Maltodextrin is one of the many additives that form part of the ingredients in the food we eat. It’s a common additive used to enhance foods. What are its benefits? Could it be having any downsides?
Reading the labels of the food components in the food stores and supermarket shelves is the only way a person informs himself about the ingredients used in making a particular food component. Thus, nutritionists and dietitians would read the label and the ingredient list of any food before buying it. If you do the same, that’s quite commendable. One of the food ingredients you might have come across is maltodextrin, a common additive used in processed food products. What are the pros and cons of maltodextrin? Are there its alternatives? Peer into this article to get the answers to these questions and more information.
Understanding maltodextrin and how it is made
Before indulging in the pros, cons, and alternatives of maltodextrin, we need to understand how this additive is prepared. Maltodextrin, a food additive, is available in white powdered form. The powder is made from rice, corn, wheat, or potato starch. Even though maltodextrin comes from plants and should be nutritious, it goes through a lot of processes. These break down the starch and make it simplified. The plant starch is cooked to facilitate initial breakdown. The resulting product is subjected to yet another process, in which heat-stable bacterial alpha-amylase enzyme is added for further breakdown.
Maltodextrin, due to the processing stages, possesses a neutral taste and easily dissolves in water. Maltodextrin can be compared to corn syrup solid, a sweetening agent. The main difference between corn syrup and maltodextrin is the sugar content in the two food components. Even those both have undergone hydrolysis, maltodextrin is low in sugar, often less than 20%. Corn syrup, on the other hand, is relatively high in sugar, having at least 20% sugar.
The safety of maltodextrin
Safety is a concern especially when it comes to what goes into the stomach. If you are wondering whether maltodextrin is safe, the general answer is yes, since the FDA has deemed it safe. It forms part of the foods taken to increase the carbohydrate content in the body. Since health practitioners suggest that the carbohydrates making up your calorie content should not exceed 45%-55%, maltodextrin would be quite ideal. However, maltodextrin would usually not add much value to your carbohydrate count. This is because, in most food products containing maltodextrin, the ingredient is only available in small amounts. Although small amounts of maltodextrin would be safe for diabetics, high amounts of the same ingredient would be unsafe. This is especially true because maltodextrin has a high glycemic index, meaning it can cause insulin and sugar spikes. In addition, consuming high amounts o maltodextrin could ultimately lead to insulin resistance.
Is maltodextrin useful for industrial processes?
Maltodextrin is both a preservative and a thickener, hence useful in many industries, including food and self-care industries. When used as a preservative, the thickening ability of the ingredient is used to boost the shelf life of various food substances, including sauces, gelatin, and salad dressing. It’s also used to thicken lotions and other self-care products.
The nutritional implication of maltodextrin
This is yet another concern since you certainly want to eat food with ingredients that add value to the body. If you are interested in bolstering your energy levels, maltodextrin would definitely be your food ingredient of choice. Having 4calories in every unit gram, maltodextrin is such a great energy booster. However, due to its high glycemic index ranging from 106 to 136, you might want to avoid it to keep sugar and insulin spikes at bay.
What can make me avoid maltodextrin?
Several reasons might form your grounds for avoiding maltodextrin. Predisposition to diabetes, insulin resistance, and diabetes type 2 are a few cases that might need you to avoid maltodextrin. The other major reason is to keep the gut healthy. Some studies have shown that taking maltodextrin compromises the health and quality of gut microbiota, increasing a person’s predisposition to gut infections and immune attacks. Thus, even without a predisposition to diabetes or insulin/diabetic issues, you might choose to avoid maltodextrin, which is still okay as you will not be missing out on anything big.
Other concerns about maltodextrin
Besides diabetes and insulin resistance and gut health, there are other concerns around maltodextrin, and they include;
- Maltodextrin and gluten- because of celiac disease, you might be concerned about maltodextrin because of the prefix ‘malt,’ which means it has been made from barley’s malt. Still, maltodextrin is gluten-free, since the processing stages it undergoes clears away the gluten.
- Maltodextrin and weight loss- If you are a weight loss enthusiast, maltodextrin should not be your ingredient of choice. This is because, besides causing sugar spikes, the sugars forming this ingredient can jeopardize your weight loss quest.
- Maltodextrin and GMOs- most ingredients used as fillers or cheap thickeners often come from GMO products and so does maltodextrin which comes from GMO corn. However, this does not raise alarm since the FDA has deemed GMO safe, and any food product with the ‘organic’ label is virtually free of GMO.
How will I know that maltodextrin has caused me sugar spikes?
If you are diabetic and still choose to consume small doses of maltodextrin, you probably want to know indicators of maltodextrin-induced sugar spikes. The signs vary but include blurred vision, reduced ability to focus, sudden fatigue, increased thirst, and sudden headache. If this happens to you, check your blood sugar levels each time you include maltodextrin in your diet.
Benefits of maltodextrin
Maltodextrin enthusiasts state its many benefits, including;
- Role in performance; the ingredient is a carb that digests fast. It’s also high in calories, making it a good source of energy for athletes and people working out. In addition, unlike many carbs, breaking maltodextrin down requires little water, hence no risk of dehydration.
- Sugar boost; people with chronic hypoglycemia have a struggle to maintain their blood sugar levels. Maltodextrin would be a quick solution to easily raise the constantly falling blood sugar levels.
- Colorectal cancer; some studies have shown that as maltodextrin ferments in the intestines, it helps fight colorectal cancer. Hence, it can be an appropriate anti-tumor ingredient.
- Digestion; those having digestive issues can take maltodextrin and help these issues. Some studies have shown that maltodextrin could boost digestion by improving stool consistency, colonic transit time, and stool volume.
After reading this information and feeling like maltodextrin is not your choice ingredient for one reason or another, you might want to know its alternatives. There is quite a number of these, including corn syrup, honey, agave, fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup, and white/brown sugar.
The bottom line
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in many processed foods. In small amounts, it can make part of a healthy diet. However, if you are diabetic, you may want to avoid it to avoid sugar spikes and insulin resistance. Still, there are many alternatives for maltodextrin that you may want to explore should you find maltodextrin not your choice ingredient.