Is It Paleo? Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum and Lecithin, Oh My!

December 4, 2014 in Categories: , , by

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It’s pretty typical to be introduced to the Paleo diet with a list of foods to avoid.  The stereotypical explanation is that a Paleo diet is no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no refined sugars, no refined oils and no processed/manufactured foods.  If you’ve been following me a while, then you know that I strongly dislike (I have a 7-year old who doesn’t let me use the h-word, but feel free to read that here) couching my chosen diet and lifestyle this way.  It’s such a negative way to define something that is such a huge positive part of my life.  I prefer to focus on what I do eat and define the Paleo diet as a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

But, where do these lists of foods to avoid versus foods to eat come from?

There are two chief lines of reasoning when assessing whether or not a food is Paleo: evolutionary biology and contemporary biology/physiology.  My inclination is to always use the latter line of reasoning, or to use both together.  To me, it’s not as important whether or not caveman ate a certain food compared to what science tells us about how that food actually impacts our health.

Much of the time, evaluating a whether a food should find a place in our diet using these lines of reasoning yields either a resounding yes or a resounding no.  For example, our Paleolithic ancestors ate wild game, which is very similar in nutritional profile to grass-fed beef, which is a nutrient-dense food that promotes good health in the context of a diet that also includes vegetables (more details on this important caveat in The Paleo Approach).  Our Paleolithic ancestors did not eat wheat, except maybe for during periods of starvation, which contains several very inflammatory proteins that feed gut dysbiosis and directly reduces the integrity of the gut barrier and which contains relatively low levels of essential nutrients (again, tons of details available in The Paleo Approach).  The conclusions are easily drawn.  Meat=yes  Wheat=no

Sometimes, the arguments are not as cut and dry.  Alcoholic beverages are a great example.  The gene for the enzyme that detoxifies alcohol from the blood is about 18 million years old (where as human evolution only started about 6 million years ago).  So, we have been genetically adapted to consuming alcohol since before we were even human.  The first evidence of fermented beverages is from about 12,000 years ago.  Prior to this, the major source of dietary alcohol was overripe fruit which can contain up to 8% alcohol!  With that alcohol content, caveman certainly could have gotten drunk (and there are some animals in the wild that do too!), but this would have been a seasonal occurrence.  In contrast, contemporary biological research tells us that alcohol disproportionally feeds E. coli in the gut and directly increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier through its action on the tight junctions between epithelial cells (i.e., alcohol opens up the structures that hold epithelial cells together to create a solid barrier, thereby creating a leaky gut.  Read more about the intestinal barrier here.), even with just one drink.  That’s bad.  But, just to muddy the waters, contemporary biology also shows that there are some beneficial hormetic effects to moderate consumption of alcohol.  Moderate consumption of alcohol reduces risk of some diseases, but increases risk of others.  When you combine the evidence from evolutionary and contemporary biology, we can conclude that we are probably genetically adapted to moderate and occasional alcohol consumption, but not to the larger and more regular amounts that we typically consume.  So, we consider alcohol a gray-area food.  Alcohol=maybe (and in moderation)

So, to the point of this post…

Let’s take a closer look at some ingredients that are sneaking their way into Paleo baking these days (both recipes for you to make at home and pre-packaged products):  emulsifiers such as xanthan gum, guar gum, carrageenan, cellulose gum and lecithin. Are these ingredients resounding no’s, yes’s, or are they maybe’s?


Okay, there’s an aside that needs to be quickly addressed here.   Why am I even concerned with whether or not an ingredient is Paleo if it’s used to make “Paleo” treats???  A cookie isn’t Paleo even if it’s made with dates and nut flours, right?  Okay, so maybe you want to jump over to my previous post Is a Paleo Treat Really Paleo? and then come back.

Oh hi!  You’re back!  Now, rather than getting into a semantics argument or a philosophical debate, let’s just agree that many people do choose to include Paleo treats in their diet from time to time (and it’s no one’s business except the person making the choice).  Not that long ago, Paleo treats were made with a limited list of fairly simple ingredients.  But you’ve probably noticed that the range of ingredients used for baked goods recipes labelled as Paleo-friendly has increased dramatically in recent months.  I personally think it’s awesome to see so many innovative ways to satisfy the need for a treat with healthful ingredients.

But here’s the crux of the matter:  of all the possible ingredients for Paleo baked goods, some choices are better than others from a health perspective. Note that’s not necessarily the same as choosing ingredients from a taste or a food chemistry perspective.  But if taste and food chemistry were the primary criteria, we’d be cooking with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, and gluten.  Those are perfectly yummy!

