High-fructose corn syrup, saccharin, sodium nitrate, potassium bromate — there's no shortage of food additives, making it especially hard to pick a gluten-free processed food.
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If you're following a gluten-free diet, maltodextrin — which is used as a thickener and preservative — is one additive you can eat without worry.
What Makes Maltodextrin Gluten-Free?
Food additives, sweeteners and preservatives are a kind of a gray area when it comes to gluten. Not only are they plentiful in almost every processed food, but the names of food additives (like maltodextrin) also don't give much indication of their gluten content.
Typically, maltodextrin comes from either corn, rice or potato starch, all of which are naturally gluten-free, according to the FDA. The additive is formed when starch from these foods is broken down with water, a process known as hydrolysis. Powdery, white maltodextrin is the result.
Considering it has "malt" in its name, it's logical to assume maltodextrin contains malt, a barley-derived ingredient that's not usually gluten-free, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
In some rare cases, maltodextrin can be made from wheat starch. But due to the levels of processing the additive undergoes, maltodextrin is generally gluten-free and safe to eat even when it comes from wheat, explains Shena Jaramillo, RD.
To be on the safe side, always double-check that the processed foods you buy are labeled Gluten-Free or Certified Gluten-Free.
For people who are extremely intolerant or sensitive to gluten, nutrition labels will often specify what type of starch was used to produce the maltodextrin, Jaramillo says. The type of food used in the additive's manufacturing process will be listed in parentheses in the ingredient list.
Gluten-Free Foods With Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is added to a variety of processed foods to either thicken products or prolong their shelf life, Jaramillo explains. Often, you'll find this ingredient in:
- Ready-to-drink coffee beverages
- Salad dressing
- Canned soup
- Frozen entrees
- Protein shakes
- Sports drinks
If you're buying a maltodextrin-containing product, that doesn't necessarily mean it's gluten-free, though. When buying any processed food, you'll want to first check the nutrition label and allergen listing to verify there are no other ingredients that contain gluten.
Is Your Diet Missing Certain Nutrients?
Once you've confirmed there are no other gluten-containing ingredients, look for a "Gluten-Free" label on the package, too. This label is regulated by the FDA and confirms that the food you're eating contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which is generally safe for anyone to consume.
Or, maybe the gluten-free salad dressing you're buying is labeled with a third-party seal. That means the food has been tested and verified by a qualified third party such as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and is denoted by a "Certified Gluten-Free" seal.
The GFCO tests hundreds of products and verifies they contain less than 10 ppm of gluten.
The Bottom Line on Maltodextrin
Though it may sound like it comes from malt (which is barley-based and contains gluten), maltodextrin is a gluten-free additive that's safe to eat on a gluten-free diet. However, it's good to be extra cautious: Always double-check that the processed foods you buy are labeled Gluten-Free or Certified Gluten-Free.