Sugar comes in many forms, from dextrose and fructose to molasses. Dextrose powder, which is derived from corn, can be found in packaged and processed foods, sports supplements, baking products and pastries. Although it's less sweet than sugar, it doesn't mean it's healthier or lower in calories.
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Like all simple sugars, dextrose may cause blood sugar spikes and contribute to diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity and heart disease. However, since this compound is identical to glucose, it provides quick energy and may benefit athletes when consumed in the right dose, at the right time.
What Is Dextrose?
Many seemingly healthy foods, such as protein bars and breakfast cereals, are labeled "sugar-free." Yet they contain dextrose, maltose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and other hidden sugars. In fact, about 74 percent of packaged foods contain caloric sweeteners, according to a November 2012 report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Dextrose, or corn sugar, is made from corn starch and added to hundreds of foods. Its chemical structure is identical to that of glucose, the body's primary source of energy. For this reason, dextrose is commonly used in intravenous solutions and administered to people with low blood sugar or high potassium levels. It may also be prescribed to those who need nutrition support after surgery or during times of illness.
The dextrose in food has the role of enhancing its flavor and preventing spoilage. For example, manufacturers may add this preservative to fruit jams to increase their shelf life and inhibit bacterial growth.
Like table sugar, dextrose powder has 4 calories per gram and can quickly raise blood glucose levels. Added sugars, including dextrose, may lead to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease when consumed in excess, according to a large-scale study featured in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014.
Dextrose Side Effects
As mentioned earlier, this compound is chemically identical to glucose, the sugar in your blood. Therefore, it may come in handy for those with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and health conditions that reduce or inhibit carbohydrate absorption. If, for some reason, you cannot eat (such as immediately after surgery), your doctor may prescribe intravenous dextrose mixed with amino acids and other nutrients.
According to the Federal Drug Administration, dextrose injections may not be safe for severely dehydrated patients. Furthermore, some people are hypersensitive to this substance and may experience adverse reactions, such as rash, itching, swelling of the skin and chronically low blood pressure. There is also a risk of electrolyte imbalances, fluid imbalances and vitamin B1 deficiency following the administration of intravenous dextrose in severely undernourished patients.
Dextrose side effects may also include hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, pulmonary embolism, infections and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, warns the FDA. Sudden vision changes, severe headaches, dizziness and rapid breathing may occur too, notes the Mayo Clinic. However, these adverse reactions are associated with intravenous fluids, not the dextrose in food.
Dextrose: Healthy or Not?
Like all simple sugars, this compound is quickly absorbed into your system and can skyrocket your blood glucose levels. Over time, it may put you at risk for metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
According to a November 2017 review in the BMJ OpenHeart, added sugars may lead to coronary heart disease by promoting the onset of diabetes. Eating too much sugar, even for just a few weeks, can significantly raise insulin levels and increase the risk of insulin resistance.
When it comes to dextrose versus glucose, both sugars provide a quick source of energy. For this reason, they are often used in tablet or powder form by runners, bodybuilders and other athletes.
The consumption of simple carbs after prolonged exercise helps replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores, leading to faster recovery. For best results, athletes are advised to consume about 1 gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight per hour after training.
However, unless you're a pro athlete, you don't need those extra carbs. Your health should come first. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Check food labels for hidden sugars and use healthier alternatives, like stevia or cinnamon, in homemade desserts.
- Chemistry LibreTexts: "Glucose/Dextrose"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Use of Caloric and Noncaloric Sweeteners in US Consumer Packaged Foods, 2005-2009"
- FDA: "Sec. 184.1857 Corn Sugar"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "D-Glucose"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Dextrose, Glucose Injection Solution"
- Starch Europe: "Dextrose"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults"
- FDA: "Dextrose Injection for Intravenous Use"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dextrose (Intravenous Route)"
- BMJ Open Heart: "Added Sugars Drive Coronary Heart Disease via Insulin Resistance and Hyperinsulinaemia: A New Paradigm"
- Nutrients: "Glucose Plus Fructose Ingestion for Post-Exercise Recovery — Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts?"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"