If you have started reading the ingredients list on your food packaging, you may have noticed a long and unfamiliar word, maltodextrin. It is a common food additive made from starchy foods, such as rice, corn, and wheat. It is highly processed from its original plant based form to a fine white, odorless, and almost tasteless powder.
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Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate and therefore is a source of energy, 4 calories per every gram — the same as any other carbohydrate. The Food and Drug Administration has labeled maltodextrin as GRAS — generally regarded as safe.
Where to Find Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is most often added during processing of foods and is used as a thickener, filler, to add texture, or to coat a food. It’s found in many food seasonings, instant puddings, pie fillings, candy, and soups.
Maltodextrin is an easily and rapidly digestible carbohydrate. Because of that property, it is also used to make supplements and sports drinks, which are marketed to athletes and bodybuilders.
It can be used in place of glucose or sucrose in sports drinks to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues during endurance sports, according to 2016 research published in "Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition."
Is Maltodextrin Gluten-Free?
In the United States, manufacturers primarily use corn, and in Europe, most often wheat to make maltodextrin. The maltodextrin production process completely removes the protein from the wheat resulting in a gluten-free maltodextrin.
Even though malt — which is made from barley, a gluten containing grain — is in the name, the Celiac Disease Foundation lists maltodextrin as a gluten-free option.
Possible Health Concerns
The article in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition acknowledge no direct link between maltodextrin consumption and negative health effects. These same researchers also conclude that there should not be overconsumption of foods containing maltodextrin because of the lack of nutrient quality in many of those foods.
Foods containing maltodextrin are highly processed and often high in carbohydrate. Those with type 2 diabetes need to be aware of foods containing maltodextrin because it contributes carbohydrates and calories, often without knowledge. Additional carbohydrates in the diet can cause a rise in blood sugar. In addition, those following a weight loss plan should not over consume foods containing maltodextrin.
There is a definitive relationship between diet and the health of your gut. While more research is needed in human subjects, studies using laboratory mice found that sugary maltodextrin promoted the growth of unhealthy bacteria, which damaged the intestine and increased the risk of inflammatory disease, according to a review in the journal PLoS One in July 2014.
Another review study in 2015 published in Gut Microbes indicated that maltodextrin negatively impacts gut health and there may be a correlation between maltodextrin and Crohn's Disease.
Consuming maltodextrin does not produce any significant side effects, other than spikes in blood sugar. Extremely large doses may cause some gastrointestinal issues. If you experience any allergic reaction or other side effect after consuming a food made with maltodextrin, you should stop eating it and consult with a medical professional.