Whether you consider a Paleo treat to be part of your 80% or your 20%, it still matters what the ingredients are. I’ve tackled some of the other ingredients in Paleo baking in these posts:  Is Yeast Paleo?, Is Sugar Paleo?, Sugar Vs. Sweeteners, The Trouble with Stevia, The Great Dairy Debate, Paleo Without Nuts, and The Pros and Cons of Almond Flour: Rebuttal to “5 Reasons To Avoid Almond Flour”.  And I have plans to tackle other ingredients in a series of upcoming posts.

Plus, there’s other places you might encounter these additives.  Canned coconut milk typically contains guar gum.  Boxed nut milks and coconut milk often contain both guar gum and carrageenan.  Coconut milk and almond milk yogurt can contain guar gum, carrageenan and several other members of this food additive family.  Chocolate typically contains lecithin.  And Paleo-friendly protein powders very commonly contain lecithin and sometimes cellulose gum as well.  It’s not just that these emulsifiers are common in gluten-free baked goods or prepackaged breads and cookies labelled as “Paleo”.

I love that there are more and more Paleo-friendly convenience foods out there.  But, as more and more packaged goods get marketed to the Paleo community, and unfortunately as more and more of those goods are not actually Paleo, it becomes more and more important to empower you to read labels and determine the merits of a particular product or recipe for yourself.

Now, let’s address the question at hand:  are emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilizers Paleo?  In order to answer this question, let’s start with defining what exactly these are.

Emulsifiers, Thickeners and Stabilizers:  What are They?

This category of food additives include a vast variety of ingredients.  Some of the most commonly found include xanthan gum, guar gum, carrageenan, cellulose gum, and lecithin. They all have the properties that they emulsify, thicken, and stabilize, which is why this is considered a single category of food additives.   I’ll refer to them collectively as emulsifiers, since this is their primary property.  As secondary properties, they typically thicken as well and act as stabilizers and binders.  Which one is chosen for a particular purpose depends on the exact chemistry of that additive and the desired effect in the food product it’s being added to.

So, what are they exactly?  Xanthan gum, guar gum, carrageenan, cellulose gum, lecithin and other members of this food additive category are polysaccharides, meaning they are complex sugar molecules (sounds innocent enough, right?).  They are all very difficult to digest (making them technically types of fiber) and they have detergentlike properties, meaning that they are used to emulsify (i.e., make fat and water mix).  Don’t let the word “detergentlike” scare you unnecessarily.  Mustard seed and egg yolk are also emulsifiers.  Having the property of being an emulsifier isn’t itself the problem.  And calling them a type of fiber sounds pretty good, right?   Are you feeling a glimmer of hope?  Not so fast.  There’s a big difference between a whole food that contain nutrients and these manufactured food additives.

These emulsifiers are derived from a variety of sources.  For our five specific examples here are their origins:

Guar gum is derived from guar beans (yes, a legume).  The guar bean in split and dehusked, and then the endosperm of the beans is milled and screened to obtain the guar gum.  The byproducts of this manufacturing process are turned into animal feed for Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations.  As an aside, guar beans are quite high in cyanogenic glycosides (more information about these in The Paleo Approach).

Carrageenan is derived from edible red seaweed (that’s sounds okay so far, right?).  The seaweed is dried, ground, sifted and then washed prior to being chemically treated with a hot alkali solution (typically potassium hydroxide, aka caustic potash, also used to make batteries and biodiesel, yum).  The carrageenan is then separated out by centrifugation and filtration, then dehydrated back into a powder.

Xanthan gum is secreted by a specific bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, a bacteria that causes a variety of plant diseases such as Leaf Spot.  This bacteria is grown in a liquid containing glucose, sucrose, and/or lactose (typically wheat, corn, soy and/or dairy derived). After the bacteria ferments the sugar, the xanthan gum is precipitated from the liquid (the growth medium) using isopropyl alcohol.  It’s then dried and ground into a fine powder.

Cellulose gum (more technically called carboxymethyl cellulose) is extracted from wood pulp and cotton cellulose.  The cellulose is chemically modified to make it water soluble first by being treated with sodium hydroxide (aka caustic soda, or lye, used to make soap and detergents) and then with chloroacetic acid. (Fun Fact:  Exposure to chloroacetic acid can be fatal if greater than 6% body surface area is exposed).  Impurities are then removed with an aqueous solvent.

Lecithin is a byproduct of soybean oil production, but it can also be derived from eggs, canola or sunflower seeds.  During soybean oil production, crude oil is obtained by screw pressing and solvent extraction of oilseeds, but this creates a gummy deposit which can coat the machinery.  The process of degumming was invested to render these gums insoluble so they could be separated by centrifugation.  Originally considered a waste product of vegetable oil production, this gummy stuff now gets additionally processed  by enzymatic or chemical modification, solvent extraction, and/or chromatographic purification depending to make lecithin.  In addition to polysaccharides, lecithin also contains phospholipids and glycolipids, triglycerides, sterols, free fatty acids and carotenoids.

