Maltodextrin is a white starchy powder and a common ingredient in packaged foods. It is a polysaccharide made up of starch and is obtained from potato, corn, rice, tapioca and wheat by the process of partial hydrolysis.

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Hydrolysis uses water, enzymes and acids to break the starch into smaller particles resulting in small white granules called Maltodextrin [1]. It is mainly used as a thickening agent and a preservative. It is easily digestible, water soluble, absorbed almost as rapidly as glucose, and relatively tasteless.

Uses

  • As a thickening agent: Since it is made from starch and is soluble in water, it forms a gel like structure which aids in thickening the products such as gelatins, sauces, soups, instant puddings and many such instant ready to eat products.
  • It prevents formation of crystals and thus helps as a binding agent.
  • As a flavor enhancer
  • As a preservative sice it increases the shelf life of products
  • As an alternative to sugar

Nutritional Value

The calorific value of Maltodextrin is same as Sucrose or table sugar (4 calories/g). However the Glycemic index (GI) is much higher than sucrose.

The GI of sucrose is 65 whereas that of Maltodextrin is in the range of 85-105, which means that it causes a sharp increase or spike in blood sugar levels upon eating.

Benefits

For people with low glucose levels or hypoglycaemia, consumption of this polysaccharide helps to regulate blood glucose levels as it rises the blood sugar levels immediately upon consumption.

It is used as a post workout meal by sportspersons when the body requires high glycemic index foods to replenish glucose and glycogen levels [2].

It is inexpensive and easy to produce and hence used extensively in packaged foods and post workout drinks.

Safety

Despite few of the benefits discussed above, Maltodextrin is not widely considered to be good source of carbohydrate. Although FDA has labelled it as a safe food additive, research is linked with possible health risks of using Maltodextrin.

As an additive it is used in a very small amount and regular consumption may pose health risks.

Maltodextrin and Diabetes

Since it has a high glycemic index than regular sugar, it releases sugar faster in the blood which may lead to spikes in the blood glucose causing hyperglycemia. In patients with Diabetes, high GI foods are to be avoided due to the same reason. Consistent use of Maltodextrin by diabetics may lead to aberrated blood glucose levels.

High levels of sugar/ carbohydrates in the blood that doesn't get metabolized enough may be stored as fat. This is just contrary to the complex carbohydrates from grains recommended to diabetics which gradually release sugar in the blood stream thereby maintaining the blood glucose levels at all times. Also complex carbohydrate which take more time to breakdown and digest, will give a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time since these are absorbed slowly.

Maltodextrin and Gut Microflora

Studies have suggested that Maltodextrin suppresses the good bacteria of the gut or probiotic bacteria. It is also known to increase the growth of harmful bacteria thereby affecting the overall gut microflora. This could eventually cause intestinal damage and put the person at a risk of inflammatory bowel syndrome.
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Maltodextrin had shown to increase the activity of Escherichia coli(E.Coli) which is linked to Chrohn’s disease (3&4). Affecting of the gut microflora may lead to gastrointestinal and autoimmune disorders. It can also cause bloating and flatulence. People who have severe allergies might also get skin irritations.

During the processing of maltodextrin, all the protein is removed, however there might be traces of gluten which might not be tolerated well by people with celiac diseases. It is a dietery fiber and if consumed in quantities greater than 1g per kg, it does not cause diarrhea [5].

Genetically Modified Foods are known to have several health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer , kidney ailments [6]. Being cheap alternative, maltodextrin is mainly made from genetically modified corn. Although the FDA has approved the use of GMF, it is linked with many health diseases.

Since maltodextrinis a highly processed product, its consumption in high amounts just like sugar may lead to weight gain. It is not advisable for diabetics and patients with high cholesterol levels.

Alternatives

If a person depends heavily on processed and packaged foods, it is possible that he is consuming a lot of maltodextrin. Not only for any diseased condition, but a diet based on unprocessed whole foods is always recommended even for healthy individuals.

Some of the alternatives are mentioned below:

Stevia

Stevia is produced from the leaves of stevia plant and so it is a natural source of a sweetener. It does not have any calories which makes it a useful choice for diabetic or people having difficulty in maintaining weight.

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There are many categories of Stevia like the green leaf stevia, stevia extracts and altered stevia. However green leaf stevia is most recommended since it is the least processed [7].

Pectin

Pectin is a carbohydrate polymer which is present in mostly all fruits where it contributes to the cell structure. Pectin has the ability to form gels. It forms gel when mixed with water. While making commercial products such as jams and jellies, naturally available pectin present in fruits might not be sufficient and so commercial pectin is added to enhance the texture.

Because of the gelling ability of pectin, it is used as viscosity enhancer and it combines with fatty molecules in the digestive tract and aids in their removal from the body.

Honey

Raw honey is obtained from beehive nector. It is probably the oldest form of sweetness whose use was prevalent as ancient as around 5000 years back. It is the most natural form of sweetness. Honey is 80% sugar and has high levels of monosaccharides, glucose and fructose.

Honey also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties and is used to chronic wound management and to combat severe infections [8]. It is known to relieve cold and cough symptoms as it has a smoothing effect and also serves cosmetic purpose to make dry cracked skin smooth.

Guargum

Guar gum is a galactomannan polysaccharide since it is made from large number of mannose and galactose units joined together. It is extracted from guar beans(cluster beans) that has thickening and stabilizing properties useful in the food industries. Guar gum is a fiber that normalizes the moisture content of the stool, absorbing excess liquid in diarrhoea, and softening the stool in constipation.

It also might help decrease the amount of cholesterol and glucose that is absorbed in the stomach and intestines. Taking guargum has known to lower the cholesterol levels. The most significant characteristic of guar gum is its ability to absorb water systems to give highly viscous solutions thereby aiding in proper stool elimination.

It is used as laxative in pharmaceutical industries. Guar gum helps to slows down glucose absorption, which is beneficial for people with diabetes or high cholesterol levels whereas maltodextrin gets absorbed rapidly.

Molasses

Molasses, also called treacle, syrup remaining after sugar is crystallized out of cane or beet juice. Molasses is a common sweetener and flavouring in many baked goods and sauces. It adds moisture to the recipe and contributes a darker color.

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Additionally, it contains calcium, which helps slow down the softening of food and why baked beans retain their shape, even after long cooking times.

Other Alternatives

  • Dates
  • Maple syrup
  • Corn syrup

Most commercial or processed products contain maltodextrin hence one must be careful in consuming these products as it is better to use foods in their natural and unprocessed forms.


References
1. accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=184.1444
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20975107
3. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23251695
4. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0052132
5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24064737
6. enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-014-0013-6
7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890837/
8. cochrane.org/CD005083/WOUNDS_honey-as-a-topical-treatment-for-acute-and-chronic-wounds