Whether it’s Keanu Reeves’ Matrix character Neo chewing gum while being trained by Morpheus, Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club” disinterestedly chewing away her boredom, or Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski” chewing during a fight: chewing gum is a significant part of popular culture. Chewing gum is a versatile product that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used to freshen breath, help people stay focused, or to add a touch of realism to a scene. It’s no wonder that chewing gum is so popular among celebrities and movie characters alike.
All too often, we think of chewing gum as a sweet treat, in the same way, we’d get cookies at the gas station or order a tiramisu after a lush Italian dinner. To be fair, chewing gum that contains sugar is part of that equation: while it does have benefits towards focus and memory retention, the fact that it contains sugar is bad news for your teeth since it has all the attributes that damage them. This is exactly why an increasing amount of chewing gum you see on the shelves of your local newsstand or grocery store is sugar-free.
Sugar-free gum uses xylitol as a sugar substitute. It is a sugar alcohol that is naturally found in some fruits and vegetables, such as berries, oats, and corn, which despite being 20% less sweet than sugar, has a similar texture and mouthfeel and is also a good source of fiber.
Overall, chewing gum has been proven to lead to improved focus. The authors of this 2015 study say that they found further evidence in support of an alerting effect of chewing gum, which was associated with heightened alertness both with and without cognitive performance. This echoes previous research associating the use of chewing gum to improve cognitive functions in both stressed and non-stressed test subjects: “Overall, the results suggest that chewing gum produces a number of benefits that are generally observed and not context-dependent.”
As a low-calorie stress reliever that is a good source of xylitol, we should see chewing gum not merely as a sweet treat used for dramatic effect in popular TV shows and movies but as a lifestyle product. In fact, the association of putting chewing gum next to chocolate bars and sugar-containing energy drinks is plausible to give many consumers a flawed perspective on the reality of sugar-free gum.
So when we ask the question of whether a health & wellness section should contain sugar-free gum as an additional mood booster that reduces stress and improves focus, the answer is ultimately: why not?
Elizabeth Hicks is a U.S Affairs Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.