Your Complete Guide to Keto Xanthan Gum Substitute

When you’re following an ultra-low-carb diet such as Keto you might be at a loss as to what you can use in place of flour or cornstarch in your cooking and baking. If you’ve been searching for a gluten-free thickening agent for one of your favorite recipes you’ve probably stumbled across xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a very popular gluten-free substitute in many low-carb and vegan recipes; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s Keto friendly. Read on to discover what xanthan gum is, why you’d use it and what you can use in its place for your Keto recipes.

What is xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum is a gluten-free powder that many people use in place of cornstarch and flour to thicken their cooking and baking. It’s a common ingredient in a lot of sauces, dressings and soups and you’ve probably eaten it without knowing it since it’s often found in yogurt, syrups, jello and ice cream products.

Xanthan gum is created in a lab and it’s not a naturally occurring substance. When scientists combine various sugars from corn, soy and wheat with some micronutrients and allow a bacterium known as Xanthomonas campestris the by-product is a fibre gel. This gel is then dried and ground up in order to turn it into the powder that you know as xanthan gum.

Xanthan gum, once added to a liquid, dissolves and re-forms its gel-like properties. This helps bind together the molecules of the liquid it was dissolved into which helps stabilize, thicken and suspend the solution. This is why it’s a popular addition to many soups and stews. On its own, xanthan gum doesn’t have any nutritional value which means that it’s also fairly tasteless.

The reason that xanthan gum is so popular with anyone who has a gluten-allergy or who’s following a low-gluten diet such as Keto is that xanthan gum is made up of soluble fibre. Fibre moves through the digestive tract without being absorbed by the body which means that it doesn’t count towards your net carbs. So xanthan gum won’t affect your carb count if you chose to use it in your Keto baking or cooking.

Why would you use xanthan gum?

Why would you choose to use xanthan gum in your Keto baking and cooking? Well, as previously mentioned, xanthan gum doesn’t have any carbs. A typical soup or stew recipe will ask you to add cornstarch, flour or some other thickening agent to the meal at some point in time. When you’re following a Keto diet you can’t afford to waste net carbs on thickeners such as cornstarch so a gluten-free thickener like xanthan gum fits the bill nicely.

In addition to its use in soups and stews, you can also use xanthan gum to thicken up your smoothies and shakes so that they’re uniformly thick and more pleasing to drink. If you’re trying to make your own Keto-friendly condiments you can add some xanthan gum to your recipes to make them less watery and more uniform. It can also act as a pseudo-emulsifier to hold ingredients together that don’t usually mix well such as oil and water. This comes in handy if you’re trying to make your own Keto-friendly salad dressing or even when you’re making Keto ice cream.

When you’re baking regular bread you have gluten that will help your dough rise. This means that Keto-friendly bread sometimes has a flatter, less bubbly dough. Xanthan gum can help replace the gluten in your Keto dough recipes in order to make your bread and buns rise and get fluffy the way regular bread does. This can help you mimic the feel and taste of a regular slice of bread which can be important in helping you stick to a Keto diet if you find yourself pining for a fluffy bite of carb-filled bread.

Benefits of xanthan gum

Despite being made in a lab, there are some possible benefits of using xanthan gum. A lot of these benefits revolve around the fact that xanthan gum is a soluble fibre, which many of us don’t get enough of through our daily diet. The struggle to get enough fibre on the Keto diet is especially important as a lot of the fibre we used to get came from carb-rich foods such as pasta, bread and oatmeal.

One of the benefits of xanthan gum is how it stabilizes your blood sugar levels by slowing down your digestion. Now anyone on the Keto diet already has a head-start on stabilizing blood sugar levels due to the absence of the sugar crashes that accompany high carb meals. However, because xanthan gum clings to the food it’s mixed with it can help regulate your blood sugar levels even more and give your digestion time to properly work through your meal.

Increasing your soluble fibre intake can also help lower your cholesterol levels and improve your regularity. Fibre helps draw more water into your intestines in order to make your stool softer and easier to pass. This allows you to have more frequent bowel movements as well as less painful ones. There’s also some research being done into the cancer-fighting properties of xanthan gum. Although the research has only been done on mice, it appears as though there may be some connection between an increased immune response that shrinks tumors and a diet that includes xanthan gum.