Knowing how these food additives are manufactured is probably enough to make you wary of consuming most of them (I definitely fall into the “I would rather not eat concentrated Leaf Spot poop, thank you very much” camp).  None of these emulsifiers can be considered a whole food, and none would have been found in the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors (whole seaweed, yes, seaweed treated with the goo inside alkaline batteries, no).  But, that fact alone isn’t enough to exclude a food from our diet.  It’s important to look at the contemporary biology and ask the question:

How do these food additives affect health?

Concerns over the safety of some emulsifiers have been raised in the medical literature, with some scientist calling for their banning from the food supply.  In fact, some of these food additives are banned, at least for specific uses in other countries.  For example, the use of carrageenan in infant formulas is banned in the European Union.

Guar gum. Guar gum has been shown to increase intestinal permeability (at least in rats), although the mechanism has not been studied.  Guar gum has also been shown to increase the growth of a toxic strain of E. coli (enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli) in the small intestine (SIBO, anyone?).  In piglets fed a diet with added guar gum, this overgrowth of E. coli lead to increased large intestine weight and overall stunted growth.  Another study showed that the addition of guar gum to milk increased the survival of pathogenic bacteria in milk through high heat pasteurization.  It remains unknown whether guar gum could increase survival of pathogens in your digestive tract, but the increased growth rate of enterotoxigenic E. coli would suggest that it does.

Carrageenan. Carrageenan increases intestinal permeability. In fact, extensive research has shown that carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcerations, and colitislike disease in animals.  Furthermore, the products of carrageenan degradation through normal digestion are accepted carcinogens.  In fact, carrageenan is used to cause cancer in animal models of various tumor types.  There is so much evidence demonstrating that carrageenan is unsafe for consumption, that many researchers are blowing the whistle on it.  Here’s a quote from a 2001 paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives:

the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered.”

Xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a highly efficient laxative and can also cause intestinal bloating and diarrhea.  It was found to be the culprit behind an increased rate of necrotizing enterocolitis in infants after it was introduced to formula (it has since been banned for use in formula by the FDA).  While direct effects on intestinal permeability of the gut microbiome have never been studied, xanthan gum has been shown to be one of the best choices for growing fungi and bacteria in petri dishes in laboratory environments.  Added bonus: xanthum gum is commonly contaminated with gluten because the bacteria are grown in a medium that most frequently contains wheat, corn, or soy.

Cellulose gum. Cellulose gum is known to cause massive bacterial overgrowth, damage to the mucus barrier of the small intestine and inflammation in the small intestine in animals, hallmarks of Crohn’s disease.    Here’s a quote from a 2009 paper in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases:

“[carboxymethyl cellulose] is an ideal suspect to account for the rise of IBD in the 20th century.”

Lecithin. Although, the only emulsifier in this list that is not a major gut irritant or contributor to gut dysbiosis, that doesn’t mean that lecithin is off the hook! A gut microflora metabolite of lecithin (TMAO) has been strongly linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, probably by promoting inflammation.  How diet might affect this risk, by influencing the type of bacteria growing in the gut, remains unknown. TMAO is also the metabolic product of certain gut bacteria eating carnitine (the discovery of which has been the subject of much anti-red meat talk recently) and Dr. Jeff Leach from the Human Food Project wrote a brilliant post linking the bacteria responsible for producing TMAO from carnitine to grain consumption.  Whether the same bacteria are responsible for the production of TMAO from lecithin remains unknown (and is not particularly likely).

Plus, all of these emulsifiers are considered antinutrients because they reduce the absorbability of dietary minerals, such as calcium.

Are there any benefits akin to the hormetic effects from alcohol?  Not as such.  A few of these emulsifiers have found uses in the medical industry.  For example, cellulose gum is a major component of an adhesion barrier called Seprafilm used in abdominal surgeries to prevent postoperative adhesions (it also appears to cause cell damage, so there’s that).  Xanthan gum and guar gum have been shown to have utility in the creation of ophthalmic liquids for drug delivery (prescription eye drops). Several of these emulsifiers have been investigated as diet aids; because they expand so prodigiously in the bowels, they create a feeling of fullness that may encourage reduced portion sizes.  I’ve heard that eating paper can do the same thing though (just in case it wasn’t obvious, I am not recommending that you eat paper or any of these food additives to lose weight).

