On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

No Worries About Salad-dressing Thickeners

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Please provide more information about the xanthan gum and cellulose gel that I find in my fat-free salad dressings. I tend to eat a lot of salad, and the dressings taste fine, but is there a reason to be concerned about eating these components on a regular basis? -- S.F., San Jose, California

DEAR S.F.: Dressing provides a flavor accent for the salad components, but to do this effectively, it must provide a light, easily distributed coating, and leave a pleasant mouth-feel. The two ingredients you mentioned serve these purposes in commercially produced dressing.

Xanthan gum is made from a specially fermented cornstarch syrup. It was created in the 1960s at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research station in Peoria, Illinois, as part of a project to find new uses for surplus corn. Xanthan gum helps to thicken foods’ texture and stabilize components in a mixture. It has proven to be quite versatile: Aside from salad dressings, it’s used in puddings, sauces, baked goods and desserts. Because it is made from corn, xanthan gum should be avoided by those who are allergic, but aside from that, there do not appear to be any problems associated with its use.

Cellulose gum is made from the fibrous cell walls of plants. It is a naturally occurring thickener used in dressings, ice creams and puddings.

Neither compound brings nutritional assets to the party, but they appear to be quite safe as food additives for use on a regular basis. Always read the rest of the ingredient list and the Nutrition Facts panel to see what else the product has to offer.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I was surprised to see a dietary supplement proclaim oxygen as one of its active ingredients. How could that work? If it does, would it be a concern that effectiveness diminishes with prolonged use? -- H.B., Walnut Creek, California

DEAR H.B.: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves by assuming effectiveness. Oxygen is essential for carbon-based forms of life due to the many ways that carbon and oxygen can react together, and in the process, absorb or release energy. Oxygen is also involved in other metabolic processes.

The supplement angle makes little sense, as the body is designed to take in and utilize its needed oxygen via a gaseous exchange in the lungs, not as a dietary supplement that comes in through the stomach. This is not a route to deliver oxygen to the body. While there may be legitimate products out there, the Federal Trade Commission has gone after such dubious claims in the past (see tinyurl.com/q9k8cvr).

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.