An Overview of Maltodextrin

An Overview of Maltodextrin

Are you in the habit of reading the labels of the food products that you buy? If not then we urge you to start the practice of doing so because knowing what...

Are you in the habit of reading the labels of the food products that you buy? If not then we urge you to start the practice of doing so because knowing what goes into your body is a good idea. And if you already practise this habit, you might see that packaged and processed foods have some additional ingredients apart from the macronutrients and micronutrients. These additional ingredients could be preservatives, anticaking agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers - all of which are food additives. Maltodextrin is also an additional ingredient which we use in certain Happy Ratio’s formulations so we want to tell you more about it.

What is maltodextrin? 

Maltodextrin is a food additive used to replace sugar and improve the taste, texture and shelf life of foods. It is a type of carbohydrate made from corn, rice, wheat, tapioca or potato starch. Getting a little deeper into the chemistry, maltodextrin is a mixture of oligosaccharides derived from starch sources. [1] Oligosaccharides refer to carbohydrates that contain 3 to 10 sugar units. This saccharide (or, sugar) consists of d-glucose units that are connected in chains of variable length - typically 3 to 17 glucose units. Maltodextrins have an average DE range of 3 to 20. DE or dextrose equivalent indicates the degree of hydrolysis of starch into glucose syrup. The higher the DE, the more is the sugar and less is the dextrin (carbohydrates produced from hydrolyzing starch) present. In other words, the degree of sweetness increases with an increase in DE value. [1] [2] [3] Happy Ratio uses maltodextrin that has a DE of 10 - 12.

Maltodextrin is used widely in the food industry in products such as biscuits, bread, cereals, pasta, sauces, soft drinks, and even artificial sweeteners. It is also commonly used in the health and fitness industry for products like nutrition bars, weight-training supplements and even Happy Ratio’s All-In-One nutrition product portfolio.

How is maltodextrin made?

Although maltodextrin comes from these natural sources such as corn, rice, wheat, tapioca or potato starch, it undergoes intense processing to get to the final product. The process that is used to make maltodextrin is called hydrolysis. In chemistry, hydrolysis means a chemical reaction of the interaction of chemicals - salts, fats, carbohydrates and proteins - with water that leads to the decomposition of both water and the substance. Maltodextrin is made by starch hydrolysis where the starches are first cooked and then acids, water or enzymes such as heat-stable bacterial alpha-amylase are added to further break the starches into smaller pieces. The final result is a white powder consisting of sugar molecules that is water-soluble and has a neutral taste [1]. In general, the final products of starch hydrolysis can be glucose, fructose, maltose and maltodextrin. Maltodextrin lacks in nutritional value but makes a very easy-to-digest carbohydrate. It has 4 calories per gram because the intense processing strips it off of its nutritious value. 

Maltodextrins are available in two forms: dried products and liquid products. Dried products have properties similar to corn syrup solids whereas liquid products have properties similar to glucose syrups. Corn syrup solids also undergo a hydrolysis process where water is added to help in their breakdown. After hydrolysis, if the DE is equal to or exceeds 20 it is referred to as corn syrup solids. And if the DE remains lower than 20 it is known as maltodextrins. [1]

Are there any health benefits of maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is considered safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and further affirmed as GRAS (General Recognized as Safe) by the regulatory body. Apart from being fairly inexpensive and an effective food additive, it has a variety of benefits, such as: 

Energy: Maltodextrin provides a quick source of energy. This is because glucose obtained from the digestion of maltodextrin is readily absorbed in the small intestine and thereafter used in metabolism. Maltodextrin has 4 calories per gram and since it is quickly digested, it is useful for a quick boost of energy or calories. However it depends on how it is consumed, the quantity it is consumed in and the ingredients it is consumed with. For example, if the purpose is to create a caloric surplus in order to gain weight then maltodextrin can be consumed in large quantities by athletes and bodybuilders. Research shows that maltodextrin-based supplements can help in maintaining anaerobic power during exercise. Studies also show that maltodextrin helps in replenishing glycogen, which is a form of glucose stored in the muscles that act as a reserve of energy supply if glucose is depleted. [4]

Digestion: Both digestible and digestion-resistant maltodextrins are commercially used in food ingredients. A study shows that digestion-resistant maltodextrin contributes to normal bowel function and helps relieve constipation. Additionally, it also shows that the right choice of dietary fibre can further help with laxation. Digestion-resistant maltodextrins are non-digestible carbohydrates that can improve colonic transit time. [5]

Chronic hypoglycemia: Maltodextrin has a high GI and this turns out to be extremely helpful for people who suffer from hypoglycemia - a condition in which the blood sugar level is lower than normal. The Glycemic index is a measure to show how quickly carbs are converted into glucose, thereby making blood sugar rise. If the blood sugar levels of hypoglycemic patients drop below normal they have a quick solution with maltodextrin. However, one must always consult their doctors in such a case. 

