Maltodextrin usually brings to mind a processed sugar added to packaged foods. It has no nutritional value and can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and inflammation. Another form of maltodextrin is a digestion-resistant dietary fiber that promotes gut health and prevents chronic diseases. Keep reading to be able to spot the differences and understand the health benefits and risks of each.
What are Maltodextrins?
Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) derived from plant sources, such as rice, potato, corn or wheat .
Maltodextrin can exist in either a digestible or a digestion-resistant form .
What is Maltodextrin (Digestible)?
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
What is Resistant (Digestion) Maltodextrin?
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].
You may associate hi-maize and raw potato starch with resistant starch. Although these two are more widely known, resistant maltodextrin is another type of resistant starch (type 3, 4 or 5) [5, 13, 14].
Since resistant starch cannot be digested by the small intestine, it passes to the gut intact. Gut bacteria in the colon ferment it into beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), butyrate, and vitamin K2. Resistant starch also helps the good bacteria grow and stay balanced [15, 15].
Resistant maltodextrin promotes digestion, bowel movements, and gut health. It has powerful effects on general wellness, helping to prevent diabetes, heart diseases, obesity, inflammatory conditions, and cancer [5, 15, 16].
Maltodextrin vs. Resistant Maltodextrin
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. When their main effects are broken down, this becomes obvious.
From the images above, it is evident that maltodextrin is far more dangerous. Its health benefits generally don’t outweigh its risks. Resistant maltodextrin, on the other hand, is a great choice of resistant starch that offers many health benefits and poses very few risks.
Maltodextrin still has some advantages, especially in healthy athletes or when given as a fluid before surgery. The body has an increased need for sugar such circumstances of high energy demands. Maltodextrin enhances physical performance, endurance, and post-exercise recovery, as it [29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 22]:
- Provides a good source of energy
- Increases glycogen and glucose levels, which decrease fatigue
- Triggers areas of the brain associated with reward
- Reduces gut discomfort during intense exercise
- Lowers inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IL-6 )
- Increases an anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10)
- Boosts compounds essential for repairing damaged tissue (TGF-b). On the downside, their excess levels increase inflammation.
- Increases collagen and cells that help repair and rebuild connective tissue (fibroblasts)
- Maintains muscle function
In isolation, maltodextrin may improve cognitive skills by activating areas of the brain associated with reward, which increases performance. However, maltodextrin also increases the risk of insulin resistance and autoimmune reactions – all of which can be the underlying cause of brain fog and cognitive dysfunction. When the effects are added up, maltodextrin will more likely worsen your brain health [44, 45, 46].
To do maltodextrin justice, all its researched health benefits are summarized in this section. They mostly concern athletes, people exercising under stressful conditions (such as at very high altitude), and post-surgical recovery. Maltodextrin was given as part of a standardized formulation, which differs from its use as a food additive.
1) Increases Physical Performance and Endurance
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 can be used alone or in combination with simple sugars to improve physical performance and endurance. In several clinical studies with over 140 cyclists, maltodextrin together 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].
Maltodextrin is usually added to sports drinks. Using maltodextrin mouth rinses is a less effective alternative. In one study, a mouth rinse with maltodextrin did not affect the performance of 9 cyclists .
2) May Boost Your Brain during Exercise
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 .
3) May Fight Inflammation
4) Improves Recovery after Surgery
Carbohydrate fluids, such as maltodextrin, given two hours before surgery may reduce insulin resistance while preserving the muscles and glucose levels. These protocols can reduce complications after surgery and decrease the length of stay, enhancing recovery .
In clinical studies on 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 .
5) Promotes Wound Healing
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 on the skin.
In a clinical study on 11 children with neck surgery wounds, maltodextrin gel together with a silver alginate sponge sped up wound healing .
- Spike blood sugar and insulin levels
- Reduce the levels of an important hormone that helps lower blood sugar (GLP-1).
What’s more, this food additive has other mechanisms for triggering a state of disease in the body. 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, 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. Most people are usually not even aware that they are consuming maltodextrin in the food they regularly consume. To stay on the safe side, be sure to check the ingredients section of food labels for maltodextrin content.
1) Increases Diabetes Risk
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].
2) May Cause IBD
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 trigger or worsen gut microbiome imbalances. It increased the growth of harmful gut bacteria such as (cellular, pig and mouse studies) :
3) May Worsen Infections
4) Worsens Oral Health
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 .
5) May Worsen Celiac Disease
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 .
6) Maltodextrin in Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)
Maltodextrin is a cheap filler or sweetener. The chances are high that it is produced from genetically modified corn or rice. Genetically modified corn may contain Cry9C, a protein that can trigger allergies. GMO corn with this protein provoked allergic reactions in a clinical trial on 28 people [92, 93, 94, 95].
