Before you chewed your first piece of gum, you may have been given a stern warning that sweet Bubble Yum was all fun and games until you accidentally swallowed it. The superstitious believe that, much like a broken mirror, swallowed gum comes with a 7-year sentence (of digestion).
While this warning has persisted over the years, it’s not grounded in much truth. Unlike Seattle’s famous Gum Wall, your digestive tract is not lined with gum. It’s true that your body can’t break down gum, but the digestive wait time is actually closer to a weekend.
When you swallow gum, your body can’t digest it or break it down. But that doesn’t mean it stays in your stomach forever.
Frequent gum chewers should have an exit strategy that doesn’t involve swallowing. While swallowing gum isn’t necessarily cause for concern, don’t make it a habit. Swallowing too much gum in a short time could lead to a blockage in your intestines.
Manufacturers aren’t quick to burst the bubble behind their chewing gum recipes. But there are some general formulations you can expect.
Gum base is the rubbery component that gives gum its chewy qualities. Other key ingredients of gum are resin to hold it together, fillers to provide texture, and preservatives to help to extend the shelf life.
Softeners, sweeteners, and flavorings give each chewing gum its individual flavor profile or its uncanny ability to lose its flavor after 5 minutes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines gum as an “insoluble mass for chewing,” which leans more toward entertainment. But the FDA does classify it as a food — with a disclaimer.
Gum is considered a “food of minimal nutritional value” alongside soda water, hard candy, jellies, fondant, and other sweet treats.
While gum can contain natural ingredients, the FDA permits synthetic additives in gum that are considered safe for human consumption. These can include:
- natural rubber
- petroleum wax
- polyvinyl acetate
So, is swallowing gum like food OK?
Yes, you can swallow gum like food, but you probably shouldn’t. Gum has minimal nutritional value and may contain synthetic substances you probably don’t want to make a habit of digesting.
Swallowing your gum, either accidentally or intentionally, is mostly harmless. The gum will pass through your system undigested and then come out fully intact in your poo. So typically you don’t need to see a doc if you’ve swallowed your Juicy Fruit.
The biggest cause for concern when swallowing gum is intestinal blockage (though it’s unlikely). This can result from swallowing a large amount of gum or digesting gum along with other substances your body can’t process.
Some signs that you may be experiencing a blockage:
- abdominal pain
- occasional vomiting
In the case of a blockage, an emergency surgery may be required to remove it. Call your doc ASAP if you think you have a blockage.
Again, according to the FDA, gum is safe for human consumption. But this classification comes with regulations that detail what ingredients and how much of each substance can be used in gum.
Butylated hydroxytoluene, titanium dioxide, and aspartame are controversial ingredients in chewing gum. But the FDA considers them safe, and they’re used in minimal amounts. If you have kiddos, though, it might be best not to give them gum if they can’t avoid swallowing it.
If you can keep that gum in your mouth without swallowing it, there may actually be some benefits to this habit. Research suggests that chewing can help relieve stress. And it might even help you be more productive and happy during your next work-from-home sesh.
Gum is a food designed to be chewed and not swallowed. The FDA classifies it as a “food of minimal nutritional value” and considers it safe.
If you do swallow your gum, don’t worry. Despite the popular myth, swallowed gum doesn’t age in dog years. Your body can’t digest chewing gum, but the gum will pass through your system in 1 to 3 days and arrive in its porcelain palace fully intact.
There’s no need to be concerned unless you’ve swallowed enough gum to block your intestines — that would warrant a trip to the ER.