Lecithin is the only emulsifier shown to have any properties that might be considered beneficial.  It lowers serum cholesterol.  However, it does this by interfering with enterohepatic circulation.  Since this post is already book chapter-like in scope, I’ll just refer you to page 109 in The Paleo Approach for more on why that’s not such a cool idea.  Because of lecithin’s ability to bind with cholesterol, it has been investigated as a supplement to help dissolve gallstones.  Between two studies, only one patient actually experienced a reduction in gallstone size, which is pretty underwhelming evidence for a beneficial effect.  I wasn’t able to find any studies to support the use of lecithin supplementation as a natural treatment for mastitis (although it’s often recommended) or for MS (there’s some interesting research on endogenous lecithin, but this is a completely different beast).  Lecithin is also being investigated as a therapy for ulcerative colitis (efficacy has not yet been determined but a Phase II clinical trial is underway), so there’s a glimmer of hope there.

Crazy, right? At least alcohol has the added bonus of making you intoxicated.  In all seriousness though, I’m not quite sure what the upside to any of these additive are.  Not when there’s great emulsifiers and binders out there to use in Paleo baking instead, whole food ingredients like egg, mustard, gelatin, and applesauce (you might like to read The Science and Art of Paleofying—Part 2 Binders).  There’s a long list of cons to these additives, and no pros, when it comes to evaluating these ingredients from the perspective of their effect on our health.  And as already mentioned, if taste and food chemistry are your primary criteria for choosing an ingredient, well, I’m not quite sure what you’re doing reading a Paleo diet blog.

Take Home Message:  There’s a big difference between using dried fruit and nuts and root vegetable starches to create a Paleo-friendly baked good compared to one using ingredients like those discussed above.  And while definitely not as problematic as gluten, it’s pretty poor planning to replace one gut irritant ingredient with another for the sake of food texture.  We are all individuals, and I won’t judge if you choose to consume a gluten-free treat made with xanthan gum as an occasional indulgence.  But, if you see a product or recipe labelled as Paleo-friendly that uses these ingredients, know that it is mislabeled.  Guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, and lecithin are not Paleo.

Further Reading

Babbar SB, Jain R. Xanthan gum: an economical partial substitute for agar in microbial culture media.  Curr Microbiol. 2006 Apr;52(4):287-92.

Beal J, et al., Late onset necrotizing enterocolitis in infants following use of a xanthan gum-containing thickening agent. J Pediatr. 2012 Aug;161(2):354-6.

Delahunty T, et al., Intestinal permeability changes in rodents: a possible mechanism for degraded carrageenan-induced colitis. Food Chem Toxicol. 1987 Feb;25(2):113-8.

McDonald D.E., et al., Adverse effects of soluble non-starch polysaccharide (guar gum) on piglet growth and experimental colibacillosis immediately after weaning. Res Vet Sci. 1999 Dec;67(3):245-50.

Piyasena P and McKellar RC. Influence of guar gum on the thermal stability of Listeria innocua, Listeria monocytogenes, and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase during high-temperature short-time pasteurization of bovine milk. J Food Prot. 1999 Aug;62(8):861-6.

Rampone AJ. The effect of lecithin on intestinal cholesterol uptake by rat intestine in vitro. J Physiol. 1973 Mar;229(2):505-14

Shiau SY, and Chang GW. Effects of certain dietary fibers on apparent permeability of the rat intestine. J Nutr. 1986 Feb;116(2):223-32.

Stremmel W, and Gauss A.  Lecithin as a therapeutic agent in ulcerative colitis.Dig Dis. 2013;31(3-4):388-90. doi: 10.1159/000354707. Epub 2013 Nov 14.

Swidsinski A, et al., Bacterial overgrowth and inflammation of small intestine after carboxymethylcellulose ingestion in genetically susceptible mice. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009 Mar;15(3):359-64. doi: 10.1002/ibd.20763.

Tang, WH; et al. “Intestinal microbial metabolism of phosphatidylcholine and cardiovascular risk.”. N Engl J Med. Apr 25, 2013; 368(17): 1575–1584.

Tobacman, J. K., Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect. 2001;109(10):983-994

Watt, J. and Marcus, R., Danger of carrageenan in foods and slimming recipes, Lancet. 1981;317(8215):338

Yang J, et. al., In vitro characterization of the impact of selected dietary fibers on fecal microbiota composition and short chain fatty acid production.  Anaerobe. 2013 Oct;23:74-81. doi: 10.1016/j.anaerobe.2013.06.012. Epub 2013 Jul 4.

Yıldız E, et al., Tranexamic Acid and hyaluronate/carboxymethylcellulose create cell injury. JSLS. 2014 Jul;18(3).

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i’m glad you asked because i was wondering this as well! a lot of natural tooth paste brands contain carrageenan and i’ve had to really study the ingredient labels to find one that doesn’t.