Mechanism of Action
- Increasing the good gut bacteria
- Improving stool weight, consistency, and bowel movements
- Reduce belly fat and body weight
- Decrease food intake
- Increase satiety hormones (glucagon-like peptide-1, peptide YY)
- Lower the production of the “hunger” hormone (ghrelin)
- Reduce blood sugar levels and insulin resistance
- Block fat absorption and enhancing the elimination of dietary fats
- Blocking the growth of cancer cells and tumors
- Decreasing endotoxins, inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress markers (TNF-a, IFN gamma, MDA)
- Increasing protective antibodies and anti-inflammatory substances (IgA, butyrate, IL-10)
1) Promotes Digestive Health
Resistant starches can do wonders for your gut health, especially if you are prone to gut microbiome imbalances. In several clinical studies with over 900 people, resistant maltodextrin increased the stool weight, stool consistency, and bowel movement frequency compared to placebo [19, 124, 125, 126, 122, 110].
In rats, resistant maltodextrin promoted the growth of beneficial bacteria (Bifidobacterium) and decreased harmful gut bacteria (Clostridium perfringens). In piglets, resistant it prevented ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disorder [130, 131].
2) Prevents Diabetes
As a resistant starch, this type of maltodextrin will help keep your blood sugar level stable after meals. In a meta-analysis with over 900 people, resistant maltodextrin blocked the increase of blood sugar after meals (postprandial glycemia) .
In a 12-week clinical study on 60 overweight men, resistant maltodextrin decreased blood glucose and insulin levels. It increased a weight-loss protein called adiponectin that blocks glucose production. Adiponectin is also likely to be increased in people with lectin sensitivity .
In a clinical study on 55 women with type 2 diabetes, resistant maltodextrin lowered insulin resistance. In 13 people, resistant maltodextrin reduced insulin production after meals. It also reduced blood sugar levels in a 12-week clinical study on 30 people with metabolic syndrome [116, 132, 115].
3) Prevents Obesity
In several clinical studies with over 300 overweight people, resistant maltodextrin reduced body weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat. In one 12-week clinical study on 30 people with metabolic syndrome, it decreased waist circumference and belly fat [111, 135, 115].
In clinical studies with over 160 overweight men, resistant maltodextrin decreased feelings of hunger, increased satiety, and reduced and food intake. In another study on 32 healthy people, it decreased levels of the “hunger” hormone (ghrelin), lowered feelings of hunger and improved satiety [111, 112, 113, 114].
4) Lowers Blood Fats (Lipids)
In a 12-week clinical study on 60 overweight men, resistant maltodextrin increased HDL- cholesterol, lowered total cholesterol, LDL- cholesterol, VLDL- cholesterol, and triglycerides. Several other studies on both healthy people and those with metabolic syndrome confirmed its triglyceride-lowering benefits [119, 115, 132].
The same was found in rats, in which resistant maltodextrin blocked the increase of triglycerides after eating. In hamsters, RMD together with inulin increased HDL- cholesterol, reduced levels of all harmful fats, echoing the benefits observed in humans [132, 137].
5) Improves Immune Function
In a clinical study 55 women with diabetes type 2, resistant maltodextrin decreased a wide range of harmful immune markers, including endotoxins, inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IFN gamma), and malondialdehyde (MDA) (a marker for oxidative stress). Resistant maltodextrin also increased IL-10 (Interleukin-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine [115, 122].
6) May Enhance Mineral Absorption
We already know that resistant starch aids nutrient absorption and reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Resistant maltodextrin can bring all the proven benefits of resistant starch on mineral and vitamin D levels. In rats, resistant maltodextrin improved the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc – all essential minerals needed to maintain optimal health .
7) May Fight Cancer
In mice, resistant maltodextrin blocked the growth of breast and colon cancer cells and increased cancer cell death. In cell studies, it suppressed the growth of colon cancer cells. More research on its cancer-fighting potential is needed [120, 139, 121].
- Stomach pain
- Stomach fullness
In human, animal, and cell studies, resistant maltodextrin was safe and highly unhazardous .
- Stomach pain and fullness with high doses
- Gurgling sounds
- Diarrhea or watery stools
Limitations and Caveats
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.
Resistant Maltodextrin (RMD)
There are sufficient clinical trials examining the effect of resistant maltodextrin on gut health and prevention of obesity and diabetes. However, the other health benefits are supported mainly by animal and cell studies, whereas the clinical studies only have a small number of participants.
Moreover, there is insufficient research on resistant maltodextrin health risks.
More research on the risk effects and health benefits of resistant maltodextrin should be encouraged.
Forms and Dosage
If maltodextrin is used as mouth rinsing, then 6.4gr maltodextrin are solved into 100 ml water and every mouth rinse should be 25ml .
Resistant Maltodextrin (RMD)
The maximum dosage for men should be 1 gr/kg body weight, whereas women can take 1.1 gr/kg body weight. Higher doses might cause diarrhea .
Maltodextrin Natural Alternatives
Although maltodextrin (digestible) is commonly used as a sweetener or food additive, it’s linked to too many side-effects and risks. 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
It’s the best natural sweetener in moderation!
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Reduce blood pressure and protect the heart
- Fight cancer
- Help with weight loss
- Prevent fatty liver disease
However, some people are allergic to stevia. It may worsen allergies and cause swelling and itching in sensitive people.
- 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 useful. Most users experienced health disturbances, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Stomach pain
- Strong headaches
- Neck stiffness