What Is Dextrose and Why Is It in Our Food?

What do J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain and sugar have in common? They're all recognized as their pen names. But unlike Joanne Rowling and Samuel Clemens, sugar masquerades under way more than one title — including the scary-sounding dextrose.

Dextrose is a common added sugar found in many of your favorite baked goods. (Image: Halfpoint/iStock/GettyImages)

What Is Dextrose?

Dextrose is a common type of added sugar that's made when corn is broken down with acids or enzymes before it's crystallized, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Simply put, dextrose is the sugar derived from corn and it is chemically identical to glucose, or blood sugar. Sucrose, commonly known as table sugar, is made up of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. High-fructose corn syrup contains roughly half fructose and half dextrose, according to Chemistry LibreTexts.

Although dextrose is derived from plants and is considered a "natural" product, that doesn't mean you can eat it with abandon. While dextrose isn't directly harmful to your health, understanding the long-term effects of added sugar can help you get a better handle on your intake.

Foods High in Dextrose

Dextrose is often used in doughnuts or candies because it stays dry and non-greasy, according to Chemistry LibreTexts. You may spot dextrose in:

  • Candy
  • Packaged pastries
  • Dairy desserts like ice cream and yogurt
  • Soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and juices

Even popular health foods like yogurt or granola can contain high levels of added sugar. However, in these cases, they may appear under names like molasses or tapioca sugar, which are different types of sugar. Other common sugar synonyms include wheat sugar, maple syrup and agave syrup, among many others.

Why You Should Limit Added Sugars

Sugar is easily over-consumed, especially when it comes to hidden added sugars. Added sugars don't contain any nutritional value but can add significant calories to your diet, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends that women get no more than 25 grams of added sugars a day while men should limit their daily intake to no more than 36 grams.

For reference, one 12-ounce can of Coke contains 39 grams of added sugar, all of which come from high-fructose corn syrup (which is partially made up of dextrose). Considering the copious amounts of added sugar in soft drinks, candy, cookies and breakfast cereals, it's no surprise that Americans often exceed their daily recommended intake!

While extra calories from sugar can lead to weight gain, that's not the only issue added sugars such as dextrose may cause. Sugar has been linked to both type 2 diabetes and obesity. What's more, added sugar consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart-disease-related death, an April 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows.

Replacing added sugars with whole foods like lean meats, fiber-rich complex carbs and healthy fats can help you maintain a balanced diet.

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