Read Your Food Labels: Watch out for Maltodextrin
Check the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you have in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboard. There’s a good chance the ingredients list includes maltodextrin, a commonly used food additive that’s linked to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, according to Cleveland Clinic researchers.
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a highly processed, plant-based substance usually made from corn, but rice, potato, wheat or tapioca can also be used. Starches from these foods undergo partial hydrolysis, which involves cooking the starch at a very high temperature and mixing it with enzymes or acids until they're broken down into a neutral-tasting powder.
Food manufacturers add the powder to a wide-range of processed foods such as artificial sweeteners, baked goods, yogurt, beer, nutrition bars, weight-training supplements, cereals, meal-replacement shakes, low-fat and reduced-calorie products, condiments, sauces, spice mixes, salad dressings, chips, pie fillings and snack foods to improve consistency, texture and taste.
“Because maltodextrin is plant-based, gluten-free and vegan, it often flies under the radar and used as an ingredient in foods considered healthful,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Although you can’t possibly know all the ingredients in restaurant prepared foods, you can control the foods and ingredients you buy at your supermarket by reading labels.”
Is Maltodextrin Safe? Can Ingesting it Cause Health Issues?
Although maltodextrin is deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Cleveland Clinic researchers found that maltodextrin alters gut bacteria. The additive with the normal digestive process causes the bacteria to adhere to the layers of cells that line the intestines – a characteristic of IBD.
Another concern is the side effects maltodextrin can have on blood sugar. Despite being low in sugar, it ranges between 95 and 136 on the glycemic index. For some perspective, table sugar has a glycemic value of 65.
The higher the glycemic value a food or additive is, the quicker it goes through the digestive system, enters the bloodstream and raises blood sugar levels. If you’re trying to manage your blood sugar levels, foods containing maltodextrin are not your best choice — too many of them can cause your blood sugar to rise.
Can Maltodextrin Produced with Wheat Cause Health Problems?
Maltodextrin produced with wheat doesn’t pose a problem if you have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity because the wheat is stripped of gluten during processing, making maltodextrin a gluten-free ingredient.
Benefits for Athletes and Avid Exercisers
If you’re an athlete, maltodextrin can be beneficial, which is why you’ll find it in many brands of sports drinks. It helps you rehydrate and replenish carbohydrate stores simultaneously. And since it’s an easily digestible carbohydrate, it can help your body absorb protein and promote muscle recovery, if you consume enough protein before and after your training session.
“The drawbacks of maltodextrin may outweigh the benefits, especially if you have tummy troubles. From what I understand, food manufacturers are working to find alternatives to maltodextrin. But until a replacement is available, consider limiting your intake,” Kaminetsky says.
Consult your primary care doctor before making any changes to your diet. Need a primary care physician? Check out MDVIP, a nationwide network of primary care doctors who focus on personalized medicine and prevention and have the time to develop close, doctor-patient relationships. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »