What is Dextrose and Why it’s in Your Food

Dextrose is a form of glucose derived from starches. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients in packaged foods because of its affordability and wide availability. Baking products and desserts often contain dextrose, but it may be used as an added sugar in any processed food that is sweetened by the manufacturer. Because the name varies depending on its original starch source, you may not realize a particular food contains dextrose.

Dextrose is added to foods to sweeten them. (Image: Debby Lewis-Harrison/Cultura/Getty Images)

All About Dextrose

Table sugar, or sucrose, is what most of us consider "sugar." But just because you aren't sprinkling sugar on your foods, or baking with it doesn't mean you aren't eating sugar. Sugar comes in many different forms.

One common type of sugar found in packaged and processed foods is dextrose. Dextrose is made when starchy plants -- primarily corn (and less commonly wheat or rice) -- are broken down into monosaccharides using enzymes, and to a lesser extent acids. Because it's from natural sources, dextrose is considered "natural," but it is still processed.

About 20 percent less sweet than sucrose, dextrose is commonly used as a sweetener in packaged and processed foods because of its affordability and wide availability. It has a pleasant 'cooling' taste that compliments the flavors of the foods it is used to sweeten, it helps dough to rise and brown, is known to enhance and stabilize food colorings, and can also extend the shelf-life of packaged foods.

Foods That Contain Dextrose

Dextrose can also be found in savory foods, like cured meats. (Image: ulkan/iStock/Getty Images)

Dextrose is added to foods to sweeten them, and also sometimes as a filler or a texturizing agent. Dextrose is used in sauces, cookies, cake mixes, candies, energy drinks, and frozen desserts. It may also be included in savory foods like cured meats, canned foods, pretzels, pickles and crackers. You may not realize a particular food contains dextrose because it can appear on a label under other names including corn sugar, wheat sugar, rice sugar, dextrose monohydrate, d-glucose, grape sugar and dextrose anhydrase.

Non-Food Uses for Dextrose

Dextrose has a high glycemic index, which means it quickly raises the blood sugar levels, so it's used in intravenous (IV) preparations and injections in hospital settings for low blood sugar and dehydration, and IV feeding. People who have diabetes might use dextrose tablets or gels to raise their blood sugar levels if they get dangerously low. When using dextrose, blood sugar levels should be closely monitored to prevent blood sugar from getting too high. Dextrose also is sometimes used by endurance athletes as a supplement to combat low blood sugar and replenish depleted glycogen during or after long intense workouts. It also can be used as a "carrier" in nutritional supplements.

Dextrose in Your Diet: Precautions and Side Effects

Dextrose is considered an added sugar. (Image: Coprid/iStock/Getty Images)

Because it is added to processed foods, dextrose is considered an added sugar. According to the American Heart Association, the average woman should get no more than six teaspoons of added sugars a day, and the average man should get no more than nine teaspoons daily. But most people consume approximately three to four times the recommended amounts of added sugars in their daily diet.

The side effects of excess sugars of all kinds have been linked to weight gain, cavities, lowered immunity, and an increased risk of many diseases – including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and even Alzheimer's disease.

When we eat carbohydrates, they're converted into a monosaccharide (simple sugar) called glucose, which provides energy to our cells. We release insulin to get the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. If excess sugars are consumed, they get stored – some in the muscles as glycogen, but the majority is stored as adipose tissue, or fat. Eating too much sugar over time can also lead to weight gain and a condition called insulin resistance, which means the glucose is not effectively being delivered to the cells and remains in the blood stream too long. This can lead to fatigue and an increased risk of many diseases.

Most dextrose is made from genetically modified (GMO) corn, using GMO enzymes. So for people who are concerned about or avoiding GMOs will want to look for organic or non-GMO on the label of any products that contain dextrose.

Like most sugars, dextrose is empty calories. The best way to avoid eating too much dextrose and sugar is to limit the amount of packaged and processed foods consumed, while getting more whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich plant-based foods.

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