Maltodextrin: What are the hidden health benefits of this food additive?

maltodextrin sugar

What is Maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is a hygroscopic (moisture absorbing) powder from partial starch hydrolysis (or breakdown of starch). It is a compound with multiple glucose molecules linked together as a straight chain. It is obtained from starchy plant materials such as rice, wheat, potato starch, and corn and appears to be white in color.

maltodextrinIt is majorly used as an additive, as a flavor enhancer, to improve the texture and also as a preservative. It is 100% digestible and is a usable energy source for the body.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers maltodextrin in the “Generally Recognized as Safe” list.

Post-exercise foods are designed to aid in muscle recovery and improve exercise stamina. Some of these contain an ingredient called maltodextrin. This ingredient is also present in other packaged foods, weight loss supplements, infant formula, etc. The use of maltodextrin goes way back to the 1960s. Maltodextrin is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a safe additive for food.

How is it produced?

In brief, the starches are cooked followed by which there is the addition of a heat stable bacterial α-amylase enzyme (an enzyme that breaks down the complex sugar molecules or the polysaccharides) to disintegrate the starch further. Ash, the color pigments and other impurities are removed from the mixture. Then, the mixture is concentrated to yield a white powder as a resultant product.

What is digestion resistant maltodextrin (DRM)?

It is a non-digestible carbohydrate obtained from corn and wheat. It is obtained by subjecting the obtained maltodextrin to an additional processing step to convert the digestible glucose to an undigestable form. It contains 90% fiber and is commonly used in baking, or in beverages or cooking.

How will I know which type of maltodextrin to use?

The properties are described in terms of the dextrose equivalent (DE: the number of glucose molecules present in the dextrin) and the degree of polymerization (DP or the gel-forming ability).

  • Lower DE signifies high thickness (high viscosity), low sweetness, low moisture absorbing capacity, low flavor enhancement, low tendencies of browning, higher DP and low fermentability.
  • Higher DE implies low viscosity, high sweetness, high hygroscopicity, high flavor enhancement, high sweetness, high browning tendencies, low DP and high fermentability.

Depending on your requirement you can use maltodextrin of an appropriate DE value.

How nutritious is it? Can it be digested?

maltodextrin sugar substituteMaltodextrin can be digested on the surface of the small intestine via the enzymes to give rise to glucose which subsequently gets absorbed into the body. This will provide you with a good amount of energy (calories).

Even the digestion resistant maltodextrin provides the benefits of dietary fiber as it contains 90% fiber. DRM is undigested and passes through the stomach and small intestine. It is then slowly fermented by the microflora residing in the intestine enabling their growth. So, the inclusion of this kind of fiber will help you to maintain good digestive health.

Does maltodextrin provide hydration and energy?

Yes, it does. In fact, it is added to many energizing drinks to prevent dehydration. This is very useful when you exercise extensively, run in marathons, or indulge in sports.

Maltodextrin has a low beverage osmolality (the rate at which an ingredient gets cleared from the digestive system). Osmolality is an indication of the water and mineral content in a mixture. Fluids with low osmolality have high water content. They get cleared off easily or in other words, the gastric emptying rate is faster. Such mixtures don’t add stress to the digestive system.

Maltodextrin is an ingredient where you can replenish your energy levels and still hydrate yourself at the same time. Because of this characteristic, it holds an upper hand over the use of glucose or sucrose in energy drinks. It has a high glycemic index (quickly increases in blood glucose levels) than regular table sugar. You can consume maltodextrin along with a combination of other ingredients containing proteins and amino acids (proteins are amino acids) such as soymilk, fish, sprouted lentils, etc.

How is maltodextrin useful as a fat mimic?

maltodextrin sugarThe high viscosity trait of maltodextrin is responsible for its gel-forming ability. This makes it an excellent fat replacer. Maltodextrins provide lesser energy than fats (16 kJ vs. 36 kJ). The hydrophilic (moisture absorbing) property of maltodextrin is contradictory to the lipophilic property (moisture phobic) of fats. Maltodextrin reduces the total calories in food products and does not affect the flavors and other product characteristics.

Fats destabilizes the sensitive aroma compounds in foods causing the aroma to wear off. On the other hand, maltodextrin inhibits the release and does not cause degradation of volatile odor compounds which makes it effective fat replacers in low-fat meat products as they do not negatively influence the flavor. The use of maltodextrin also minimizes the use of unnatural preservative compounds for food processing. This is much better than using the synthetic compounds which may be harmful as well.

Will it alter my gut health?

Using digestion resistant maltodextrin will not disrupt the dynamics of the digestive system. Instead, it will enhance the digestion process. The fermentation of DRM results in the production of a small amount of energy and short-chain fatty acids. Some studies also show that this lowers the risk of colon cancer.

Will maltodextrin impact the health of infants?