Hi there. I have to admit I love the paleo version of the 1950’s a-line dress you have on your related posts drawings. A very stylish leopard a-line. I’m sure not in spandex or polyester but the real deal. 🙂

This will ring hollow since my house is chock full of chebe flour and all other carby things ground up for theoretical baked things, but I just don’;t like breads, cookies etc. So the premiss of this article is just a mystery to me. I avoid carby things especially gluten by nature. Ok I alluded that my wife does not believe in avoidance as alot of other folks I hear. But if one tries maybe the best solution IS avoidance. Meat, vegies, chocolate, smashed fruit fermented in a pigs bladder, and often not in this order for each meal. Also the pigs bladders ran out and we’ve resorted to glass till the goats stomachs come in. 🙂 At least we are putting forth effort. Grass fed meats direct from farmers we know and have checked out their soil and growing practices: check box, Vegies largely organic from areas of the country with rich soil and high brix tests: check box. Swiss chocolate the original paleo chocolatier, and then the smashed fruit in some container thing…. No mention of cookies with gum-gar risks!

Just pulling folk’s legs there. Great article. I know how much work it takes to write a piece of this length and quality. Weeks some times so thank you!!

PS an interesting study is “brix value” of your vegies. Google: “high brix gardens” This would be a wonderful family study, buying a brix meter off ebay for $35 and testing your vegies from a conventional store vs your farmers market. Then buying who ever has the highest brix food. You’ll be surprised as we where. Carey Reams’ knowledge of soil building to grow high brix food (meat through vegies) has not filtered down to all farmers is what we found. Gosh I digressed on that one!!! Less smashed fruit and more cod liver oil, and no cookies. LOL

Sounds like a great opportunity for you to create the material you are looking for from this free information in order to give to the patients paying you 🙂

Love love love this post! Thanks for being brave enough to talk about this issue directly. The expansion of what people call paleo is such a slippery slope. In trying to create recipes that mimic the exact texture of SAD sweets, we’re replacing one problem with another and missing the point of going paleo in the first place. Will be sharing on social media!

Dear Paleo Mom, Thank you for the article. Can you give your impression of ground psyllium husk used as an alternative to all these other gums and etc for baking purposed??? Also, I am particularly interested in whether or not you know when Xantum gum was removed from baby formula’s??

The FDA issued a press release warning parents not to give a particular brand of baby formula that contained xanthan gum to premature infants in May 2011. My understanding is that they haven’t banned it from other baby formulas.

I’m working on another post about psyllium husk. The Cliff Notes: not paleo, potentially dangerous (there’s reports of pysllium husk causing small bowel obstruction, requiring surgery).

Dear Paleo Mom, Thanks for the reply and further info on the FDA warning and NEC. I will be looking forward to your article on psyllium husk as many Gluten free people are turning to psyllium husk in their breads and baked goods to replace the gluten and due to it’s natural fiber content. They are also using psyllium because they are finding they are having GI issues with all the various gums in their baked goods and psyllium is natural vs made in a lab with mold. Thus, it will be interesting to see if psyllium husk baked into foods cause the same dangers. I know it does swell and turns very gummy in consistency.

Wow! I was taking psyllium husk as a fiber supplement for a while until one night at 5am I woke up with extreme abdominal pain then passed out and woke up on the floor covered in sweat. I made my way to the bathroom and had a horrible time for about a half hour. Ironically, I was taking the supplement to help my irritable gut. I talked to a doctor who told me I experienced a vasovagal syncope from the pain, and that it seems like I should stop taking the fiber. I later had a similar, much less severe experience that I connected to inulin, another fiber supplement which is added to lots of “healthy” things like naked smoothies and coconut milk ice cream.

Scary that it could have been worse and required surgery 🙁

I’ve been waiting for a post like this to be written. You’ve presented this information in a scientifically based, terse manner. I am often “blue in the face” trying to explain this exact subject matter to people. Now, I can simply print out your post and present it to them, or refer them here. I’ll be making tons of copies. I hope you don’t mind. Thank you for addressing this issue.

Okay….I get it now. I solemnly swear never to buy that yummy So Delicious coconut creamer anymore!!

But seriously, it is so helpful to have such a detail explanation as to why these emulsifiers are not healthful options.

Thank you for being such a fantastic and credible source of information.

I thought this article was great. Clear, concise, and easy to read. Looking forward to reading the article on psyllium husks.

