Sugar has many names — 64, to be exact — and dextrose is one of them. If you do some sleuthing on nutrition labels, you might spot dextrose in foods, most commonly sweets, such as cookies, cakes or other baked goods.
Read more: What Is Dextrose and Why Is It in Our Food?
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What Is Dextrose?
Also referred to as corn sugar or d-glucose, dextrose is a common added sugar that's made when corn is broken down by acid or enzymes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In other words, dextrose is a simple sugar made from corn, says Atlanta-based Marie Spano, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian and a sports nutrition consultant for Olympic and professional athletes.
Not only are sweets like candy high in dextrose, but you'll find it in some sports nutrition products, too. The reason? It's a fast source of energy and can rapidly replace glycogen, or stored carbohydrates in muscles, Spano says.
"Dextrose raises blood sugar quickly," Spano says. For this reason, if a person with diabetes has high blood sugar, they should avoid foods and drinks with dextrose.
On the flip side, low blood sugar can also be common in people with diabetes, so dextrose is used in medical products created to help increase blood sugar quickly. Dextrose is also often used for intravenous nutrition in hospitals, Spano says.
Dextrose often falls into the added sugar category because it's used to sweeten foods or drinks, or enhance their flavors, when they are being processed, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dextrose is added to hundreds of foods, from pre-packaged pastries to sports drinks. Added sugars up the calories to your diet without providing nutrition, making it hard to eat a balanced diet or maintain a healthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, as Spano notes, the added sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes.
High-fructose corn syrup that is made up of half fructose and half dextrose is a common sweetening agent in breads and buns, according to UC Davis' LibreTexts, an open access textbook source. And, because dextrose is extracted in crystalline form, it has advantages over other types of sugar. It's often used on doughnuts because it can stay dry and is non-greasy.
Dextrose has other uses beyond simply being a sweetener. You'll notice it's on the ingredient list of McDonald's french fries. According to McDonald's, at certain times of the year, the potatoes used for fries have low levels of natural sugars, affecting their color and the way they cook. Dextrose is added if needed to give fries their golden color to help them cook evenly.
According to Spano and the University of Rochester Medical Center, these common foods can contain dextrose:
- Pre-packaged pastries and buns
- Sports and energy drinks
- Food coloring
- Seasoning mixes
- Dehydrated soups
- Canned peas
- Meat products like bologna and bacon
Read nutrition labels closely if you’re looking to avoid dextrose. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for those other 63 names for sugar, according to the CDC, including high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose, among others.
Does Dextrose Occur Naturally?
Dextrose is chemically identical to glucose, or blood sugar. In fact, the USDA uses dextrose and glucose interchangeably, Spano points out. Glucose can occur naturally, as a sugar molecule in substances like honey, according to LibreTexts.
But, while dextrose has the same formula as glucose, it's arranged differently, Spano says. Dextrose is also called d-glucose or l-glucose, and it is found in nature, but it's also produced industrially, not naturally, from corn and other starches such as potato, wheat, cellulose or tapioca through a process known as enzymatic hydrolysis, Spano says.
Naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits or milk are not considered added sugars, according to the CDC.
Read more: 15 Surprising Foods With Added Sugar
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: “CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21"
- Marie A. Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, Atlanta, Georgia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Know Your Limit for Added Sugars”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Food Data Central: “Glucose (Dextrose)”
- Mayo Clinic: “Added Sugars: Don’t Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners”
- UC Davis LibreTexts Chemistry: “4.1: 37-Sugar Chemistry (ADD US)”
- McDonald’s: “Why Do You Add Dextrose to Your Fries?”
- UC Davis LibreTexts Chemistry: "4.5: Glucose/Dextrose"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Corn-Free Diet”