If you turn back a packet of say pasta, frozen meals, salad dressings, energy drinks, sports drinks, baked goods, or meat substitutes, chances are you will find an ingredient in the list called Maltodextrin. Often a part of some juicy controversies, Maltodextrin has such a wide range of applications owing to its capability to serve so many different functions when added to food. Some believe Maltodextrin is just another fancy name for sugar, but is it? What is Maltodextrin? What is it used for? Is it harmful for us? can diabetics consume maltodextrin? Does Maltodextrin cause cancer? Let us try to answer these questions.
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a white, relatively tasteless, starch derivative that is closely related to corn syrup solids. It is highly soluble in water and is added to food to primarily improve their texture, flavor, and their shelf life. It is tasteless by itself but it has a high glycemic index of 105-110. The US FDA classifies Maltodextrin as a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) food additive.
Maltodextrin is an easy to digest carbohydrate that provides the same number of calories as regular table sugar – 4 calories per gram without adding sweetness to the product it is added to. Being easy to digest, it provides calories rapidly and makes for a highly useful ingredient in sports and energy drinks.
What is Maltodextrin used for?
There are a lot of functions that Maltodextrin can serve when added to food. Some of them are:
- Acts as filler ingredient
- Extends the shelf life
- Improves the powdery appearance of the product
- Mitigates (reduces) the sweetness
- Prevents melting of the product
- Retards granulation in the product
- Reduces nutrition loss
- Balances out the high intensity sweetness of artificial sweeteners
- acts as anti-caking agent, etc.
- Improves texture and flavor
- Keeps food low-calorie
- Adds as a thickener
- Mimics the fat content in food
What foods contain maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in a lot of food categories, such as:
- Energy drinks
- Sports drinks
- Baked goods
- Meat substitutes
- Foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners
- Low calorie processed foods
- Cooked cereals
- Salad dressings
- Baked goods
- Sweets and confectionery, etc.
Besides food products, it is also used in some lotions, hair care products, livestock feed, etc.
How is Maltodextrin manufactured? Is Maltodextrin a natural product?
Maltodextrin is a product derived from naturally occurring starches that are hydrolyzed using water, enzymes, acids, etc. to break this starch into smaller chains. Simply put, Maltodextrin is derived from natural starches but it is not a natural product by itself. Starches are treated chemically to produce maltodextrin.
Generally, starchy foods like corn, potato, wheat, tapioca, rice, etc. are used to produce maltodextrin.
Is Maltodextrin bad for you?
No, Maltodextrin is classified as a GRAS food additive and is safe for consumption in small quantities. However, too much maltodextrin can be harmful. Maltodextrin leads to a big spike in the blood sugar of the consumer and that can cause problems so moderation is the key. Some studies have shown that excessive maltodextrin consumption can affect the gut microflora adversely and can eventually lead to Crohn’s diseases in some cases. Some studies also find that excessive consumption of maltodextrin can help Salmonella survive and cause infections.
If you are allergic to maltodextrin, then goes without saying, avoid foods containing maltodextrin.
In India, maltodextrin is a permitted food additive in a wide range of food products. It has to be declared separately in the list of ingredients and has to be accounted for in the sugar content of the product and declared on the label as well. the rules and regulations can vary from country-to-country.
Is Maltodextrin safe to consume for diabetics?
No. Despite having little to no sweetness, maltodextrin is not safe for consumption for diabetics. the glycemic index of maltodextrin ranges between 80 to 120, while that of sugar is about 65. Consumption of maltodextrin causes a huge spike in blood sugar levels and is not safe. Excessive and frequent consumption of maltodextrin can lead to weight gain, increased levels of cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, etc.
Are Maltodextrin and MSG different or same?
MSG stands for Mono Sodium Glutamate. MSG is a flavor enhancer and it is also a safe food additive. MSG and Maltodextrin are not the same thing. MSG is obtained by processing proteins where as Maltodextrin is derived by processing the starches. Both can work as a flavor enhancer, however, they are not the same thing and very different chemically, structurally, as well as sensorily.
Is Maltodextrin Gluten-free?
Whether maltodextrin is gluten-free or not would depend on what was the source of the starch used to manufacture the maltodextrin. If a source like corn, rice, tapioca, or potato is used to manufacture the maltodextrin, then it would be gluten-free. However, if wheat starch has been used to manufacture the maltodextrin, chances it might contain very slight traces of gluten. It is important to understand that the hydrolysis process and subsequent processes involved in the manufacture of maltodextrin would break down and remove most of the proteins present in the wheat, including gluten. However, very slight traces could still remain. So, if you suffer from Celiac’s disease and are absolutely avoiding gluten, then skip the maltodextrin-containing foods. Once again, gluten in maltodextrin is extremely rare and if at all present, would be in very, very tiny amounts.
Exercise caution as required and listen to your doctors.
Are there any alternatives to Maltodextrin?
One can find alternatives to Maltodextrin, depending on the purpose for which they were using Maltodextrin in the first place. Suppose the maltodextrin was being used for thickening, one can substitute it with guar gum or pectin or arrow root starch or tapioca starch. Suppose the maltodextrin was being used as a flavor preserver then sugar alcohols like sorbitol or erythritol can be used. Sugar alcohols will have significantly lesser calories than maltodextrin, but not everybody can handle the sugar alcohols well.
Should you consume foods containing Maltodextrin?
Be mindful of what and how much you eat. Focus on consuming a balanced diet. Maltodextrin may not be sweet but your body does treat it as a sugar, an easy digesting one at that, so expect the blood sugar spikes accordingly. Moderation is the key.
Also, talk to your doctors and listen to them when in doubt. If you have any specific conditions or find yourself not being able to digest anything well, then go with what works best for you and whatever your doctors & nutritionists have recommended.
Maltodextrin-containing foods are safe for consumption but moderation is extremely important as is taking a balanced diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.