For people who meticulously go through the nutrition facts label for every packaged food that they buy, there is a huge chance that they might have come across maltodextrin. A common food additive, it is used for many purposes. Among them are prolonging the time food can be consumed and enhancing flavors. But there is certainly more to maltodextrin than meets the eye. Knowing these facts will make people gain a better understanding of how this highly digestible carbohydrate affects the human body.
What Maltodextrin Is
This carbohydrate comes in the form of fine, white powder. It is highly soluble particularly in water. The irony is, even if it is flavorless, it is used to improve the flavor of the food it is added to. This is because maltodextrin is a food thickener so it helps bind the ingredients together.
For the most part, maltodextrin is gluten-free but this comes with a fair warning. Since it is sourced from starchy food, wheat could still be a possible ingredient. This is the importance of understanding nutrition facts labels particularly for those with allergic reactions to certain types of food.
After being sourced from starchy food like corn or tapioca, the raw components undergo hydrolysis. In this process, starch is broken down into even smaller bits with the use of certain acids, enzymes, and water. As a result, maltodextrin comes in the form of fine, white powder.
Uses of Maltodextrin
There are many uses of this food additive. Some of these are:
- Binding ingredients. As mentioned earlier, this carbohydrate, in some instances, is used as a food thickening agent. Because of this, ingredients come together as a more cohesive whole.
- Enhancing flavors. This is still connected to it being a food thickener. With better binding of ingredients comes a more flavorful dish.
- Improving texture. Again, as a thickener, it can do a lot of things. It can make sauces and soup look velvety smooth. It can make gravy even thicker than usual.
- Deterrent to choking. This is yet another result of maltodextrin being a food thickener. Food with thicker consistency significantly lowers the possibility of choking.
- Sugar replacement. It can replace sugar or fat in a low-calorie diet.
For all its positive uses, one question continues to hound this particular carbohydrate: Is it safe? By US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, maltodextrin is. FDA gave it a GRAS status or “direct food substances affirmed as generally recognized as safe.” Being an ingredient that is GRAS, it can be used as an additive “with no limitation.” However, with the FDA green-lighting the unabated use of maltodextrin, it certainly does not mean that people have the license to excessively consume it. It still is a carbohydrate at the end of the day. An excess of it can lead to a whole host of problems such as diabetes and an increase in weight.
Connection to Diseases and Illnesses
Intolerance to certain types of food
Research has shown that maltodextrin may trigger various allergies as mild as a simple rash to something more serious like asthma. This is because of the raw sources of maltodextrin (wheat, rice, corn, potato) which some people may be intolerant to.
As with any carbohydrate, too much consumption of maltodextrin over a period time may exacerbate cases of diabetes and/or insulin resistance. This is due to maltodextrin having a higher glycemic index (GI) than regular sugar. GI ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels. The higher the GI, the quicker sugar is digested, absorbed, and metabolized. This would mean a noticeable spike in a person’s insulin levels.
Some studies suggest a connection between maltodextrin and intestinal problems which include catalyzing the increase of harmful bacteria, Salmonella and E-Coli in particular, in the intestines which could potentially lead to irregularities in bowel movement, gastroenteritis, and other intestinal-related conditions.
These are just some of the things to look out for when using maltodextrin. However, one should remember that there is also an upside when consuming this carbohydrate. The rule of thumb is simple: Everything should be taken in moderation. Once people do this, having maltodextrin in one’s diet wouldn’t be a huge problem.
One way of keeping track of how much maltodextrin a person is consuming is knowing what types of food are rich with it. These include rice, meat, soup, sugar, sweets, pasta, frozen meals, sports drinks, and baked goods among others. However, with or without maltodextrin, limiting the intake of these types of food will regulate one’s weight and improve one’s health.
Just like regular sugar, a gram of maltodextrin translates to roughly about four calories. It is in the GI where these two diverge. As mentioned earlier, the latter has higher GI which means consuming maltodextrin may cause a faster increase in blood sugar level as compared to regular sugar. This is the reason why people living with diabetes should be extra careful with food rich with this particular carbohydrate.
For people who want to completely steer clear from maltodextrin, there are some alternatives that one can try:
- Those who don’t have blood sugar level concerns can use any common sweetener ranging from molasses to coconut sugar.
- Stevia, sugar alcohol, and polydextrose can do the trick for those who keep an eye on their glucose levels.
- For thickening or binding ingredients, alternatives include pectin, fruit or vegetable extract, starch, or guar binding gum.
There are many alternatives that people can opt for just in case they are wary about consuming maltodextrin.
With maltodextrin’s immediate benefits and its GRAS recognition, it does not come as a surprise that it has become one of the most common food additives at present. However, even if experts consider it safe to consume, it still is an additive at the end of the day. Too much consumption will definitely spell disaster for one’s health. Limit the intake of additive-heavy processed food and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. The key takeaway here is to avoid maltodextrin excesses. Moderation is and will always be the key to unlock a healthier lifestyle.