Digestible maltodextrin is a common food additive used to sweeten and improve the texture of food. It has no nutritional value and may promote diabetes, obesity, and inflammation. Read on to learn more.
Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) derived from plant sources, such as rice, potato, corn or wheat .
Maltodextrin exists in either a digestible or a digestion-resistant form .
The digestible maltodextrin is a common ingredient in foods and the one associated with health dangers. Although maltodextrin is a plant extract, it is highly processed. This white powder is industrially produced by breaking down starch (with enzymes or acids), followed by purification. The final product is tasteless and soluble in water [7, 8, 1, 9].
- Provide a cheap source of energy in sports drinks
- Enhance texture or flavor
- Preserve packaged or canned foods
- Prevent ice growth in frozen foods
- Thicken liquids similar to gelatin
- Replace sugar or fat in low-calorie foods
Unlike regular maltodextrin, digestion resistant maltodextrin can be a health-enhancing substance. It is a dietary fiber produced by a chemical process that changes the bonds between the sugars, making it impossible to digest [5, 12].
Since resistant starch cannot be digested by the small intestine, it passes to the gut intact. Gut bacteria in the colon ferment it into vitamin K2 and beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate. Resistant starch also helps good bacteria grow and stay balanced .
Resistant maltodextrin promotes digestion, bowel movements, and gut health. It has powerful effects on general wellness and its ingestion has been inversely linked to diabetes, heart diseases, obesity, and inflammatory conditions [5, 15, 16].
Note: For simplicity, we’ll refer to the regular, digestible maltodextrin simply as “maltodextrin” in the rest of this article while digestion-resistant maltodextrin will be referred to as “resistant maltodextrin”.
It is clear that maltodextrin and resistant maltodextrin only sound similar. However, these two sugars are completely different when it comes to their benefits and risks.
Maltodextrin may still have some advantages, especially in healthy athletes or when given as a fluid before surgery. The body has an increased need for sugar under such circumstances of high energy demands. In various studies, maltodextrin has enhanced physical performance, endurance, and post-exercise recovery, probably by [29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 22]:
- Providing a good source of energy
- Increasing glycogen and glucose levels, which decrease fatigue
- Triggering areas of the brain associated with reward
- Reducing gut discomfort during intense exercise
- Lowering inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IL-6 )
- Increasing an anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10)
- Boosting compounds essential for repairing damaged tissue (TGF-b). On the downside, their excess levels increase inflammation.
- Increasing collagen and cells that help repair and rebuild connective tissue (fibroblasts)
- Maintaining muscle function
In isolation, some researchers have suggested that maltodextrin may improve cognitive skills by activating areas of the brain associated with reward, which increases performance. However, maltodextrin also increases markers associated with insulin resistance and autoimmune reactions, which may themselves be the underlying cause of brain fog and cognitive dysfunction [44, 45, 46].
Maltodextrin is approved by the FDA as a food additive, but not for medical use. Speak with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or supplement regimen.
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of maltodextrin for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before using maltodextrin for health reasons, and never use it in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.
Glycogen is a complex sugar that stores energy in the body. Increased glycogen breakdown and low blood glucose levels can cause fatigue during exercise. Most exercise enthusiasts know that carbohydrate intake before or during exercise increases glycogen and glucose levels, which boosts energy levels and endurance [29, 30, 31, 32].
Maltodextrin has been used alone or in combination with simple sugars to improve physical performance and endurance. In several clinical studies with a total of over 140 cyclists, maltodextrin with fructose improved cycling performance times and reduced fatigue [20, 21, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 35].
In clinical studies with over 110 recreational athletes, maltodextrin alone or combined with fructose or MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), increased fat breakdown, performance, and endurance [59, 60, 61, 62, 63].
In one study, a mouth rinse with maltodextrin did not affect the performance of 9 cyclists .
In a clinical study on 24 people, a mouth rinse with maltodextrin, caffeine, and guarana enhanced cognitive control, speed, accuracy, and time perception during exercise. However, caffeine may be responsible for the observed cognitive boost. In a clinical study on 10 people, caffeine and not maltodextrin increased cognitive performance and brain activity [44, 65].
In 9 fatigued fencers, mouth rinsing with maltodextrin increased fencing accuracy .
In piglets, a milk formula with maltodextrin increased cognitive performance better than the milk sugar lactose .
Carbohydrate fluids, such as maltodextrin, given two hours before surgery may reduce insulin resistance while preserving the muscles and glucose levels. These protocols reduced complications after surgery and decreased the length of stay, enhancing recovery .
In clinical studies of 140 women undergoing surgical removal of the gallbladder, maltodextrin supported the respiratory muscles, increased handgrip strength, decreased insulin resistance, and reduced inflammation compared to the placebo [41, 42].
In a clinical study on 22 people undergoing stomach surgery due to cancer, maltodextrin prior to the surgery decreased the length of stay and inflammation compared to placebo .
Cells need signals from cytokines and an adequate matrix to regenerate. TGF-beta 1 is a cytokine that supports tissue repair by stimulating the production of matrix proteins and new blood vessels. At the same time, connective tissue cells make collagen, which is essential for proper wound healing [38, 39, 68, 69].