Timely article, thanks. I’m about to delve into baking Paleo-style, mostly for hubby’s sake, and I don’t want to fall into gut dybiosis again by using questionable ingredients. I’ve been doing Paleo on and off for 5 years and it seems like there’s now an overabundance of Paleo-style dessert and snack recipes that use some “grey area” ingredients for me. Thanks again! 🙂

Thank you so, so much for taking the time to break this down. I look forward to the rest of this series! I avoid all of these as it is and have always raised a brow at the recent “paleo” treats including things like psyllium husk. After reading Mark Sisson’s post regarding psyllium husk that confirmed it for me… They’re just glorified gluten-free treats in my opinion. 🙂

Great article. Through a process of elimination 14 years ago, I discovered that these emulsifiers are one of the key triggers to my most debilitating episodes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I have received the most condescending of looks from people when I have discussed this, but have consistently used this as a reason for why I cook everything from scratch. Now I can explain exactly why they are so-not-good for any of us. Oh, and I was in my local health food store a week ago, and they were giving out samples of some paleo treat bars – the woman at the samples table was a bit taken aback that I wanted to read the ingredients (but they are Paleo!) and very taken aback when I wouldn’t try them, as they had two of these emulsifiers in them.

Nice job as always, Sarah. I eat these things occasionally even though I know I shouldn’t and a reminder of they ‘why’ is always good. Love your closing sentence. Can’t be any clearer than that! 🙂

I have always instinctively avoided these additives (especially lecithin because it’s almost always soy and soy is a huge no-no in Paleo I thought). Lecithin is in EVERYTHING and it’s so painfully frustrating! But it really drives the point that the best Paleo food is the food you cook yourself.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable – I bought an almond milk latte at a cafe and found out after-the-fact that the brand of almond milk they use contains a BUNCH of nasty additives. The pre-boxed almond milk I buy for home contains none of them and if the recipe changes I will stop buying it.
So maybe once in a while is okay if it’s by accident I hope. I’m coeliac and trying hard to avoid things that contribute to leaky gut but I do consume two things knowingly that I shouldn’t – around 200ml of milk each day and one-five glasses of wine a week.
I will never cut the wine out completely but I am cutting back by not drinking unless it’s a special/social occasion – no more glasses of wine with dinner!
I try very hard to avoid Paleo baked treats because of the calories, although my partner makes Paleo muffins every week and has one for dessert each day! I may indulge in one a week.

Thank you for all your wonderful hard work. Each blog post serves as an incentive for why I follow this diet and acts as a reminder that I am making the right choices!

I did take lecithin for mastitis and it was like a miracle for me. I was getting mastitis almost every two to three weeks, and once I started taking the lecithin, I didn’t get it again. I took it until I quit breastfeeding. I do wish I would have taken sunflower rather than soy though, because of the estrogen in the soy 😛 And xanthan gum isn’t leaf mold poop 😉 Mold is a fungus, and Xanthamonas is a bacteria.


A great post, thank you! Do you have any brands to recommend for coconut milk which don’t contain any of these emulsifiers? I struggle to find any in England.



so the book Every Last Crumb: Paleo Bread and Beyond – which the paleo bloggers and cookbook authors are promoting is NOT good for paleo? many of her recipes call for the additives you are talking about.

That’s exactly what I was going to ask. *sigh* I’m fairly new to this way of eating and that’s the first book on Paleo baking I’ve bought. It’s not even here yet and now I’m way less excited. I never even considered all of this info. It’s enligtening and sad all at the same time.

Found any guar gum in your pantry? Don’t throw it away. Try this simple recipe for a non toxic toilet cleaner.
Ingredients by weight: decide how much water you want to use and pour it in a plastic bottle (like a big bottle of shower gel), then add 10-15% citric acid and dissolve. Add 1% guar gum and shake well.
The guar gum will make the liquid thick just like the store bought stuff and for a fraction of the price. It won’t work for a very dirty toilet but that’s perfect for everyday cleaning.

Thank you for what you do! You’re making a difference in the world and changing people’s lives. Thank you! This an awesome article and much needed to educate people about other ingredients!

This post is quite informative, thanks! It is a wonder then, why, if guar gum is so potentially problematic, a health-conscious company like Edward & Sons includes it in their Native Forest organic non-GMO full-fat (BPA-free) canned coconut milk, which is recommended often by proponents of a paleo/primal diet:




With caveats:

(See also:


With regard to those of us who enjoy consuming coconut milk on a regular basis, but for whom it is impractical to make our own, with consistency, what is your opinion of the Aroy-D brand (

Native Forest coconut milk has 3 types: full fat with guar gum, full fat with no guar gum or additives, and light coconut milk. I can’t find it without guar gum at Whole Foods, but my local PCC store and Amazon carry the guar gum free kind!

Great article. I have been experimenting with using chia seeds for my thickener because I did not want to use the others you have listed after researching them. I have not noticed a difference in the outcome so it works. I do not like the rich flavor of almond flower except for in an almond cookie somI have also been experimenting with chestnut flower, plantains and tapioca flour. I have yet to enjoy any of the recipes I have tried for breads, but I have quite a few yet to try and modify with my replacements. I also only use raw honey or coconut nectar or coconut “sugar.”

