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O, for a stick of sugary gum!

Among the interesting things I learned while reporting this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about chewing gum's role in weight management was that those of us who prefer traditional sugar-sweetened gum to sugar-free are in the minority -- and, for the most part, out of luck.

Gilbert Leveille, executive director of the Wrigley Science Institute, told me that "Clearly the consumer preference has been for sugar-free gum," largely because of what he called the "perceived effect" of sugared gum on the increased incidence of dental caries (cavities, to you and me) in children. (That relationship, he noted, doesn't in fact hold true.) Nonetheless, it's increasingly hard to find a decent stick of sugar-sweetened gum on store shelves. Even Wrigley's traditionally sugared brands such as Juicy Fruit, Big Red and Doublemint now include, in addition to sugar, a tad of the artificial sweetener aspartame as flavor enhancer.

As I've written before, I don't care for artificial sweeteners. Whether they're safe to use or not, I just don't like the way they taste or feel in my mouth, and I don't enjoy the headache I often get after consuming them. I used to enjoy an occasional piece of sugar-sweetened gum; the little bit of sugar (10 calories' worth, as opposed to the 5 calories per stick in sugar-free gum) often was just enough to keep me from craving a bigger dose of sweets.

Sure, there are still sugar-laden gums on the market. But what grownup really wants to chew a big wad of Hubba Bubba or Bubble Yum? (Okay, this grownup, but only once in a great while....) In any case, even Wrigley's Hubba Bubba has artificial sweeteners now, too.

I find the mass switch to artificial sweeteners particularly interesting in light of Americans' apparent insatiable thirst for calorically sweetened (via sugar or, more often, high fructose corn syrup) sodas. We drink so much of the stuff that many experts think taxing sweetened sodas is a good way to attack the national obesity problem. It would appear that consumer preference is not quite as strong for sugar-free soft drinks.

Do you miss sugar-sweetened chewing gum? How do you reconcile the demand for sweetened sodas with the demand for artificially sweetened gum? While you're chewing on that, please take part in today's poll.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  November 10, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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I'm not sure the Wrigley Science Institute is all that impartial when it comes to the effects sugar has on teeth. In fact, I think the fact that there even is a Wrigley Science Institute sounds about as logical as a Fox Institute for Henhouse Studies.

Posted by: frymax | November 10, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Don't sugary gums foster bacterial growth, which, in addition to the important (but easily ignored) long-term impact on dental health, also cause the relatively unimportant (but oh-so-hard to ignore) problem of post-chew bad breath? I'm guessing that's the biggest reason for the sugar-free gum preference.

If all foods that were bad for you flagged themselves in such an immediate and socially embarrassing way, we'd all be a LOT healthier. Imagine if fatty foods made your skin break out -- right away -- rather than just clogging the unseen interior of your arteries.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 10, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Of course the gum companies want to use artificial anything--it's cheaper for them.

Posted by: janetgottlieb | November 10, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The regular sugar gum is also easier to get out of hair, clothing, shoes, etc. - you just freeze it or use ice cubes if you can freeze the item and then the gum hardens and you can peel most of it off. Not so easy for sugar-free gum.

Posted by: GALOSTinDC | November 10, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of type sugar vs sugar free gum chewing is very bad for your digestion and if you have reflux problems it aggravates them a hundred fold. Your stomach thinks it is about to be fed so it gears up acid production and apparently gets very angry when it finds it was fooled.

Posted by: breadmaker | November 10, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

There are still good sugary gums available --Teaberry, Clove, Beeman's, and Chiclets. Artificial sweetners can trigger an immediate seizure in sensitive people (like my epileptic daughter). Neurological symptoms are common from these sweetners. We found out the hard way when Wrigley started using it in BIg Red. My daughter put a stick in her mouth and spit it out immediately --then we checked the label --apparently 'new and improved' now means loaded with arificial sweetners.

Posted by: lakeviewhouse | November 10, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I chew Trident - the stick kind, not the whitening kind in the blister packs - which is sweetened with Xylitol, a natural sweetener. I have read that Xylitol is actually good for your teeth and breath because it fights bacteria. And I prefer the taste.

Posted by: dcnative71 | November 10, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I have recently noticed and been annoyed by a lack of boundaries when it comes to gum chewing. In my view, this is an activity performed at home, in the car, or in a casual setting like raking leaves or walking the dog.

I have observed people chewing gum in church, while attending a wake at a funeral parlor, answering the telephone at a place of business, while teaching aerobics, waiting tables, etc. Last year my daughter was in a play. The child who had won the coveted lead role was chomping gum throughout the scene. It was not part of the play; he was supposed to be a soldier in the Revolutionary War! His speech was incomprehensible. I was embarrassed for him and amazed that the adult directors of the production allowed him to take the stage with a big wad of bubble gum in his mouth.

Many gum chewers don't seem to realize how carried away they get. Trust me, your chomping is nasty to look at and unpleasant to listen to.

Posted by: newengland1 | November 10, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely agree with this. Sugar free gum, like most other products with faux sugars, gives me a stomachache almost instantly. The same with diet sodas and other non-sugar sweetened drinks. I tried to deny it for years, jumping on the Diet Coke bandwagon, until I realized its probably better for me to have a regular Coke once a week than 3 Diet Cokes a day. I know it feels a lot better!

Posted by: Sixy20 | November 10, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely hate artificial sweeteners. I hate the taste and the weird cooling sensation that they give. I don't buy chewing gum unless I can find some made with good old-fashioned sugar, but it's hard to find one of those. My flavor preference is cinnamon, and I wish Wrigley's never messed with the formula. Hmm, I wonder how can I make my own?

Posted by: fantasyjoker | November 10, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

i find bubble yum the most irresistible gum out there. What's not to love? The delicious, actual bubble gum flavor? Hardly. The juice that explodes in your mouth when you first bite down? Never. The fact that it's so cheap? My wallet can handle it. Or that just when I'm sick of chomping down on something like a cow, the gum loses flavor? To me, Bubble Yum is perfect. It used to be available everywhere. Today, i'm having a harder and harder time finding it and most times it's stale...

Posted by: deannajune | November 11, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Growing up, my mother said only a cow needs to be chewing constantly and that chewing gum was truly an indication of a lower social class and we were forbidden. Things have changed but I never chewed gum when I became an adult.

Posted by: llerehs | November 11, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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