If you stand in the grocery store, flipping over every product to read the ingredient lists, chances are you have seen maltodextrin. It is a very common ingredient in processed and packaged food.

For people trying to avoid added sugar, I recommend looking for ingredients that end in –ose. Dextrose, maltose and fructose are some other aliases given to sugar. Maltodextrin is the exception to the rule. It is also a form or sugar that is often passed up on the ingredient label.

Let’s take a closer look at maltodextrin, what it really is, where to find it and if it’s an ingredient you should avoid.

What is maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is a food additive that is produced from a grain starch. In the United States, it is most commonly produced using corn, but it can also be produced from rice, potatoes and wheat. The starch goes through a process called partial hydrolysis, which uses water, enzymes and acids to create a water-soluble white powder. Interestingly, the partial hydrolysis method leaves maltodextrin with less than 20 percent sugar content. However, full hydrolysis creates corn syrup solids, which have over 20 percent sugar.

What food is it found in?

Maltodextrin powder is used as a stabilizer, sweetener and thickener in many packaged foods. It is found in condiments like salad dressings, spice mixes, soups and sauces, baked goods, yogurt, nutrition bars, sugar-free sweeteners (take a close look at your Stevia sweetener!) and meal replacement shakes.

Maltodextrin is easy and cheap to produce making it very appealing to food manufacturers.

Is maltodextrin safe?

There are two sides to every ingredient, and maltodextrin is no different.

While technically a complex carbohydrate because of it’s low-sugar content, maltodextrin has a glycemic index of 130 (table sugar is only 65). A high glycemic index means that it goes through the digestive system and into the bloodstream very quickly. This can be helpful to help muscles recover from hard workouts, if accompanied with protein, or to sustain you during a very intense workout like long distance running or biking.

However, the high glycemic index is a concern for us everyday folks looking for a healthy snack or quick bite to eat. Because of it’s high glycemic index, maltodextrin can spike blood sugar very quickly. If there is nothing for the blood sugar to do, such as repair muscles or provide energy for exercise, it will be stored as fat. Once the body experiences this process too many times, insulin resistance and diabetes can also result.

When looking at any food or ingredient it is important to consider not just the processing but also the source. It is safe to assume that most maltodextrin used in food products is genetically modified since over 80 percent of the corn grown in the country is GMO. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plant or meat products that have had their DNA altered in a lab by genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. While the FDA does not require safety testing for GMOs, increasing independent research has linked GMOs to a slew of health issues including allergies, organ toxicity, cancer, Alzheimers and others. If you are trying to steer clear of genetically modified foods, look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label.

Open up your cupboard and refrigerator and start reading some ingredient lists. If you find maltodextrin in several foods, especially ones you use frequently, you may want to look for alternatives that don’t have maltodextrin in them. If you have blood sugar issues or trouble managing weight, it would be a good idea to eliminate this ingredient altogether.

Tanya McCausland, practices holistic and therapeutic nutrition at Simply Well in Carlisle. Learn more about her and her programs at www.homecookedhealing.com

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