If you are in the habit of reading food labels, you might have come across the term maltodextrin. This starch-derived food additive is used in a number of processed foods, including sauces, cereals, and packaged snacks. Made from potatoes, rice, corn (usually genetically modified corn), or wheat, this white powder adds bulk and a subtle sweetness to food.
But that sweetness may come with a price. Maltodextrin has been linked to various health risks. If you’re concerned about blood sugar spikes, diabetes, chronic inflammatory diseases, and weight gain, you’ll want to learn more about this seemingly innocuous ingredient snuck into a wide range of products on your grocer’s shelves. Here’s the lowdown on maltodextrin and its potential effects on your health.
1. Blood Sugar Spike And Increased Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Eating foods that have a high glycemic index (GI) can cause your blood sugar levels to spike suddenly and drop just as quickly. Maltodextrin has a high glycemic index. Compared to glucose, which has a GI of 100, maltodextrin clocks in at 110.1 Consuming such high GI foods on an ongoing basis has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes.2
2. False Blood Glucose Reading
Maltodextrin can also cause a “falsely elevated glucose level” reading on a portable glucometer. In one instance, when insulin was administered on the basis of this reading, the patient developed “profound hypoglycemia.”3 When your blood sugar dips very low, at the very least, it can cause an irregular heartbeat, weakness, and an inability to concentrate. You may even experience convulsions or seizures and become unconscious. The first signs of hypoglycemia include blurred vision, dizziness, headache, or feeling unusually sweaty or jittery. Seek medical help before this condition becomes more severe.4
3. Stomach Irritation Due To Imbalance In Gut Bacteria
Maltodextrin can also irritate the stomach, especially for anyone prone to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. It is also believed to increase bacterial adhesion and could raise your risk of developing conditions like Crohn’s disease. Because of this, many experts suggest avoiding foods that contain maltodextrin if you suffer from or are at risk of having digestive disorders or autoimmune problems.5
One article targeted at athletes and active people explains that a 16-oz serving of a 6 percent simple carb solution usually contains 100 calories. A similar portion of 6 percent maltodextrin solution, on the other hand, has 600 calories. This may be great news for an athlete who needs access to quick energy, but for everyone else, this just means extra calories. And even if you are an endurance athlete, be careful not to consume higher concentrations of these solutions as it could cause diarrhea, cramping, or other forms of gastrointestinal issues.6
4. Chronic Inflammatory Diseases Due To Compromised Immunity
The modern American diet consists of a lot of packaged and processed foods that often contain food additives like maltodextrin. One study found that in mice that ate food containing maltodextrin, the additive suppressed the body’s antimicrobial defense system in the intestine, making the subjects susceptible to chronic inflammatory diseases.7 Such inflammation can trigger other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever, and even atherosclerosis.
5. Weight Gain
Maltodextrin is used in favor of other artificial sweeteners because it adds a less intense sweet flavor – but just enough sweetness to get you hooked. In fact, studies have found that people tend to consume more of a food with an artificial sweetener because they think they’re “being good” by avoiding sugar. But, as one group of researchers explain, having “light” or “sugar-free” variants of foods can actually lead to more severe sugar cravings and dependence.8
On top of that, more maltodextrin is needed to deliver the same amount of sweetness as sugar. This means the manufacturer of a packaged food will end up having to add a lot more maltodextrin to its product, which piles on the calories. To make things worse, maltodextrin contains no nutrients – just empty calories.
The solution for calorie counters and weight watchers is to cut out sweetened processed foods and artificially sweetened drinks and snacks altogether. Opt for naturally sweet food with a low GI like fruit instead.
Safe For Those With Gluten Allergies
According to Beyond Celiac, a non-profit organization that works on creating awareness around gluten intolerance and celiac disease, maltodextrin is usually safe to consume even if you’re sensitive to wheat. They explain that the manufacturing process actually rids the ingredient of gluten, making wheat-derived maltodextrin gluten-free. You will, however, still need to check labels to ensure that there are no other gluten-containing ingredients like wheat, brewer’s yeast, or barley. To be safe, look for a gluten-free stamp or label on any product you purchase.9
|↑1||Whelan, William J. “The wars of the carbohydrates, Part 6: What a name!.” IUBMB life 60, no. 8 (2008): 555-556.|
|↑2||Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑3||Kirrane, Barbara M., Elizabeth A. Duthie, and Lewis S. Nelson. “Unrecognized hypoglycemia due to maltodextrin interference with bedside glucometry.” Journal of Medical Toxicology 5, no. 1 (2009): 20-23.|
|↑4||Low Blood Glucose Hypoglycemia. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑5||Nickerson, Kourtney P., and Christine McDonald. “Crohn’s disease-associated adherent-invasive Escherichia coli adhesion is enhanced by exposure to the ubiquitous dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin.” PLoS One 7, no. 12 (2012): e52132.|
|↑6||Arnie Baker Maltodextrin Nutrition. Arnie Baker Cycling.|
|↑7||Nickerson, Kourtney P., Craig R. Homer, Sean P. Kessler, Laura J. Dixon, Amrita Kabi, Ilyssa O. Gordon, Erin E. Johnson, A. Carol, and Christine McDonald. “The dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin promotes Salmonella survival and mucosal colonization in mice.” PloS one 9, no. 7 (2014): e101789.|
|↑8||Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings.” Yale J Biol Med 83, no. 2 (2010): 101-108.|
|↑9||Maltodextrin and Allergen Labeling Requirements. Beyond Celiac.|