Thanks for assembling these data and considerations so clearly and usefully! My question’s about lecithin, and flavor extracts, in a moment.
I second the recommendation of the Aroy-D coconut milk mentioned above–they have a thinner milk and a thicker cream, no guar gum, no can. (Should we be worried about tetrapak lining?)

It’s truly frightening to see in concrete terms that those gums etc can affect gut permeability. Mine’s already plenty compromised, and I used to use xanthan and guar all the time as appetite suppressants, until it got too painful.
Raw foodists love to use irish moss (raw, unprocessed carrageenan) in desserts. I had to quit using it because it gives me terrible digestive distress. I eat other sea veggies and never have that trouble. So imagine how much worse it can be when it’s been processed like that.

So my question is, what about the choline in lecithin, especially if you’re not eating eggs? Liquid lecithin doesn’t “taste good” in the traditional sense, but I find I crave it like crazy. I get non-chemically-extracted sunflower lecithin from here Isn’t choline another thing lecithin has in its favor?

I’m also curious for your take on Medicine Flower flavor extracts — Paleo or not, they’re evidently unheated and non-chemical–here’s what they say: “Our flavors are obtained through a proprietary technology conducted at temperatures below 118 degrees F. This process comprises a multi-stage extraction encompassing initial desiccation, lyophilization, CO2 and HFC extraction.” I don’t know as much as you do about these things. But when I use these, I suspect they cause food cravings, and I wonder whether that’s something about my own food-reward circuitry or whether it could be something physiological.

Thanks so much, and much admiration!

I am taking Biotics supplements and following the AIP, if I see modified cellulose gum in the ingredients list, this is a no then? Good supplements are so hard to find!

I have felt for quite some time now that these ingredients cause negative GI effects for me. I have been avoiding them and feeling much better. The main problem I am having is many supplements I take to aid digestion, contain cellulose. It makes it difficult to determine whether there is a net benefit to taking them when they contain this ingredient which causes problems.

I absolutely love reading your posts…I really wish all the other non-scientific b.s. out there wasn’t so people would get so confused. Thanks for your scientific honesty!

Wow. Interesting read! So thorough and explains possibly why I have felt the way I have after consuming some things I thought were “ok” to eat! Man! Thank you!!!

I am having a hard time finding supplements that don’t have ingredients I can’t have on AIP Paleo. The prenatal vitamin my doctor prescribed contains sunflower lecithin in it so should I find another one? Anyone have a suggestion as to a good AIP compliant prenatal vitamin with DHA? He also prescribed a few more supplements that have ingredients I can’t take and am having trouble findng replacements. The Calcium + D supplement contains Lecithin. The fish oil and Vitamin E contain refined soybean oil. The Beta Carotene cotains soybean oil and soy lecithin. I have been doing AIP Paleo for 10 months and don’t want to experience set backs due to my supplements. Is there a post on evaluating ingredients in medicine and supplements? It’s very frustrating.

Love your work…you don’t know how much you’ve helped me! I have found xantham gum to be a trigger for my son’s symptoms. Sometimes it’s hard to decide when we are at s party whether to give him a piece of wheat cake, versus gluten free with xantham gum…neither of which is a good choice on his low fodmap diet.
I often use supplements like have carnauba wax (like vitamin c ones). Is this a known gut irritator as well?? It’s hard because money is very tight, and I need to avoid what will irritate our guts, and this of course is in many of the more reasonably priced supplements. I know you get what you pay for, but should I spend the extra pennies to avoid this one?
Thank you for all you do. You have been such a blessing in my family’s life,

Wow what a women! Talking the real talk now; you’ve done your homework, and you are very aware of how the foods we eat can be absorbed differently when we have a small intestine that has a wound.

That is the true issue here; the “leaky gut” is the problem. Just like Bob Beck says “You can drink rattlesnake venom and it will not kill you, however get that venom into an ulcer or a cut and you’ll need the antivenom”.

This is very true and he was referencing the effects of Garlic (Anything in the Allium family to be exact; onions, scallions, etc). I found this out when I was in the hospital with encephalopathy because I thought chewing on a piece of Garlic would cure my tooth pain (infection).

Well it did help with the pain and infection but it hit my “leaky gut” and I was in the hospital with encephalopathy, and extreme brain fog.

And…. Believe me it was not herxheimer. It completely disrupted both hemispheres of my brain due to the sulfone-hydroxyl ion that Bob Beck states passes the blood brain barrier and disrupts the brain waves.

Completely making you waste any study time or something important you are learning/reading! Due to the fact it kills brain cells.

