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The Health Risks of Maltodextrin

author image Allison Adams
Allison Adams has worked as a registered dietitian since 1996. She began writing professionally in 2000, with work featured in a variety of medical publications such as "Women's Health Magazine" and the "New England Journal of Medicine." Adams holds a Master of Science in nutrition and food sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Health Risks of Maltodextrin
Flavored seasoning. Photo Credit BWFolsom/iStock/Getty Images

Maltodextrin is an artificial sugar (also known as a polysaccharide) that has a mild, sweet taste. It's usually created from corn and wheat but can also made from rice, potatoes and tapioca. While it's a commonly used food additive found in many types of packaged foods including seasonings, cake mixes and potato chips, the health effects of maltodextrin depend on the type and amount you consume. One type of maltodextrin is a simple carbohydrate. It contains calories and is used in supplements designed to provide a boost of energy. The second type -- resistant maltodextrin -- comes from the same source, but it goes through additional processing to make it indigestible. Resistant maltodextrin doesn’t provide energy, but it does deliver benefits similar to soluble fiber's. The term maltodextrin applies to any starch hydrolysis product containing less than 20 glucose units, and, for this reason, maltodextrin refers to a family of products instead of a specific product.

What Is Maltodextrin Used For?

The Health Risks of Maltodextrin
Weightlifting supplements. Photo Credit kostsov/iStock/Getty Images

Maltodextrin is produced by using enzymes or acids to break down starches like corn, potatoes and rice into smaller pieces. The end result is a white powder that is easily digested and delivers nearly 4 calories per gram. When it’s added to foods, maltodextrin thickens the product, prevents crystallization and helps bind ingredients together. It’s found in many food seasonings, especially ones with an artificial smoke flavor, and is also used to make carbohydrate supplements, which are marketed to athletes and bodybuilders who need the sugar for extra energy. The same plant-based starches can be put through an additional process that changes the type of bonds connecting one unit of sugar to the next, reports Medallion Laboratories. Your body doesn’t have the enzymes to break these new bonds, so this process turns regular maltodextrin into a type of maltodextrin that resists digestion. As a result, it's similar to dietary fiber and doesn't provide calories or affect blood sugar. Resistant maltodextrin is also used as a food additive, but it fulfills different roles than regular maltodextrin does. For example, resistant maltodextrin helps improve the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

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Is Maltodextrin Gluten Free?

The Health Risks of Maltodextrin
Most maltodextrin is made from corn. Photo Credit DAJ/amana images/Getty Images

In the United States, manufacturers primarily use corn, and in Europe, manufactures primarily use wheat. Wheat-derived maltodextrin may pose health concerns for individuals with celiac disease because of the gluten found in wheat-derived maltodextrin. However, in most cases, the maltodextrin production process completely removes the protein from the wheat resulting in a gluten-free wheat-derived maltodextrin. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, any FDA-regulated product that contains a common allergen, including wheat, must state it on the labeling as per the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. However, that act does not protect items regulated by the USDA, like meat, poultry and eggs.

Maltodextrin Health Risks

The Health Risks of Maltodextrin
Bloating is a side effect of maltodextrin. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Regular maltodextrin also has a high glycemic index rating, which means it can spike your blood sugar. While more research is needed in human subjects, studies using laboratory mice found that sugary maltodextrin promoted the growth of unhealthy bacteria, which damaged the intestine and increased the risk of inflammatory disease, according to a review in the journal PLoS One in July 2014. The consumption of maltodextrin has similar side effects and health risks as most food additives. These side effects include allergic reactions, unexplained weight gain, bloating and flatulence. Specific allergic reactions associated with the use of maltodextrin include rash, asthma, itching and difficulty breathing. If you experience any allergic reaction or other side effect after consuming maltodextrin, you should discontinue use and consult with a medical professional. If you're using maltodextrin supplements, depending on the brand you buy, they may have 200 to 250 calories per serving, plus more calories if you mix it with a caloric beverage such as fruit juice. If you’re not active enough to burn all the calories, maltodextrin supplements can lead to weight gain.

Resistant Maltodextrin Health Benefits

The Health Risks of Maltodextrin
Resistant maltodextrin can have intestinal benefits. Photo Credit SomkiatFakmee/iStock/Getty Images

Resistant maltodextrin is fermented by good bacteria in your large intestine, which produces energy and helps keep the acid-base balance in the best range for the intestine to work properly. It ferments at a slower pace than soluble fiber, so you’re less likely to experience side effects such as gas, reports ADM Specialty Food Ingredients. Resistant maltodextrin may help keep you regular by increasing stool bulk. It also supports the growth of good bacteria. When a group of men took supplemental resistant maltodextrin, they excreted significantly more good bacteria, which is a good indication that the number of bacteria in the gut had increased, according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

(Additional research and writing provided by Sandi Busch)

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