If you’ve ever eaten cereal, ice cream, or consumed a sports drink, you’ve had maltodextrin. As a common food additive, maltodextrin has numerous applications across the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. Many consumers have wondered, “what is maltodextrin?” while checking the nutrition label on pre-packaged snacks, beverages, confectionary, and infant formula in the grocery store.
Maltodextrin is a non-sweet, class of carbohydrates. Also referred to as a saccharide polymer, maltodextrin is a water-soluble nutritive additive that’s added to thousands of prepared food and drink products.1,3
What is maltodextrin made from? – Maltodextrin is made from a variety of plants that contain large amounts of starch. Manufacturers commonly make maltodextrin from corn, rice, and potatoes, to name a few. It’s produced through a process called hydrolysis, in which the starch is heated in the presence of water, ultimately resulting in a readily digestible, white powder.1
Because of its broad use, it’s important for consumers to educate themselves on current maltodextrin health concerns and effects. This article provides facts about this food additive based on scientific studies, including a maltodextrin definition, key maltodextrin properties, and information on maltodextrin benefits and side effects.
Is Maltodextrin Sugar?
From a scientific point of view, maltodextrin’s chemical structure technically makes it a sugar. Maltodextrin, however, is not the same as table sugar. Let’s have a look at the maltodextrin chemical formula:
This shows that maltodextrin is a carbohydrate (CHO), falling into a class known as polysaccharides, or complex carbohydrates. Like conventional sugar, maltodextrin is a saccharide that is rapidly-absorbed.1
Is Maltodextrin Gluten Free?
Although products with maltodextrin may contain gluten, maltodextrin does not. While the nutrition label does not often indicate the source, corn maltodextrin, rice maltodextrin and potato maltodextrin are all naturally gluten-free. Traditionally used in many gluten-free products, tapioca maltodextrin is another common variety.1
For consumers with celiac, maltodextrin should not pose a concern. While wheat-derived maltodextrin does exist, gluten is removed during processing.
Is Maltodextrin Vegan?
Yes, maltodextrin is vegan. Maltodextrin powder is derived from plants and does not contain any animal products. It’s common to find maltodextrin in many commercial vegan foods like confectionary products and chocolate.
What Is Maltodextrin Used For?
Maltodextrin has a number of properties that render it useful as a food additive. It’s commonly used in commercial food products to thicken low or non-fat foods. It’s also used to prevent freezing or help maintain the correct consistency. Thanks to its versatility and range of available formats, it’s common for manufacturers to use a maltodextrin-corn syrup in addition to pure maltodextrin.1
Because of the bulking and thickening properties of maltodextrin, ice cream formulas often include this additive to low-fat ice cream and yogurt.1 Maltodextrin, along with organic maltodextrin, is also sold on its own for consumers who use it in baking or making beverages at home.
In addition to using maltodextrin in food, it’s also featured in a number of beverages. It’s common to find maltodextrin in infant formula, acting as a source of carbohydrates in baby formula containing non-dairy proteins or hydrolyzed proteins (hypoallergenic formulas).1 Likewise, some brewers have begun adding maltodextrin to beer for enhanced texture and body.
Today, many commercial sports drinks contain maltodextrin. Bodybuilding and performance brands like Cytomax, Accelerade, and PowerBar Endurance all include maltodextrin on their ingredient lists. Because maltodextrin is inexpensive, some athletes choose to buy maltodextrin powder and make their own custom sports drinks.
Maltodextrin is used in sports because it’s a rapidly absorbed energy source. Like all carbohydrates, maltodextrin helps decrease muscle glycogen breakdown during exercise.1 The effect of this is reduced muscle fatigue.
In a 2013 study, researchers found that consuming maltodextrin during workouts (in combination with glutamine) demonstrated a beneficial effect on athletic performance. Results show that consuming a maltodextrin and glutamine drink helped prevent a decrease in anaerobic power during repeated sprint tests.
For athletes wondering when to take maltodextrin for best results, the study found that taking maltodextrin and glutamine two hours before exercising yielded the most powerful results.2
Maltodextrin Dangers & Side Effects
Due to its widespread use, many consumers still wonder is maltodextrin safe? Considered to be a safe additive by the top food authorities, there are very few reports on any potential side effects of maltodextrin. Among anecdotal reports of maltodextrin side effects, gas, bloating, and weight gain are mentioned frequently—and some believe that there could be a link between maltodextrin and diarrhea. Although unconfirmed in scientific study, it appears that is also possible to have a maltodextrin allergy, with reported symptoms of itching and cramping.
Of all the possible side effects of this common food additive, the maltodextrin effect on blood sugar is the most well-documented. Researchers have found that digesting maltodextrin results in a spike in blood glucose levels, making it a potential health risk for people with diabetes or other metabolic conditions that require moderating blood sugar levels.1
Aside from carbohydrates, maltodextrin doesn’t offer many nutrients. A 1 ½ cup serving of maltodextrin contains approximately 192 calories, with 100% of maltodextrin calories coming from the serving’s 48g of carbohydrates.
Although maltodextrin does not contain sugar, upon consuming maltodextrin, glycemic index is affected as the complex carbohydrate is converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream.1
Final Thoughts: Is Maltodextrin Bad for You?
While it doesn’t offer much in terms of nutrition, is maltodextrin bad for your health in general? Across the globe, maltodextrin is considered safe—and in some countries, food authorities have recognized maltodextrin supplementation as beneficial in applications like infant nutrition and sports performance.
At the end of the day, maltodextrin is a processed starch which delivers minimal nutrition. While some believe that it’s healthy because of the quick energy available in maltodextrin, energy is also available in whole foods containing carbohydrates. Foods such as fruits and oats offer more in terms of vitamins, minerals, and other important compounds.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Hofman, D. L., van Buul, V. J., & Brouns, F. J. P. H. (2016). Nutrition, Health, and Regulatory Aspects of Digestible Maltodextrins. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 56(12), 2091–2100. http://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2014.940415
- Khorshidi-Hosseini, M., & Nakhostin-Roohi, B. (2013). Effect of Glutamine and Maltodextrin Acute Supplementation on Anaerobic Power. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 4(2), 131–136. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3690733/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017, August 14). CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved November 30, 2017 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=184.1444