What Is Maltodextrin And Is It Dangerous?
Have you ever noticed the word “maltodextrin” in the ingredient list on a package of food?
It’s a very common ingredient, but is it safe?
This article will explain exactly what maltodextrin is, why it’s in so many foods and whether or not you should avoid it.
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a white powder used as a food additive.
It can be made from any starch, including corn, wheat, rice, potato and tapioca.
It’s made through a process called hydrolysis, which uses water and enzymes or acids to cut starch molecules into smaller pieces. Short chains of sugars make up these pieces.
After hydrolysis, it’s purified and spray-dried to make a powder (1).
Even though sugar molecules make up maltodextrin, it doesn’t taste sweet. In fact, most people cannot taste it at all (2).
Summary: Maltodextrin is a food additive made from any starch, typically corn or wheat.
Why Use Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is used as an inexpensive filler to add bulk to processed foods, or as a preservative to increase a product’s shelf life.
It’s can also improve the texture of products (beer, for example), and serve as a replacement for sugar or fat in processed foods.
Summary: Maltodextrin adds bulk, improves texture, increases shelf life or serves as a substitute for fat or sugar in processed foods.
What Foods Contain Maltodextrin?
Many types of products may contain maltodextrin, including:
Margarines and butters
Since maltodextrin can replace sugar or fat, manufacturers often use it in low-calorie or sugar-free products.
Non-food items like livestock feed, lotions and hair care products sometimes contain maltodextrin as well.
Summary: Many foods and drinks contain maltodextrin, including artificial sweeteners, infant formula, salad dressings and sports drinks.
Nutritional Value of Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate that contains 4 calories per gram.
It does not contain any vitamins or minerals.
Maltodextrin is considered a high glycemic index (GI) food, with estimates ranging from 85-136 (4).
The exact GI of maltodextrin is uncertain, since the most comprehensive listing of GIs available to-date does not include maltodextrin (5).
People with diabetes should be careful when consuming foods with a high glycemic index, since they could cause blood sugar spikes. If you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels, you may want to limit foods or drinks containing maltodextrin.
Summary: Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate with 4 calories per gram, and no vitamins or minerals. It has a high glycemic index.
Is Maltodextrin Safe?
Maltodextrin is listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) food additive.
Though it’s not been shown to cause illness or disease, overeating foods containing maltodextrin may still negatively impact your health. Regularly eating highly processed, low-fiber foods with a lot of added sugars of any sort may cause weight gain, high cholesterol and an increase risk of type 2 diabetes (6, 7 8).
Some evidence also shows that maltodextrin can change gut bacteria. This is important to note because research has shown that gut bacteria play an important role in our health.
One study found that maltodextrin can increase the number of “bad” bacteria and decrease the number of “good” bacteria in the gut. This leads to a weakened immune system and increased risk of disease.
For example, maltodextrin increases the growth of E. Coli bacteria, which may have a role in causing Crohn’s disease (9).
Interestingly, the researchers also found that people with Crohn’s disease are more likely to have a gene essential for metabolizing, or breaking down, maltodextrin (9).
This means if you’re at risk for Crohn’s disease or other gastrointestinal problems, you may want to limit maltodextrin in your diet.