Maltodextrin is a white, starchy powder that manufacturers add into many foods to improve their flavor, thickness, or shelf life.

Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in packaged foods, such as pastries, candies, and soft drinks. When it is present, it will usually feature on the food label. Athletes may also use maltodextrin as a carbohydrate supplement.

Many people believe that maltodextrin is harmful to health. However, organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state it is a safe additive for food.

This article talks about the benefits and dangers of maltodextrin and which foods contain this ingredient.

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Maltodextrin is a white powder that is relatively tasteless and dissolves in water. It is an additive in a wide range of foods, as it can improve their texture, flavor, and shelf life.

It is possible to make maltodextrin from any starchy food, including corn, potato, wheat, tapioca, or rice. Although the powder comes from these natural products, it then undergoes processing.

To make maltodextrin, manufacturers put starch through a process called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis uses water, enzymes, and acids to break the starch into smaller pieces, resulting in a white powder consisting of sugar molecules.

People with celiac disease should be aware that maltodextrin can contain traces of gluten when wheat is the source of the starch. However, according to the National Celiac Association (NCA), maltodextrin is gluten-free. Typically in the United States, it is made from corn starch and not wheat. However, the NCA also states that despite the starting ingredient, maltodextrin is still considered gluten-free as it is processed enough that it should not raise the gluten level in otherwise gluten-free foods.

In edible products, this powder can help by:

  • thickening foods or liquids to help bind the ingredients together
  • improving texture or flavor
  • helping to preserve foods and increase their shelf life
  • replacing sugar or fat in low calorie, processed foods

Maltodextrin has no nutritional value. However, it is a very easy-to-digest carbohydrate and can provide energy rapidly. Due to this, manufacturers add this powder to many sports drinks and snacks.

Which foods contain maltodextrin?

Many people eat maltodextrin every day without realizing it. Foods that often contain maltodextrin include:

  • pasta, cooked cereals, and rice
  • meat substitutes
  • baked goods
  • salad dressings
  • frozen meals
  • soups
  • sugars and sweets
  • energy and sports drinks

Some manufacturers also add maltodextrin to lotions, hair-care products, and livestock feed.

According to the FDA, maltodextrin is a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additive.

However, if a person eats too many products that contain maltodextrin, their diet is likely to be high in sugar, low in fiber, and full of highly processed foods. This type of diet can increase a person’s risk of high cholesterol, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes.

Research has also linked maltodextrin with possible health risks.

Maltodextrin and diabetes

Maltodextrin has a higher glycemic index (GI) than table sugar. This means that maltodextrin can cause a sharp increase, or spike, in people’s blood sugar shortly after they eat foods that contain it.

A spike in blood glucose can cause potentially serious issues for people with diabetes or insulin resistance. This mainly occurs if blood glucose levels stay high for a long period or get to a very high level.

A high GI means that the sugars in these foods will quickly enter the bloodstream, where the body will absorb them. In contrast, complex carbohydrates, which include beans and whole-wheat pasta, are more healthful because the body absorbs them slowly.

Affects gut bacteria

Evidence suggests that maltodextrin may affect the balance of gut bacteria, which play an important role in people’s health.

Research from 2015 suggests that people who consume maltodextrin may have a reduced number of good bacteria and an increased quantity of harmful bacteria. This could potentially lead to intestine damage and a higher risk of inflammatory bowel diseases.

One study has shown that maltodextrin increases the activity of Escherichia coli bacteria, which may have a role in the development of the inflammatory bowel disease known as Crohn’s disease.

Another study from 2014 has linked maltodextrin to the survival of Salmonella bacteria, which may cause gastroenteritis and a broad range of chronic inflammatory conditions.

Allergies or intolerances

Many food additives can cause allergies or intolerances. Side effects may include allergic reactions, weight gain, gas, flatulence, and bloating.

Maltodextrin may also cause a rash or skin irritation, asthma, cramping, or difficulty breathing.

The primary sources of maltodextrin will be corn, rice, and potato, but manufacturers may sometimes use wheat. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should be aware that, although the production process will remove most of the protein components, maltodextrin derived from wheat may still contain some gluten.

Genetically modified (GM) ingredients

GM corn, which is a genetically modified organism (GMO), is a common source of maltodextrin.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in 2014 that GMOs are safe to consume.

However, GMOs may be harmful to the environment or people’s health because of the increased use of herbicides and pesticides on GMO crops. There is also a chance that the genetically modified material can get into wild plants and animals, or into the human body through the diet.

Many people believe that there is a link between GMOs and various health conditions, including cancer, kidney problems, Alzheimer’s disease, antibiotic resistance, allergies, and reproductive issues.

There is little evidence that this is true, though some believe that the lack of evidence could be partly due to the censorship of GMO research. The Environmental Sciences Europe journal published an article in support of this theory in 2014.

Maltodextrin is an inexpensive and effective food product that can improve the texture, taste, and shelf life of foods.

Many athletes and people who want to gain muscle or body weight use products containing maltodextrin as it is a rapid source of energy.

People who are concerned about their maltodextrin intake may wish to choose alternative foods that provide healthful nutrients. This can help people to avoid blood glucose spikes.

Other food additives that thicken or stabilize foods include guar binding gum and pectin, which is a carbohydrate that manufacturers extract from fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Manufacturers may also use tapioca starch and arrowroot starch as thickeners.

People should also look out for flavoring alternatives to maltodextrin on product labels. These include sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and erythritol, and sweeteners, such as stevia.

Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than maltodextrin and a lower impact on blood sugar levels. However, some people may find that they cause bloating and flatulence.

Stevia has no calories and little effect on blood sugar levels. However, some products include a blend of stevia and either maltodextrin or dextrose, and this blend can affect blood sugar levels.

People use maltodextrin as an artificial food additive or a carbohydrate supplement to boost energy levels and performance.

Experts consider it to be safe for the majority of people, although it may also carry some risks, particularly for people with diabetes. People may prefer to choose products that use alternative food additives, such as pectin.

Eating too many processed foods with additives can cause health problems. Instead, it is best to aim for a more healthful diet of whole grains and vegetables to boost gut, brain, and heart health.