What Is Maltodextrin?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 10, 2023
3 min read

If you regularly check the ingredients in your processed or packaged foods, you might have seen maltodextrin in them. Food makers add it to a wide variety of foods, like:

  • Weight-training supplements
  • Yogurt
  • Nutrition bars
  • Chips
  • Sauces
  • Spice mixes
  • Cereals
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Baked goods
  • Beer
  • Snack foods
  • Candies
  • Soft drinks

The FDA lists the product among the generally safe food additives.

Maltodextrin is a type of carbohydrate, but it undergoes intense processing. It comes in the form of a white powder from rice, corn, wheat, or potato starch. Its makers first cook it, then add acids or enzymes to break it down some more. The final product is a water-soluble white powder with a neutral taste. The powder is used as an additive in the foods above to replace sugar and improve their texture, shelf life, and taste.

If you have celiac disease, be careful about eating foods with maltodextrin. The powder has traces of gluten if its source is wheat.

If you eat too many foods containing maltodextrin, your diet's quality is likely to be below par. You will get too much sugar and low amounts of fiber. Such diets will increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and high cholesterol.

‌Maltodextrin and diabetes. The glycemic index (GI) in maltodextrin is higher than in table sugar. This means that the powder can cause a spike in your blood sugar shortly after eating foods that have it. A sudden increase in blood glucose in people with insulin resistance or diabetes can be fatal.

A high GI means that foods quickly enter the bloodstream and the body quickly absorbs them. This increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Complex carbohydrates don’t pose this danger as the body takes time to absorb them. You also tend to feel fuller for a longer time.

Maltodextrin and gut bacteria. Maltodextrin may affect the balance of bacteria in the gut. Research in its early stages suggests that maltodextrin may reduce the number of good bacteria and increase the harmful bacteria. This can cause damage to the intestine and increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. The powder may also enhance the survival of salmonella bacteria. It causes gastroenteritis and other inflammatory conditions.

May cause allergic reactions. If you consume maltodextrin in large amounts, this may cause gastrointestinal symptoms. These include gas, gurgling sounds, and diarrhea. Studies show that it can cause allergic reactions like cramping and skin irritations. The process of making the powder removes all protein, including gluten, but traces may still be found. This can be dangerous for you if you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

May cause weight gain. Maltodextrin is a simple carbohydrate that provides you with no nutritional value. Consuming it in high amounts can lead to weight gain.

Source of energy. Maltodextrin can be a quick source of energy. One gram contains four calories, the same amount as table sugar or sucrose. The body digests the powder quickly to help you get some fuel for your muscles. This explains why companies use it in large quantities in making energy drinks and sports drinks. People who work out can benefit from the product after hard workouts to restore their blood sugar levels.

May fight colorectal cancer. A form of maltodextrin — Fibersol-2 — is effective in preventing human colorectal tumor cell growth. This could be because it promotes bacterial fermentation and improves digestion.

The disadvantages of maltodextrin outnumber the benefits, especially if you have a sensitive digestive system. There are healthier alternatives that can add flavor, act as binding ingredients, and help restore energy levels:

  • Pectin comes from fruits, seeds, and vegetables
  • Stevia, derived from the leaf of the stevia plant
  • Dates that provide copper, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and iron
  • Honey that protects you against many illnesses
  • Guar gum that works as a thickening agent and slows down glucose absorption

Experts consider maltodextrin a safe product for consumption, but it may carry some risks. If you have diabetes or celiac disease, use healthier alternatives to the product. Avoid eating highly processed foods, and instead choose whole grains and vegetables to boost brain, gut, and heart health.