You may think it’s safe to chew sugar-free candy during a diet. But can you chew gum while fasting? The short answer is no, because the sweet note in your gum will spur insulin release in your pancreas, and this can kick you out of your fasting state. But if you’re a Christian fasting for prayer and supplication (as opposed to curated calorie counting), gum is fine.
Can You Chew Gum While Fasting?
The Question of Insulin vs Glucagon
Insulin and glucagon are hormones that are both produced in your pancreas. Insulin is made by beta cells while glucagon is made by alpha cells, and they both help your body regulate its blood sugar levels. But insulin and glucagon work in opposite ways. Insulin reduces blood sugar by facilitating glucose absorption in your cells. This happens in your mitochondria.
Conversely, glucagon raises your blood sugar by breaking down glycogen into glucose. This may seem puzzling, so let’s dig a little deeper. When you consume carbs, your body digests them into glucose, which is the preferred fuel source, because it’s the easiest to process. The glucose your body doesn’t use gets temporarily stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles.
If there’s still more glucose to spare, it gets converted to fat for long-term storage. That’s the key difference between glycogen and fat. Human systems get their fuel from ATP, which means Adenosine Triphosphate. It’s like the gas in your car or the juice that charges your smartphone battery. Your body synthesizes ATP from the proteins, carbs, and fats you eat.
Carbs are the easiest raw material for ATP. Your body can digest protein into glucose, but that takes more time, energy, and resources, so your body will only use protein for energy when it has no carbs available. That’s why when you get sick – and as you age – your muscles start to waste away as your body metabolizes its stores of protein and short-term glycogen.
Feasting and Fasting
Religious fasting is done to get closer to God, to honor Allah, or to make a specific request for divine assistance. When Muslims fast for Ramadan, they’re celebrating the revelation of the Quran to Prophet Mohammed, and they can’t eat or drink during daylight hours. So they can’t chew gum. When Catholics fast for Lent, they’re honoring the 40-day fast of Jesus.
This is a partial fast where meat is avoided and is similar to Jews avoiding yeast during Passover. Some Protestants have periods of prayer, supplication, and intercession that are meant to be secret and stay between you and God. In such cases, gum and water are fine. But most people who worry about chewing gum while fasting are doing it for lifestyle purposes.
This probably means they practice intermittent fasting for fat burning, weight loss, and maybe autophagy. The emphasis is on cutting carbs and calories, so anything sugar-free seems safe. This is where the controversy begins because some scientists argue that insulin cancels out glucagon and vice versa. So chewing gum can interfere with your ketosis.
Once ketosis gets disrupted and your body is burning glucose again, it can take another 3 to 4 days of fasting to restart the fat burning. Given this possibility, intermittent fasters should stay away from sugar-free gum or even sweeteners like stevia and aspartame when they’re fasting. If the sweetness triggers insulin release, it will reverse the process of ketosis for a bit.
Type of Fast
Can You Chew Gum While Fasting?
|Muslims During Ramadan||No, since nothing should pass your lips during daylight hours, not even water, and gum might make you swallow saliva. But you can chew gum after dusk for fresh breath.|
|Catholics During Lent||Yes. Catholics generally avoid meat, and/or they can choose an item that they wilfully avoid, but gum is fine.|
|Protestants During Prayer||Yes. Protestants are expected to fast with privacy and continue their everyday activities. Ideally, no one should know they’re in a fasting period, so chewing gum is fine.|
|Diabetics Managing Insulin||No, because chewing gum can trigger salivation and insulin release, and that messes with the blood sugar balance. It could cause diabetic shock, crashes, or comas.|
|Intermittent Fasting||No, because chewing gum can trigger insulin, which can disrupt ketosis. You want your body to burn protein and fats, not glucose. Chewing gum awakens your insulin.|
|Pre-Surgical Fasting||Yes, if the gum is sugar-free. The idea is to avoid food or drinks that may choke you once your stomach, throat, and digestive muscles are paralyzed by anesthesia.|
The Keto and Paleo of Things
Keto and paleo diets are both low in carbs and high in proteins and fats, though paleo allows complex carbs. The idea behind both lifestyles is to train your body to draw its energy from fats and proteins rather than carbs. The body needs to work harder to digest proteins and fats, which means you burn calories more slowly and accumulate less fat over the long term.
