Special diets, like those for people with celiac disease or diabetes, are commonplace now. And more people are reading nutrition labels than ever before.
You might have noticed that some processed foods contain ingredients you probably can’t pronounce. Maltodextrin is one of those widely used, but little-understood food additives. So how are you supposed to know what it is and if it’s harmful to you?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about this additive.
Maltodextrin Is “Natural”
Foods labeled “natural” can be deceiving, and maltodextrin is no different. It’s derived from plants, but it’s highly processed. Generally, maltodextrin comes from corn, rice, or potato starch. It also can be made from wheat. The starches are cooked and then acids or enzymes are added to break it down further, before resulting in a white powder.
The FDA Says It’s Safe
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved maltodextrin as a safe food additive.
It Has Little to No Taste
Some sources claim maltodextrin is sweet, but that’s because it’s used in conjunction with artificial sweeteners. Alone, it has a neutral or slightly sweet taste.
It Can Be Found in Numerous Foods
Maltodextrin is used as a thickener or filler because it’s relatively cheap. You may see it on the following product labels:
- canned fruits
- instant puddings and gelatins
- salad dressings
- powdered drinks
- some sugar substitutes
You’ll also find this starchy additive in personal care items like lotions and hair care products.
It’s Generally Gluten-Free
People avoiding gluten are commonly told to stay away from “malt.” But maltodextrin is considered gluten-free even when derived from wheat. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the processing that wheat starches undergo in the creation of maltodextrin renders it gluten-free.
It Could Have Negative Effects on Your Gut Bacteria
Several studies have linked maltodextrin consumption to the suppression of “good bacteria” in the digestive system. This potentially puts people who consume a lot of the additive at risk for bacterial infections such as salmonella or E.coli.
It Will Affect Your Blood Sugar
Despite being only slightly sweet, if at all, maltodextrin is a carbohydrate. It will affect your blood sugar. This is an important thing for people with diabetes to remember.
However, some companies also make “resistant maltodextrin” by treating starch with heat, acid, or enzymes. Resistant maltodextrin functions as an isolated fiber and may help lower your blood sugar.
Athletes Like It
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in sports drinks. The body digests it as a simple carbohydrate. Some research shows that maltodextrin supplements can help maintain anaerobic power during exercise. However, other studies show no effect.
It Has the Same Calories Per Gram as Sugar
Maltodextrin has 4 carbohydrates per gram — the same amount as sucrose, or table sugar. Its glycemic index is higher than table sugar: 106-136.
Misinformation on Maltodextrin Abounds
In this age of over-information, it should come as no surprise that there’s misleading and conflicting information when it comes to maltodextrin. Product labels aren’t required to mention how much of the additive is included. Instead, it’s added to the total carbohydrate count.
Though some vouch for it as a good option for people with diabetes, it can affect blood sugar even more dramatically than table sugar, and should be counted towards your daily carbohydrate load.
Though the FDA generally recognizes maltodextrin as safe, it pays to know what this food additive is and how it may affect you. Found in numerous processed foods and drinks, the starchy filler is likely used in such small amounts as to have little effect on healthy people. However, people with diabetes and others who need to monitor their blood sugar levels should keep an eye out for this ingredient.