Those of us who avoid gluten and are generally health conscious have become accustomed to reading food labels carefully for unwanted ingredients. In doing so, you may have come across one that has raised some questions – maltodextrin.
So I wanted to address the relatively unknown ingredient, maltodextrin. What is it, is it gluten-free, and should you steer clear or consume it with confidence?
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a starchy white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch, tapioca, or wheat. It is typically used in foods as a filler (to increase the volume of a food), a preservative (to extend the shelf life of a food), or an emulsifier (to stabilize the texture of a food). It can also be used as a sweetener.
Maltodextrin may sound simple, but it actually requires quite a bit of processing to make it. First, the starch from the source plant is cooked. Next, acids or enzymes are added to further refine and break down the mixture. The result is a powder that is inexpensive for food manufacturers to make, has a neutral taste that can be included in a number of foods and beverages, and a consistency that improves the texture of a number of liquid and solid foods (sauces, dressings, powdered drinks, etc.). You might also find maltodextrin in personal care items like lotion.
Is Maltodextrin Safe To Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet?
So is maltodextrin safe to eat? Well, that depends. While many consider maltodextrin to be gluten-free, it can be sourced from gluten containing sources like wheat, and grains which can mimic gluten, like corn and rice. Maltodextrin from these sources can still cause a reaction in those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Maltodextrin from gluten-free sources like potato and tapioca can be tolerated well by those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Other Problems with Maltodextrin
But just because maltodextrin can be gluten-free necessarily doesn’t mean you want it to be a regular part of your diet. Gluten-free or not, maltodextrin is a highly processed food with a high glycemic index. In other words, your body sees maltodextrin as a refined carbohydrate. Consumption can spike your blood sugar, so those with diabetes or blood sugar management concerns should consume maltodextrin with caution.
In addition, research shows that maltodextrin can negatively impact gut health. For example, one study showed that maltodextrin can alter the composition of your gut bacteria in a way that makes you more susceptible to disease. It does this by suppressing the growth of the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system that support immune system function. The same study showed that maltodextrin can increase the growth of bad bacteria like E. coli in the gut. Overgrowths of bad bacteria are associated with autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease.
Another study acknowledges that maltodextrin impairs cellular antibacterial responses and suppresses intestinal antimicrobial defense mechanisms. The researchers postulate that maltodextrin contributes to intestinal inflammation which can lead to inflammatory bowel disease.
The Bottom Line
While maltodextrin from gluten-free sources can be safe for those with celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to eat, there is a growing body of research that suggests that maltodextrin may have other adverse effects on health.
We don’t fully understand all of the potential health implications of maltodextrin consumption, and more research needs to be done. So until we know more definitively about the health implications of maltodextrin, I recommend including it in your diet on a limited basis.