Articles & News

Xanthan Gum: What is it, and why does it matter for those with dysphagia?

A healthcare professional points to a piece of paper as she discusses xanthan gum with a male dysphagia patient

For years, starch has been used to thicken beverages for patients with dysphagia. While starch-based thickeners serve an important role and are readily available to most people, more recently, xanthan gum-based thickeners have entered the market.  They deliver many important attributes that help improve quality of life for people with dysphagia.

What is starch?

Modified cornstarch used for dysphagia nutrition contains high levels of amylopectin, a polysaccharide that breaks down into simple sugars when consumed.  When added to a beverage or food, starch crystals swell, absorbing water and building viscosity.

What is xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum is also a polysaccharide.  Its structure contains a cellulose backbone with branches of the sugars galactose and mannose. Like starch, it also builds viscosity over a wide variety of temperatures.  Unlike starch, it does not break down into simple sugars when consumed.  Recently, producers have started clarifying xanthan to make it more transparent and aid in its functionality for dysphagia patients. Xanthan gum is used in our Clear Advantage®  line of pre-thickened beverages.

Here are five reasons why xanthan is revolutionary as a thickening agent:

  1. Xanthan gives a more stable viscosity than starch. Once it achieves its optimal viscosity, your food or beverage will be ready for consumption at the consistency that you want it.
  1. Xanthan is stable across a variety of conditions, enduring varying pH levels and temperatures. It can be used to thicken a wide variety of beverages with better results than starch.  It can be heated, frozen and thawed without significant changes to viscosity.  This provides the option to safely enjoy everything from a glass of ice water to your favorite hot beverage.
  1. Both starch and xanthan serve to reduce the risk of aspiration. A key difference, though, is that xanthan is not affected by amylase, an enzyme present in saliva that breaks starch down into simple sugars.
  1. Xanthan is clear, clean and smooth in both flavor and texture, making thickened beverages more appetizing to patients. Beverages thickened with xanthan stay true to their taste.
  1. Xanthan is versatile – it can be mixed into several flavored beverages and even broths, meaning dinning can be enjoyable and safe. With xanthan, water, tea, soup, coffee, and even a glass of wine are back on the menu.

So, raise a glass to continued innovation in thickeners and to improving the lives of people with dysphagia, one thickened beverage at a time.

Shop online or find a retailer near you.