What Does Maltodextrin Do to the Body?

Maltodextrin comes from natural plant starches that are processed to produce either regular maltodextrin or resistant maltodextrin. Knowing the difference between the two types is important because each one has a different effect in your body. Regular maltodextrin provides calories and is digested like any other sugar, while resistant maltodextrin is similar to dietary fiber.

Maltodextrin is often made from corn starch. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Two Types of Maltodextrin

To make maltodextrin, starch from corn, rice or potatoes is extracted and treated with enzymes or safe acids, which break down the large starch molecules into smaller pieces of sugar. Then the starch is dried to produce a white powder, which may have no flavor or taste slightly sweet, depending on the brand. This type of maltodextrin is used in supplements and added to foods as a bulking or thickening agent.

A second type of maltodextrin -- resistant maltodextrin -- begins with the same starch and initial treatment. Then it goes through another step that changes the bonds between sugar molecules. This change turns regular maltodextrin into a starch that resists digestion, which is why it's called resistant maltodextrin.

Boost Energy and Hydradtion

Regular maltodextrin is an easily digested sugar that provides 4 calories per gram. As an ingredient in sports drinks and supplements, it helps sustain energy during endurance activities. It also replenishes stores of sugar in muscles during recovery after intense activity.

Maltodextrin may improve athletic performance. When mountain bike competitors drank a maltodextrin beverage 20 minutes before taking a performance test, they shaved about 26 seconds off each lap compared to the times clocked by competitors who drank fruit juice, reported Human Movement in September 2011.

Protect Intestinal Health

Resistant maltodextrin passes through the stomach and small intestine undigested, then it's fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. Fermentation produces a small amount of energy and short-chain fatty acids, which help cells in the colon wall stay healthy and may lower the risk of colon cancer.

Fermentation of soluble fiber and resistant starch naturally produces gas. If you eat too much soluble fiber at one time, the amount of gas produced can cause uncomfortable bloating and abdominal pain. Resistant maltodextrin reduces the chance of excess gas because bacteria ferment it more slowly than soluble fiber.

Beware of Blood Sugar Spikes

Regular maltodextrin quickly enters the bloodstream, which means it can cause a significant spike in blood sugar. A small amount of maltodextrin doesn't pose a problem. For example, the amount added to sugar substitutes to increase bulk shouldn't affect blood sugar.

You can diminish maltodextrin's impact by consuming it together with fiber, protein or fats because they slow down carbohydrate absorption.

But if you're diabetic, talk to your health care provider before using maltodextrin supplements.

Promote Weight Gain

The maltodextrin marketed to support energy needs and post-workout recovery in athletes is high in calories. In fact, some brands are promoted to help you gain weight. If weight gain isn't your goal, be careful about the amount you consume. One serving of maltodextrin powder may have 100 to 250 calories or more, depending on the brand and the amount of powder called for per serving.

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