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What Is Modified Food Starch?

If you’re one to look at food labels, you’ve probably come across an ingredient that sounds a little suspect: modified food starch. You may have thought, “what is modified food starch”? While modified food starch is often gluten free, you’re right to be hesitant before consuming this common but questionable additive. Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Modified Food Starch?

Modified food starch is a food ingredient made from the starch of other foods. Modified food starch gets its name as it involves physically, enzymatically, or chemically altering starch to change its inherent properties. The word “modified” may raise suspicion about genetic modification or GMOs. While modified food starches are not necessarily genetically modified, some modified food starches are likely made from genetically modified ingredients, like corn.

Modified food starch can be made from a number of food sources, including corn, potato, waxy maize, tapioca, or wheat. In America, the most common food sources are modified corn, waxy maize, and potato. Sometimes, labels will list the source from which the starch was modified, like “modified corn starch.” However, unless the modified food starch is derived from one of the top eight allergens (like wheat), it is not required by law that the specific source be listed.

Modified food starch is used as an additive in packaged and processed foods to thicken, stabilize, or emulsify. It tends to improve the texture or consistency of foods to extend their palatability throughout a longer shelf life. For example, modified food starch can keep a jarred sauce thicker or a bottled dressing well-mixed. 

Is Modified Food Starch Gluten Free?

Modified food starch is present in so many foods, it’s important to know if those with gluten sensitivities should avoid the foods that use modified food starch.

In many cases, modified food starch is considered to be gluten-free. However, this comes with some caveats. For one, in many foods that list “modified food starch” as an ingredient, there is no way to tell what the modified food starch is made from. It is often made from things like corn, and potato, which can be considered gluten-free, but still have a track record of hurting those with gluten sensitivities. Additionally, it is entirely possible modified food starch is made from wheat, meaning it contains gluten. In some cases, the modified food starch will identify what it is made from. For example, it may say modified corn starch, or modified wheat starch. However, this is not always the case. Modified food starch is hard to recommend when we consider these facts.

Common Types of Modified Food Starch

Modified food starch is found in a number of packaged and processed foods – even those marketed as “better for you” or “healthy”. You might see modified food starch show up on ingredient labels for foods like baked goods, snacks, marinades, sauces, dressings, and soups. Modified starches are often used in foods that promote themselves as “instant” and in foods that might need a certain temperature to thicken (during cooking or freezing), like premade meals and “instant” foods like oats and puddings. 

How to Avoid Gluten from Modified Food Starch

As is the case in avoiding gluten in any food, it is important to read labels carefully. As modified food starch can be derived from wheat, it is important to avoid this source in particular. 

In addition, there are a number of other foods that should be avoided on a gluten free diet that may also be present in modified food starch, like corn.

As always, I advise you to be cautious of any packaged or processed food, as they are typically made with refined sugars and carbohydrates, lack critical nutrients, and may be subject to cross contamination.

The Bottom Line

Even though modified food starch may be gluten-free in some cases, it isn’t necessarily a food additive you want to consume. We still don’t fully understand the health implications of modified food starch, and there is a need for more information and research around their bioavailability, effect on nutrient absorption, intestinal changes, and toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic effects. 

In addition, we do know that modified food starch is often produced from low quality and sometimes genetically modified sources. Common in packaged foods, modified food starch may even be an indicator of a highly processed food and therefore one you wouldn’t otherwise want to consume. For these reasons, I recommend limiting or avoiding modified food starches as much as possible.

2 Responses

  1. When I take my np thyroid it has dextrose in it…probably made from wheat or corn. In trying to change it to tapioca the initial mix will still have dextrose I. It’s base. Should I take gluten shield with this med? In every other way. I am gluten free?

    1. You can…but I would also discuss this with your prescribing doctor. He may be able to write you a prescription to compound the same medication without the filler.

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