What Is Dextrose and Why Is It in Our Food?

Dextrose is a common added sugar found in many of your favorite baked goods.
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What do J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain and sugar have in common? They're all recognized by their pen names. But unlike Joanne Rowling and Samuel Clemens, sugar masquerades under way more than one title — including the scary-sounding dextrose.

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Although it's best known as a sweetener added to processed treats, dextrose is also used in a medical capacity to help treat low blood sugar. Read on to learn what dextrose is, how it's used and how it affects your blood glucose levels.

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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 sugar derived from corn and it is chemically identical to glucose, or blood sugar.

Where Does Dextrose Come From?

Dextrose is a sugar extracted from corn starch. Although dextrose is derived from plants and is considered a "natural" product, that doesn't mean you can eat or use 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.

What Is Dextrose Used For?

In the food industry, dextrose, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, is used as a preservative and sweetener, as it's able to stay dry and slows down the crystallization process in syrups, fondant and candy, according to Chemistry LibreTexts.

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But dextrose is also used in a medical setting to help handle hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), according to Harvard Health Publishing. Considering dextrose is a form of carbohydrates, your doctor may prescribe dextrose tablets as a way to raise blood sugar levels. Basically, dextrose tablets are kind of like sugar pills.

For people who are unable to drink enough fluids or eat, a doctor may provide a dextrose injection, which supplies the body with extra water and carbs, according to the Mayo Clinic. This will help boost blood sugar intravenously without the need to actually eat or drink anything.

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Dextrose injections may also be used to treat high potassium levels (aka hyperkalemia), according to Open Anesthesia. For people with hyperlakemia, a doctor may pair a dextrose injection with insulin to stabilize the levels of potassium in the blood.

Warning

Dextrose injections should only be used with the prescription and supervision of a medical professional.

The Side Effects of Dextrose

As dextrose tablets or injections are often used to treat hypoglycemia, the substance will boost blood glucose levels. For people living with diabetes or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), this can be problematic, which is why you don't want to take dextrose without your doctor's recommendation.

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If your blood sugar does rise too high after taking dextrose, symptoms generally include dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, stomach pain or thirst, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's best to contact emergency services.

Dextrose can also cause an allergic reaction with symptoms like rash, itching, hives or swelling of the lips or tongue, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Warning

If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms after taking dextrose, it's best to call emergency services and seek the help of a medical professional as soon as possible.

Foods High in Dextrose

When it comes to food, dextrose is often added to 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 Like Dextrose

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 getting no more than 25 to 36 grams of added sugars a day.

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, and eating too much added sugar 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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