Possible side effects of xanthan gum

Because xanthan gum is 100% man-made in a lab there are some legitimate concerns as to how healthy it really is for you. One of the goals of clean Keto is to stay away from processed foods and additives and at first glance, this would include xanthan gum as well. The main complaints surrounding xanthan gum seem to come when someone has ingested a very large quantity of the additive. When this happens the person tends to experience digestive upset and changes in the bacteria in the gut. However, if you’re worried about these side effects you can probably avoid them fairly easily by making sure you keep your daily xanthan gum consumption under 15g.

The other thing that might put you off of xanthan gum is the other places it can be found. The unique emulsifying and thickening properties of xanthan gum mean that it has uses outside of the kitchen. There’s a very good chance that if you have toothpaste, makeup, shampoo, conditioner or creams and lotions then you already have xanthan gum in your home.

On top of its use in these cosmetic products, it’s also found in some nastier places such as adhesives, wallpaper, paint, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, toilet bowl cleaner, tile cleaner and grout cleaner. This can be enough to put a lot of people off using xanthan gum in their foods. There’s something about knowing that you’re ingesting an ingredient that’s also found in your toilet bowl cleaner and pesticide that makes you want to choose a different product.

Xanthan gum on the Keto diet

So knowing what you do about xanthan gum, is it Keto-friendly? The short answer is, yes. There’s nothing in xanthan gum that would prevent you from using it with Keto. In fact, it can be quite helpful in Keto baking in order to make bread rise and taste similar to traditional bread. It’s also helpful with recipes for soups, stews and the filling in meat pies that call for cornstarch. 

That being said, just because you can use xanthan gum on Keto doesn’t mean that you should. If the other uses for xanthan gum put you off or if you’re focusing on natural, whole foods that aren’t processed or made in a lab then you’ll probably want to avoid it. On Keto, it’s important to focus on foods that provide the essential nutrients that your body needs. Cutting out carbs can cut out nutrients and it can be all too easy to become malnourished on Keto if you aren’t paying attention to what foods you’re eating. This means that adding food that doesn’t add any nutrition probably isn’t in your best interest.

In the end, the choice to add xanthan gum to your Keto diet or opt for a substitute will be entirely based on your own personal preferences. The good news is, there are plenty of Keto friendly substitutions that you can make for xanthan gum.

Substitutes for xanthan gum

  • Guar gum: This substitute is very similar to xanthan gum. It’s made up of soluble fibre and doesn’t have any net carbs. Instead of being sourced from soy, wheat or corn products (which might be GMO), guar gum is sourced from an Asian bean known as the guar bean which means that it’s both gluten-free and non-GMO. It’s worth mentioning that guar gum doesn’t retain its properties when placed under heat so it’s best to use this in recipes that contain only cold ingredients.
  • Gelatin: This is a popular xanthan gum substitute for people on Keto because it’s sourced from animals. Made from the collagen that’s in animal tissues, gelatin creates a jelly-like substance that is most popularly known for the role it plays in solidifying jello.
  • Agar agar: Agar agar is very similar to gelatin except it’s made from seaweed so it’s a good option for anyone who’s both a vegan and following a Keto diet. There’s no flavor to this substitute so it’s easy to mix into recipes in order to bind your ingredients together.
  • Psyllium husk seeds: This powder is made from ground up psyllium husks and it makes a great substitute for xanthan gum. It’s one of the best Keto-friendly options for adding a more traditional texture to bread. It can be substituted 1-1 for xanthan gum. It can also be used in soups and stews as a thickener.
  • Flax seeds: When ground up, flaxseeds are an excellent option for use in smoothies and Keto-baking. You need twice as much ground flaxseeds as you do xanthan gum so you go through this ingredient a little faster, but it’s one of the best ways to bind your ingredients together when you’re baking.
  • Chia seeds: Chia seeds need to be mixed with water in order to create a jelly-like substance. They can be used in smoothies and shakes to add texture and thickness; however, you can also use them in your Keto baking. Water and chia seeds are commonly used in vegan recipes in place of eggs to help bind ingredients together.

Conclusion

Xanthan gum can be a great substitute for cornstarch and gluten when you’re trying to cook or bake on Keto. However, if you don’t like some of the potential gastrointestinal side-effects or the fact that it can be used in some rather unsavoury places then there are plenty of Keto friendly substitutes that will work just as well.

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