Xanthan Gum in Protein Shakes (0-Cal Thickening Hack?)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: February 20, 2024
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I've heard a lot of colleagues and clients at the gym talk about Xanthan gum and adding it to protein shakes to make them thicker and more enjoyable.

I've often done this at home by blending protein powders with milk and a banana.

But using Xanthan gum was new to me, so I got our dietitian to help me out with some research and explain whether there are any downsides to this powder.

It turns out that it's more common than I thought, and there were a few surprises on that journey.

Quick Summary

  • Xanthan gum molecules interact with protein molecules, resulting in a thicker and creamier texture for protein shakes.
  • When used in protein shakes, xanthan gum helps bind different ingredients, thickening the shake, and is a gluten-free alternative to corn starch.
  • Xanthan gum is highly effective at relatively low concentrations. Even at concentrations as low as 0.1% to 0.5% by weight, it can significantly increase the thickness of a liquid.
  • In my opinion, adding Xanthan gum to protein shakes can be a great way to enhance their texture and potential health benefits, but it's essential to use it in moderation to avoid excessive thickening.

Can You Put Xanthan Gum In A Protein Shake?

Man Drinking water after workout

Based on a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), yes, you can put xanthan gum in protein shakes as the gum is considered safe for consumption, and it will effectively thicken the shake. Its solutions are neutral, and it does not produce harmful metabolites on digestion [1].

But I would generally recommend checking the label first to see whether this food additive is already included.

You can commonly find Xanthan gum in anything from baked goods, ice cream, and salad dressings in grocery stores to your favorite protein concentrate.

And because it's so common, you'd want to avoid adding too much to your protein powder as it could thicken up too much.

Technically, any protein powder without added flavor can work. Just go easy on it the first couple of times to get the blend right. Even a quarter of a teaspoon can have quite an effect.

What Does Xanthan Gum Do To Protein Shakes?

Male holding a spoon with powder

Xanthan gum is known for its ability to thicken and emulsify solutions, which is why it is commonly used in protein shakes to create a thicker, creamier texture.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when added to protein shakes, xanthan gum molecules interact with the protein molecules through hydrogen bonding, causing them to thicken and preventing them from precipitating [2].

Xanthan gum has three main effects on a whey protein shake that you can take advantage of.

It Thickens Protein Shakes

First of all, if you don't like those watery kinds of shakes you get when mixing certain types of protein powders with water, then Xanthan gum could be a great solution.

If you mix it up in a shaker or blender, you'll get a very thick shake that is smooth with an almost creamy texture. You'll find this works particularly well with an unflavored protein shake that probably doesn't have this food additive on the ingredients label.

It's a Gluten-Free Alternative to Cornstarch

Another common ingredient with a similar effect is corn syrup, but this is a really bad idea for athletes or anyone on a weight-loss mission. Not only will those simple carbs mess up your diet and weight loss, but corn syrup is also not gluten-free.

So if you need something to create thicker shakes in a gluten-free way to avoid stomach cramping, then stick with this alternative.

It Helps To Bind Different Ingredients

One of my favorite protein shakes is unflavored, and I like to add my own flavor recipes to get a 100% natural shake. But what can happen with a pure protein powder when you mix it with plant-based ingredients like chia seeds and peanut butter is that the ingredients quickly separate.

That results in a weird texture and taste. But just a small amount of Xantham gum, and I have a delicious peanut butter protein smoothie.

What Are the Benefits of Xanthan Gum?

Woman using measuring tape

My investigation demonstrated that one of the main benefits of Xanthan gum is the boost in weight loss, which the gum achieves by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Some might argue that it belongs to the sugar family, but it has almost no calories, and there have been some interesting studies.

A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that it has a link to managing diabetes [3].

But even if you don’t have diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels may play a key role in helping you maintain your ideal weight.

According to insights from a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it might help consistently reduce cholesterol levels [4]. Being able to support your heart health rather than cause problems with other types of sugar and fat is always a positive thing.

On top of that, another interesting study from the National Institutes of Health revealed that it might improve digestive health by making your bowels work more efficiently [5]. It's a unique combination of benefits that could make your shakes more effective.

“Guar gum is made from a seed native to tropical Asia, while xanthan gum is made by a microorganism called Xanthomonas Camestris that is fed a diet of corn or soy.”

- BobRedMill.com

Are There Downsides To Using Xanthan Gum?

Yes, bloating and gases can be the downsides to using Xanthan Gum.

As indicated by my tests, because Xanthan gum is a thickening agent, it may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort for people with digestive issues. Now, I would say that you'd probably have to take quite a lot of it to cause such issues.

Our dietitian said that, generally speaking, you should be fine with up to 15 grams of it per day and that the first sign of it not agreeing with you would be bloating and gas.

FAQs

Is Xanthan Gum Safe for Protein Smoothies?

Yes, Xanthan gum is safe for protein smoothies. It's suitable for combining protein powder and fruit with almond milk and avoiding any of the ingredients separating.

Should You MIX Xanthan Gum and Protein Powder in a Blender?

You can mix Xanthan gum and protein powder in a blender. If you plan on doing this, then I would say that you can use a little bit less than half a teaspoon as the blender will make the smoothie thicker anyway.


References:

  1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7009887/
  2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10157499/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4050722/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3549377/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8329363/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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