Maltodextrin: What it is, dangers, and substitutes
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in packaged foods, such as pastries, candies, and soft drinks. When it is present, it will usually feature on the food label. Athletes may also use maltodextrin as a carbohydrate supplement.
Many people believe that maltodextrin is harmful to health. But how much truth is there to these claims?
Read on to learn about the benefits and dangers of maltodextrin and which foods contain this ingredient.
What is maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a white powder that is relatively tasteless and dissolves in water. It is an additive in a wide range of foods, as it can improve their texture, flavor, and shelf life.
It is possible to make maltodextrin from any starchy food, including corn, potato, wheat, tapioca, or rice. Although the powder comes from these natural products, it then undergoes processing.
To make maltodextrin, manufacturers put starch through a process called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis uses water, enzymes, and acids to break the starch into smaller pieces, resulting in a white powder consisting of sugar molecules.
People with celiac disease should be aware that maltodextrin can contain traces of gluten when wheat is the source of the starch. However, according to the Beyond Celiac charity, maltodextrin is gluten-free as long as the ingredients list does not include the word wheat.
In edible products, this powder can help by:
- thickening foods or liquids to help bind the ingredients together
- improving texture or flavor
- helping to preserve foods and increase their shelf life
- replacing sugar or fat in low-calorie, processed foods
Maltodextrin has no nutritional value. However, it is a very easy-to-digest carbohydrate and can provide energy rapidly. Due to this, manufacturers add this powder to many sports drinks and snacks.
Many people eat maltodextrin every day without realizing. Foods that often contain maltodextrin include:
- pasta, cooked cereals, and rice
- meat substitutes
- baked goods
- salad dressings
- frozen meals
- sugars and sweets
- energy and sports drinks
Some manufacturers also add maltodextrin to lotions, hair-care products, and livestock feed.
People who are concerned about their maltodextrin intake may wish to choose alternative foods that provide healthful nutrients. This can help people to avoid blood glucose spikes.
Other food additives that thicken or stabilize foods include guar binding gum and pectin, which is a carbohydrate that manufacturers extract from fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Manufacturers may also use tapioca starch and arrowroot starch as thickeners.
People should also look out for flavoring alternatives to maltodextrin on product labels. These include sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and erythritol, and sweeteners, such as stevia.
Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than maltodextrin and a lower impact on blood sugar levels. However, some people may find that they cause bloating and flatulence.
Stevia has no calories and little effect on blood sugar levels. However, some products include a blend of stevia and either maltodextrin or dextrose, and this blend can affect blood sugar levels.
People use maltodextrin as an artificial food additive or a carbohydrate supplement to boost energy levels and performance.
Experts consider it to be safe for the majority of people, although it may also carry some risks, particularly for people with diabetes. People may prefer to choose products that use alternative food additives, such as pectin.
Eating too many processed foods with additives can cause health problems. Instead, it is best to aim for a more healthful diet of whole-grains and vegetables to boost gut, brain, and heart health.
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