You may have heard that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." Simple, actionable nutrition advice – what's not to like? Of course, while apples are nutritious, studies actually can't find a link between apple consumption and fewer doctor visits.

On the other hand, minty fresh research out of my lab and published in the Journal of the American Nutrition Association shows a link between sugar-free gum and better diet, making a strong case for sugar-free gum in your grocery basket.

Our team of Tufts University researchers drew on data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an important tool the Centers for Disease Control uses to better understand health conditions and nutritional status of Americans.

NHANES data is also an invaluable resource for the scientific community's research on such topics as measuring blood-lead levels, pediatric growth evaluations, and asthmatic lung function.

We identified three important results from the chewing of sugar-free gum.

First, chewing sugar-free gum is associated with a better diet. Participants who reported chewing gum within the previous 24 hours also reported a diet that more closely adhered to national dietary guidelines than participants who did not chew gum.

Specifically, chewing sugar-free gum is associated with reduced added sugar intake and reduced snacking. Science suggests that chewing gum boosts metabolism – but even better, it reduces a person's appetite for snacks, and particularly sweet snacks, in-between meals.

Chewing gum before eating has been shown to decrease calorie-heavy meals and lower intake of added sugars, thus improving one's overall diet.

Finally, because chewing sugar-free gum is associated with less sugary meals and less snacking, we see potential for chewing sugar-free gum to help build healthier lifestyle habits, so that better choices and healthier diets don't just happen in a vacuum. They stick.

Chewing gum is not a miracle cure; however, our study is just the latest to show its surprising benefits. And not just for diet and less sugar intake, but for your overall health.

Studies show that it protects tooth enamel and significantly reduces tooth decay. It matters because oral disease is associated with a number of serious chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. It is also linked with mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.

More research is needed to better understand exactly WHY sugar-free gum has these effects. Nevertheless, the implications are important for the healthcare community, nutritionists, and the general public to implement in professional and personal practices.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has a role to play in bringing these benefits to people across diverse communities. This Committee will spend most of 2024 putting together its advisory report, which will inform the soon to be updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

While current dietary guidelines are designed to showcase things we consume, sugar-free gum deserves attention because it clearly can play an important role in reducing some of the unhealthiest and yet common habits.

The DGA guidelines don't claim that apples have anything to do with doctor visits, but they do explain that apples are a nutrient-dense food that can go a long way towards encouraging consumption of a healthy diet.

What that means is that while "an apple a day" has a nice ring to it, sugar-free gum has real science behind its health benefits.

That's good information for our nation's healthcare professionals and policy-makers to chew on – and everyone else, too.

Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, is Principal and CEO at the Think Healthy Group and an Adjunct Associate Professor at George Washington University and Tufts University. Follow on Instagram: @DrTaylorWallace