Maltodextrin can be formulated into gels or powders that can be applied to the skin.
In a clinical study of 11 children with neck surgery wounds, maltodextrin gel together with a silver alginate sponge sped up wound healing .
Maltodextrin activates several disease-promoting pathways in the body. For one, it can increase markers associated with diabetes. Being an easily-digestible sugar, maltodextrin acts to [72, 25, 73, 74, 75].
- Spike blood sugar and insulin levels
- Reduce the levels of GLP-1, an important hormone that helps lower blood sugar
What’s more, this food additive has other mechanisms for triggering a state of disease in the body. According to some researchers, maltodextrin may worsen:
- IBD by feeding harmful gut bacteria and increasing their overgrowth (such as Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecalis, and Salmonella spp) [76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84]
- Infections and tooth decay by increasing inflammatory dental bacteria (Streptococcus gordonii) and other dangerous bacteria in the body (such as Streptococcus pyogenes) [85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 27, 91].
- Celiac disease, as it can be produced from wheat [1, 28]
- Allergic and autoimmune reactions, as it is probably produced from genetically modified corn or rice that contains an allergy-triggering protein (Cry9C) [92, 93, 94, 95].
While maltodextrin may enhance exercise performance, its use as a food additive carries many dangers and increases the risk of chronic diseases. To stay on the safe side, be sure to check the ingredients section of food labels for maltodextrin content.
Maltodextrin increases blood sugar levels and insulin release, which can cause insulin resistance in the long run .
In a clinical trial on 40 healthy people, maltodextrin increased blood sugar and insulin levels to a much greater extent than drinks with a low glycemic index drink (with isomaltulose or modified starch). Maltodextrin also decreased the levels of a hormone that helps lower blood sugar (GLP-1) [25, 73, 74, 75].
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and leads to diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and severe stomach pain. Gut microbiome imbalances are a big trigger of IBD [99, 100, 26].
Maltodextrin may be less harmful for your teeth than regular sugar, which is also known as sucrose. For example, in a study of 10 people, maltodextrin caused smaller dental plaques than sucrose. Maltodextrin is still a big contributor to dental cavities, though. It’s best to avoid both regular table sugar and maltodextrin if you want to keep your teeth healthy .
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the small intestine upon gluten consumption. People with celiac disease should avoid gluten, which is commonly found in grains such as wheat, rye or barley [104, 105].
Some people may not react to wheat-derived maltodextrin, which depends on its gluten content. In a 24-week clinical study on 90 people with celiac disease, wheat maltodextrin did not cause any stomach or bowel irritations .
Maltodextrin is a cheap filler or sweetener which is often produced from genetically modified corn or rice. Genetically modified corn may also contain Cry9C, a protein that can trigger allergies. GMO corn with this protein provoked allergic reactions in a clinical trial of 28 people [92, 93, 94, 95].
- Stomach pain
- Stomach fullness
To avoid adverse effects and unexpected interactions, talk to your doctor before using maltodextrin for health reasons.
Most studies investigating the effects of maltodextrin are performed on animals and cells.
Furthermore, the few clinical trials that were carried out had a small number of participants, and in most of them, maltodextrin was only one component of the diet/therapy examined.
Further research on the benefits and side effects of maltodextrin is needed.
There is no safe and effective dose of maltodextrin because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one. The dosage of maltodextrin powder used in sports beverages ranges from 0.3 to 1.7 gr, with the most common dosage being 0.6 gr [48, 21, 20, 49].
If maltodextrin is used as mouth rinsing, then 6.4gr maltodextrin are solved into 100 ml water and every mouth rinse should be 25ml .
Although digestible maltodextrin is commonly used as a sweetener or food additive, it has been linked to many potential side-effects. Many healthy natural alternatives to maltodextrin exist, which we have summarized below.
Honey is a sweet liquid made from bees which collect nectar from flowers. It contains over 200 compounds, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, honey is a widely-used remedy for various diseases .
- Boost energy
- Speed wound healing
- Protect the brain
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Suppress coughs
- Promote skin health
- Lowered blood sugar levels
- Reduced blood pressure and protect the heart
- Promoted weight loss
- Prevented fatty liver disease
However, some people are allergic to stevia. It may worsen allergies and cause swelling and itching in sensitive people.
Pectin is a soluble fiber found in berries, apples, and other fruit, and it can act as a sweetener or as a filler in foods. Pectin has many potential health benefits, including [122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127]:
- Promoting gut health by reducing constipation and diarrhea
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Decreasing blood sugar levels
- Reducing hunger and helping with weight loss
Guar gum is a complex sugar (polysaccharide) made from legumes called guar beans. It is used as a food additive and a filler in many processed foods .
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Promotes digestion and improves bowel health
- Reduces cholesterol levels
- Helps with weight loss
However, guar gum also has some negative effects. We don’t recommend it over healthier alternatives like moderate amounts of raw honey.
People took digestible maltodextrin as a weight loss supplement; however, very few users found it effective. Most users experienced health disturbances, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Stomach pain
- Strong headaches
- Neck stiffness