After learning this I never looked at foods the same way again… I even gave up nightshades (Tomato sauce and all! Hello Carrots and Beets “nomato” sauce!) because I noticed I smelled really bad after eating potato’s; I also lose weight eating potato’s or any nightshades (tomatoes take longer lol).

The “leaky gut”, whether from gluten damage or NAID damage; causes anemia.

One of the easiest ways to tell this is by the color of your fingernails.

White nails with a red band at the top, with no lunula. Is anemia; which means you are internally bleeding. This is more found in females due to menstrual cycle. However unless you are starving yourself of iron rich foods; it is safe to say your white nails are anemia induced from GI track bleeding (I guess liver flukes from bad seafood could contribute).

Once this happens, a lot of foods become allergens; as they enter your blood stream through the gut (leaky gut).

Now that we have that figured out!

I need to figure out how sweep this amazing “Paleo Mom” off her feet!

There are a lot of causes of anemia besides internal bleeding. Just as a for-instance, people with MTHFR mutations may not process vitamin B12 very well, and end up with anemia. (For that matter, leaky gut alone could probably cause that same issue, since good B12 levels are heavily dependent on the gut.)

I was deeply disappointed when I bought your book when it first came out and this information was not included. It was the one thing I could not find any definitive source of information on and I was eagerly hoping it would be in your book and I was surprised that some of these weren’t even mentioned at all in what I consider the “Bible” of Paleo books. Some websites have pushed these ingredients under the rug, so to speak, giving them surface attention, some advising to not eat foods containing these ingredients, but still somewhat vague why it was non-Paleo or providing flimsy reasons as to why they were so bad. But, finally, I’ve got a detailed explanation all in one spot for each of these gray area ingredients, so thank you for once again shedding light on another important topic.

What many readers have expressed is the fact that these ingredients are found virtually everywhere, even in the supplements and medications we use to get well. That is so frustrating and I wish manufacturers would find another way to enable us to take our supplements and vitamins without worrying about whether something we are taking is contributing to the very problem it’s supposed to be helping fix 🙁


I have been following the AIP from The Paleo Approach for almost 3 weeks now. I have had chronic back/abdominal pain for the past year and have had chronic constipation for as long as I can remember. About two months ago I started having arthritis symptoms as well as short random breakouts of red/itchy patches of skin. I have noticed an improvement in my arthritis symptoms and itchiness since starting the AIP, however they are not completely gone. The constipation is still a big issue (I think it has been worse with AIP).
I recently went to a functional medicine doctor who recommends that I use a protein powder (as well as a fiber powder) every day, which contains ingredients that are not allowed/ considered gray areas on the AIP (such as brown rice sweetener, rice protein, flaxseed flour, guar gum and gum arabic, and stevia leaf extract). I am nervous about using this because I do not want to reverse any progress I have made so far on the AIP. Would it be better to avoid this or is it possible this will not have that much of a negative effect?

Thanks so much.

Thank you so much for posting on these additives. I am new to AIP Paleo and found a coffee creamer at Whole Foods that I thought would be in line, but contains Xanthum gum. I also found some good recipes on line that are healthy. Thank you for the clarification!!

So many of my function medicine prescribed supplements (specifically the liquid ones from Apex Energetics) contain Xanthan Gum…. And one even includes Gur Gum as part of the “proprietary blend” !! Should i be pushing him to find other sources do you think? thank you in advance.

A good post which actually had the information I was looking for about these emulsifiers. Which, is unusual. However, I’m not sure that gelatin would work outside of baking. As a for instance: people say to make gravy you should use the reduction method. But that’s not gravy! Gravy is a mixture of fats, combined by an emulsifying agent. As of yet I have not yet found a suitable substitute for flour. Some things that claim to be flours come out grainy, others do not work to make a suitable compound, instead making a gravy that’s a mixture which quickly separates. Anyone have any luck with this?

Thanks for the article! 🙂 A couple of sections seem to have had their content disappear… The first paragraph describing carrageenan and one of the last talking about lecithin’s benefits. Are you able to add these back in, please? Thanks 🙂

I am getting extreme brain fog from drinking Silk Coconut milk which contains some of these gums. I will making this milk at home from now on. Just wanted to share in case someone else has this problem.

//Not when there’s great emulsifiers and binders out there to use in Paleo baking instead, whole food ingredients like egg, mustard, gelatin, and applesauce//

Well, eggs are pretty much the only thing on that list that are as effective in baked goods as the more processed emulsifiers, and a lot of people are allergic to them. So, while I’m totally on the same page with you regarding the “ick” factor of these additives, they didn’t arise in a vacuum; they came about because they DO fill a role that other ingredients weren’t filling.

Mustard, psyllium, chia, flax (all of which are AIP-illegal), and gelatin just don’t have the same effect as eggs, gluten, or gums. And applesauce even less so. It’s a very real frustration.

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