The fats and proteins you consume will serve as carb substitutes, and you can combine these diets with intermittent fasting. In case you’re unfamiliar, intermittent fasting is when you limit your feeding hours. A common pattern in 16/8, where you starve fast for 16 hours then spread out all your meals for the day within the remaining 8 hours, typically noon to 8 pm.
During your fasting period, your body will ideally dig into your fat stores and use them to make ketones. These ketones will be used instead of glucose, and as the fat stores get used up, your body starts to look slimmer and your muscle tone pops. You end up looking lean and trim, and if you have a complimentary exercise regime, you’ll get shredded fairly fast.
Ketosis does produce a distinct scent and an unpleasant mouthfeel, so you’ll be tempted to reach for the sugar-free gum. But remember, during your fasting periods, your body relies on glucagon (for glycogen) and ketosis. And insulin isn’t just triggered by glucose itself. If you taste anything sweet, even if it’s sugar-free, your body will start releasing insulin to prepare.
In reality, even smelling or thinking about food can cause salivation and trigger insulin. But actually ingesting a sweetener in your sugar-free gum (or stevia in a calorie-free drink) will produce more insulin than any aroma or fantasy. The level of insulin released by your gum may be negligible, but it can still be enough to interfere with ketosis, so you’d better not…
Chewing Gum and Your Appetite
The funny thing about statistics is you can twist them either way. A study that shows 50% of people like blue could also show that 50% of people hate blue – it’s all about interpretation. And the chewing gum factor faces the same flaw. Some studies say if you chew gum for 45 minutes, you’ll be less hungry at your next meal. Others say gum increases hunger pangs.
Let’s look at what we’ve learned so far. Sugar-free gum carries no calories, so technically, it won’t interrupt your fast. But chewing gum makes you swallow saliva, and it also triggers your digestive juices and other enzymes like insulin. So as your brain and body prepare for food and none is forthcoming, your system may send hunger signals to speed up the process.
From the perspective of your brain and digestive system, the gum says it’s time to eat, so if you’re not cooperating by bringing on the food, your mind stimulates your appetite to make you get up and find food. This will make it significantly harder to maintain your fast. You can dodge that psychological pitfall by tossing the sugar-free gum and sipping unsweetened ACV.
You can also drink unsweetened lemon water. Use a recipe that dissolves a tablespoon or two or fresh-squeezed lemon juice into plain water. No honey, no sweeteners, no additives. And don’t go for store-bought lemon water, sports drinks, flavored water, or energy drinks, since they’re likely to carry some inadvertent carbs. Think of your body’s built-in fasting patterns.
When you’re asleep, you’re not consuming or chewing anything. Instead, your body is using glucagon to metabolize those short-term glycogen stores and keep your cells functioning. It also takes this time to repair tissues damaged during the day. Fasting periods during the day can mimic some of these processes. If you nudge your insulin supply, you mess with things.
The Diabetic Debate
Diabetics can either be insulin-dependent (type 1) or insulin-resistant (type 2). In both cases, it’s essential to keep blood sugar levels normal. Type 1 diabetics inject insulin 2 to 4 times a day, and chewing gum can lethally disrupt this cycle. Type 2 diabetics have insulin – they just can’t use it, so they must adjust their eating and exercise habits to manage blood sugar.
For these groups of people, chewing gum can spike their insulin levels and cause serious health problems. So if you’re diabetic, leave the sugar-free gum for feeding periods. You can have one after a snack to freshen your breath, but avoid chewing gum between meals since it will affect your insulin sensitivity. As for intermittent fasting, stay away from chewing gum!
It may seem benign since it has zero calories, but by stimulating insulin release, it interferes with ketosis and draws your cells towards carbs instead of protein or fats. And while you’re at it, stay away from aromatic spots filled with good food. Remember, scent is particulate, so microscopic bits of goodness are sneaking into your nose, tummy, and brain in the process!
These invisible particles aren’t enough to feed your fat cells, but they can trigger insulin. And worse, they can weaken your resolve to avoid snacking while you’re fasting! Instead, carry a bottle with a tart, unsweetened beverage like lemon water, apple cider vinegar, leek water, or even celery juice. These drinks have minimal carbs, no sugar, and will not sabotage ketosis.
So … Does Chewing Gum Break a Fast?
Yes. The sweet flavor triggers insulin release, and that breaks the fast and disrupts ketosis. The insulin may not be enough to store fat, but it makes you hungry, then you’ll want carbs!