The Low-Sugar Con Part 1: Maltodextrin

by Dr. David Minkoff May 21, 2020 4 min read

The Low-Sugar Con Part 1: Maltodextrin

The Hidden Dangers Of Maltodextrin

Part 1 of a 2 part series on the hidden dangers of sweeteners

In today’s highly competitive economy, the new normal is for food manufacturers to use marketing ploys to make their products appear healthy – even when they aren’t.

Maltodextrin is one of the most common, hidden-in-plain-sight cons on the market today. It is glorified, processed sugar that masquerades as “carbs.”

It might sound unbelievable, but read the following quote from BellChem – a top US producer of maltodextrin:

“Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate that can be hundreds of sugar molecules in length, which is much larger than the simple carbohydrate arrangement of glucose. Many soft drinks and other flavored beverages contain maltodextrin in their formulas so that they can have a lower amount of sugar on their nutrition facts labels. On the nutrition label, maltodextrin is included under the “Total Carbohydrate” heading, instead of the “sugars” label.” [1]

Maltodextrin instantly turns into sugar and has no fiber or nutrition that will slow digestion. It has a glycemic index of between 80 and 105, compared to table sugar, which has a glycemic index of only 65. [2]

 

The Truth About Maltodextrin

Let’s now dive in and discuss what maltodextrin is, how it is made, and what it does to your body.

Maltodextrin is a white or off-white powder made by processing wheat, corn, rice, or potato starch. It is a polysaccharide, meaning it is a chain of complex carbohydrates that are broken down into sugar molecules during digestion.

It is a processed food made by cooking a base and then using enzymes to further break it down, in addition to utilizing hydrolyzation (processing in water) to extract pure maltodextrin.

In the US, maltodextrin is typically made from corn – which is the most genetically-modified product in the country. This is not to say that all maltodextrin is made from GMO-corn, but there is an extremely high likelihood that it is.

It is a “pure” polysaccharide, meaning it has no nutrients or nutritional value beyond the sugar content. [3]

 

Maltodextrin is More Sugar than Sugar

Complex carbs, like table sugar, turn into glucose (a monosaccharide, also known as “blood sugar”) as they are digested. The glucose enters your bloodstream through your small intestine and is then used by your cells to produce energy.

The “glycemic index” of a carbohydrate is a measurement that indicates how rapidly a carbohydrate is broken down and turned into glucose. It generally ranges from 1-100, with 100 being the equivalent of eating pure glucose.

A healthy carbohydrate like broccoli has a glycemic index of 10, making it an excellent source of energy and nutrients that will not spike your blood sugar. White bread, on the other hand, has a glycemic index of around 75. Raw white sugar has a glycemic index of 65.

Now compare that to maltodextrin, which has a glycemic index of 80 to 105. Consuming products containing maltodextrin is a surefire way to spike your blood sugar. [4,5]

 

What Maltodextrin Does to Your Body

If you are an athlete who needs quick-burning energy to sustain yourself on a long run or ride, then maltodextrin could be effective. The same applies to those who suffer from hypoglycemia – a condition characterized by low blood sugar.

But unless you fall into those two categories, maltodextrin will likely do the following:

  • Give you an energy spike followed by a crash
  • The glucose that is not burned will then be stored as fat, contributing to weight gain and obesity

Those who have diabetes, are predisposed to diabetes, or who have insulin resistance must be cautious when eating foods containing maltodextrin.

Blood sugar spikes are often associated with:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating

The long-term effects of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) include:

  • Heart disease and cardiovascular problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Blindness and eye trouble
  • Reduced blood flow
  • Problems in your bones and joints [6,7]

 

The Clincher: Maltodextrin Hides as “Carbs”

Now, here is the clincher: maltodextrin is everywhere, and is not listed as “sugar” in the nutritional content of food products.

Clif Energy Gels are an extreme example of this, with a single serving of 34 grams containing 25 total carbs, of which 12 grams are cane sugar, and the other 13 are maltodextrin. In other words, it is practically solid sugar – but you could easily miss that fact when reading the nutrition facts. [8]

Some other common types of food that contain maltodextrin are:

  • Protein bars
  • Salad dressing
  • Powdered drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Sauces
  • Pasta
  • Meat alternatives
  • Baked goods
  • Frozen meals
  • Soup

 

In Summary…

Sadly, the “nutrition facts” on the back of food products can be misleading, and it is important to read the actual ingredients. If maltodextrin appears in the list of ingredients, it is a red flag – the sugar content is higher than it appears, and that food should be avoided if possible.

Stay tuned for Part II of this article – The Low Sugar Con: Hidden Ingredients!

 


References:

  1. https://www.bellchem.com/news/maltodextrin
  2. https://www.onnit.com/academy/maltodextrin-time-place-high-glycemic-carbohydrates/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-maltodextrin-bad-for-me
  4. https://dlife.com/low-glycemic-index-foods-for-people-with-diabetes/
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322426#which-foods-contain-maltodextrin
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373631
  8. https://www.clifbar.com/products/clif/shot-energy-gel/citrus