing a piece of gum may help," Gans said. "It's putting something in your mouth, it's keeping it busy, it has this great flavor in it, and you might be less likely to reach for food ... or that piece of chocolate on your co-worker's desk."
But a piece of gum won't necessarily replace an afternoon snack, especially if it has been a long time since you've eaten lunch. "A snack can help fuel you, especially during the afternoon slump. A piece of gum won't provide that energy that's needed ... that you might get from a piece of string cheese and a piece of fruit, a handful of almonds or a yogurt," Gans said.
1. Choose sugarless gum.
It's been link to increased satiety, and because it's made with sugar alcohols rather than sugar, the calories "are miniscule," Gans says. (Sugarless gum typically contains less than 5 calories per piece; regular gum can range from 10 to 25 calories).
Chewing sugarless gum is also beneficial for teeth: It increases the flow of saliva, thereby washing away acids produced by bacteria in plaque, which decreases risk for tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
2. Limit gum to five or six pieces per day.
Though most people can tolerate sugar alcohols in small amounts, too much could lead to bloating and diarrhea, Planells explained.
Sugar alcohols go by names such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol, and they are not well absorbed, which explains why they provide fewer calories than sugar. But their poor absorption also explains their potential laxative effect when consumed in excess.
"We're not suggesting that anyone should be chewing gum all day," Gans said. If you would like to chew gum, she recommends a piece in the morning, another after lunch, perhaps another in between lunch and dinner, and maybe another after dinner.
3. Stick a pack of gum in your pocket, purse or briefcase.
This can help you pop a piece when you need it most.
4. If you don't enjoy gum, there's no need to start.
Other things can do the trick, such as a lightly sweetened coffee or tea with one teaspoon of sugar or a mini square of chocolate, Gans explained. "It signals the end of a meal without going overboard." It might also be more satisfying than the gum, she added.
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