I’m not sure why, but I’ve never been a big gum person. I’m no Violet Beauregarde.
Maybe it’s because I’m more of a chocolate kid myself.
But I’ve definitely chewed my fair share in the past. I’ve even swallowed a piece or too, as I’m sure many have even if we know we’re not supposed to.
But I just found out gum is actually made out of plastic.
According to About Education although gum was originally made from the naturally occurring latex sap of trees, along with a few other natural compounds including beeswax, that has not been the case for most chewing gum for quite some time. When scientists learned how to make synthetic rubber following World War II, these new compounds (polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate) have almost entirely replaced natural sources when it comes to chewing gum manufacturing.
The good news I learned from reading this About Education blurb is that, although “neither natural nor synthetic latex are readily degraded by the digestive system”, “if you swallow your gum it will almost certainly be excreted, usually in pretty much the same condition as when you swallowed it.”
So if you happen to swallow a bit you won’t be digesting much, if any plastic, plus you’ll almost definitely pass it naturally. So that’s good news.
But if you are a habitual gum swallower, like I know some of you are, you might hurt yourself. Too much gum buildup in your stomach can cause some real damage. So try not to swallow any.
But aside from all that, can you imagine what kind of chemicals from that plastic are mixing into your saliva as you chew? Not to mention those pieces here any that do happen to pass through your system. After learning the dangers of chemical exposure in things as innocuous as drinking bottles and canned foods , it’s kind of unnerving to imagine similar, unknown chemical compounds passing through your body.
As for polyethylene, it can also be found in items like plastic wrap, shopping bags, detergent bottles, and even automobile tanks.
Doesn’t look so tasty anymore, right?
And, on a larger scale, what about the fact that those pieces of gum are in fact non-biodegradable plastic? So once you’re done chewing it, it sits around. Forever. And, if it ends up in the ocean, you can bet fish will be taking a bite, since it will still retain traces of flavorings and colors that are attractive to fish. I’ve touched on this here.
And, while we’re talking about the impact of chewing gum don’t forget all the packaging involved in each piece of chewing gum. That all adds up too.
Just think about all the paper and plastic used to get each piece of gum into your mouth, never mind the resources wasted in productions and transportation. That all goes in the trash. And then the gum does too, after about 10 minutes or so. And they sit in landfills or float out to sea.
So how much is fresh breath worth?
Honestly, I’m not much of a breath mint fan either, but it seems preferable. You can often find them in tins, which can be reused or recycled, so they do ok by packaging standards.
I’m not going to dive into the chemical composition of breath mints today. I’ve had enough harsh truth for now and I’m fairly sure I’ll learn things I don’t really want to know. But I encourage people who do enjoy breath mints to look into it, since I think we all have a right to know what we’re putting into our bodies.
Almost every problem (I hope every!) has a natural solution. Fight bad breath through good old fashioned oral hygiene. If you’re as paranoid about chemicals as I am, and if you’re serious about reducing personal waste production, you can even make your own all natural toothpaste. This is the recipe I use from Kristin Michaelis on Food Renegade. I double the amount of essential oils, but everyone’s tolerance/enjoyment level is different, so feel free to experiment for what’s best for your mouth.
There are also various foods known to promote fresh breath and oral hygiene. Clove and cinnamon (used as essential oils for the recipe above) are both know to sweeten the breath and kill bacteria. Coconut oil also has antibacterial properties and many people like to use it for oil pulling, but that’s not exactly a habit for everyone. Mint, of course, is a great herb for fresh breath and digestive health, as is parsley. Here’s a few more.
If you’re having trouble kicking your oral fixation, try chewing licorice root. I don’t generally like the taste of licorice, but I find the natural flavor of the root pleasant and I personally think it sweetens the breath. On top of that, licorice root hosts a number of other natural benefits, including relief from menstrual cramps, weight reduction, and help with depression. The article in this link also mentions some potential health problems associated with overconsumption of licorice root, so like all good things, try not to overdo it.
I’ve also seen (though I haven’t tried any) various recipes floating around the internet on how to make all natural homemade cough drops. There are probably recipes for breath mints too, or you could try modifying recipes that you do find.
So I guess the long and short of it is that I’m officially off gum. Anyone care to join me?