Colorectal cancer: A digestion-resistant maltodextrin, also known as Fibersol-2, is known to have anti-tumour activity. A study found that it has been proved to be effective in inhibiting colorectal cancer cell growth in humans without any sign of toxicities or side effects. [6] [7]

Health risks associated with maltodextrin

Every coin has two sides. While there are a few very good reasons for consuming maltodextrin, this food additive is associated with some health risks that one should not overlook. Some of these include:

Diabetes: Maltodextrin causes a spike in the blood sugar level. It has a glycemic index ranging between 85 and 105, which is higher than table sugar. [3] Foods with a high GI, like maltodextrin, get quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This is not good for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes. Maltodextrin, however, is considered safe in moderate doses when you factor in your total carbohydrate intake. [8] The glycemic index of Happy Ratio ranges from a low 27 to 32 despite the presence of maltodextrin. That is lower than some of the healthiest foods like rice, honey, pineapples and potatoes. The body does not absorb one ingredient or nutrient at a time. When you consume food holistically then the overall characteristics of the meals are what counts. This is important to keep in mind because what might seem unhealthy when consumed on its own might be perfectly healthy when consumed with other ingredients just like consuming teaspoons of sugar is probably not good for you but having half a teaspoon in coffee is perfectly fine! 

Gut problems: Gut bacteria play an important role in maintaining people’s health. If you suffer from stomach issues such as Crohn’s disease then you need to be careful about what you consume. A study found that E. coli can contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease and a few other inflammatory bowel diseases. 

Uses of maltodextrin  

Maltodextrin is commonly used as a sweetener but it is much more than that. In the food industry, maltodextrin is used for various purposes like:

  • thickening foods and liquids to bind the ingredients together
  • improving flavour, texture and mouthfeel of foods and beverages
  • helping preserve foods and therefore increase shelf life [9]
  • replacing sugar or fat in processed foods [10]

However, as we can see from the health risks discussed above, maltodextrin can cause a spike in blood sugar levels especially if you are diabetic. Therefore, maltodextrin alternatives are used. As a thickener, guar gum and pectin are used to substitute maltodextrin. These food additives are also useful in baking. Pectin is a carbohydrate that is extracted from fruits, seeds, and vegetables. Besides, tapioca starch and arrowroot powder are also used as effective thickeners. To control blood sugar levels, sweeteners such as stevia, sugar alcohols and polydextrose are used in place of maltodextrin. Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol and glycerol not only add sweetness to the food but also have fewer calories and cause a lesser impact on blood sugar levels. However, they should also be used in a limited amount of 10 grams per day to prevent gastrointestinal problems. [8] [11] Having said that, as a sweetener date syrup makes a very good alternative to sugar because of its low glycemic index. But the supposedly “natural” sugar alternative also uses maltodextrin of DE 19 as an antiplasticizer to improve its drying properties. While maltodextrin alternatives are widely used to perform the same functions, maltodextrin is also essential in the process of making alternative products. 

Happy Ratio has also created diabetes-friendly protein-focused formulations which do not contain maltodextrin or other carbohydrates for those who suffer from this lifestyle disease.

What’s the takeaway?

When it comes to food, it is always about how much you intake and not just what you intake. If you are someone with hypoglycemia, maltodextrin can be beneficial in stabilising your blood sugar level immediately, if it drops below normal. If you are someone who is suffering from type 2 diabetes you have to be mindful of your maltodextrin consumption, as we have discussed in the article. Happy Ratio uses maltodextrin with DE 10-12 in its All-In-One Nutrition Shakes in a very limited quantity based on thorough scientific research. If you are very very sensitive to maltodextrin or any other carbohydrate then you can try our Protein-Focus shakes as they have 0 added carbs. Our latest batch with flavourful variants is ready. You can check them out here