It is definitely not harmful. Infants rely on lactose as an energy source. What about a healthier option for infants who have lactase deficiency or lactose intolerance? Such infants have a compromised ability to digest lactose leading to:

  •        Energy loss (nearly 40%)
  •        Diarrhea

Maltodextrin is a better option than glucose in infant formula. It reduces the load on the digestive system (osmotic load) and minimizes other related intestinal distress.

What about recovery from gastro-related surgeries?

Before a gastric surgery, the conventional norm is fasting. This is done to prevent vomiting out of fluids or food into the lungs. On the other hand, application of maltodextrins in preoperative drinks that also contain protein is a constructive approach. The recovery rate post-surgery is 50% better.

A natural non-toxic solution to aging problems

Maltodextrin is non-toxic. The application of maltodextrins is not restricted to foods only. Maltodextrin is obtained from natural sources. A patented work on maltodextrin highlights the enhancement in the anti-aging activity in a skin care formulation with a combination of carboxylic acid (weak acids). Maltodextrin decreases the skin irritation caused by weak carboxylic acids and it improves the anti-aging property of hydroxy acids.

There are many commercial skin care products that contain maltodextrin. Botox is a cosmetic procedure done to smoothen wrinkles. Here, botox(a neurotoxin that paralyzes the nerves) is injected into the wrinkled areas. Maltodextrin is one of the healthier alternatives to botox.

How can I use maltodextrin in food products

maltodextrin diabetesMaltodextrin is commonly used as a thickener or filler to bulk the processed food volumes (example: instant puddings and gelatins, sauces, salad dressings, baked goods, potato chips, yogurts, nutrition bars, meal replacement shakes, sugar-free sweeteners, etc.).

If you are thinking about food preservation then use maltodextrin powders derived from tapioca. It absorbs moisture and concentrates the fats. It confines the oil and encloses it within the powder until it comes into contact with water.

Have you ever thought about low-fat cookies? Now you can think of making a mouthful of yummy ones by using maltodextrin. Maltodextrin also enhances the tenderness and the texture in cookies, cakes, muffins and other bakery products. Since it is a good fat mimic and provides a moist feel.

Maltodextrin for weight gain

Maltodextrin is helpful for muscle recovery and can be consumed as a fat substituent. One serving of maltodextrin powder may have 100 to 250 calories or more depending on the brand and the amount of powder considered for one serving. So, by using maltodextrin, you can gain weight in a healthier manner without affecting your heart health or worrying about cholesterol or diabetes.

Can maltodextrin be used to treat low blood sugar levels?

Don’t ignore the problem of low sugar because prolonged low blood sugar levels can cause brain death. You can use maltodextrin to treat this condition. It causes a spike in the blood sugar level and can be an immediate solution to people suffering from chronic hypoglycemia. Maltodextrin supplementation can be used as a speedy solution for sharp reductions in blood glucose levels.

How can I lose weight with resistant maltodextrin?

RDM has no calories and maintains stable blood sugar and insulin levels. It is an effective option for weight loss diet programs as opposed to regular maltodextrin

Studies on the visceral fat area show that there was a drastic reduction in the fat accumulated on volunteers administered with DRM continuously. DRM suppresses fat absorption. Other studies also show that the intake of DRM diminishes the postprandial increase in blood glucose, serum fatty acid, and insulin levels.

Does RDM help in the prevention of colorectal cancer?

Some studies indicate that digestive-resistant maltodextrin’s fermentation in the intestines produces products that can act as agents to prevent colorectal cancer. These products arrest tumor growth and produce no toxic side effects.

What happens if you consume an excess of resistant maltodextrin?

It is always advised to consume RMD in moderate amounts. This minimizes the onset of any gastric problem. A sudden or an abrupt surge in the fiber intake of RMD can result in a surge in the stool quantity, bloating, gas and flatulence. The subsequent fermentation of the fiber in the gutresults in gas production, bloating, and abdominal pain. Make sure you do not consume RMD abruptly or in large amounts at once.

Side effects associated with maltodextrin consumption

Maltodextrin has many benefits but it also has some side effects.

  • The spiking of blood sugar levels is not a suitable factor for people diabetes.
  • Maltodextrin does not discriminate between good and infectious bacteria.  Certain researches point towards maltodextrin polysaccharide leading to bacterial intestinal disorders. They increase the bacterial adhesion to human intestinal walls.
  • Allergic reactions, weight gain, gas, flatulence and bloating are notable side effects.
  • Maltodextrins derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as GMO corn, can cause a major disruption in the immunological, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive machinery.
  • Moreover, apart from the carbohydrate content, calorie content, etc., it has no significant nutritional value.
  • Maltodextrin derived from wheat may still contain traces of gluten. This is life-threatening for people suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Concerns about oral health

Maltodextrin is less acidogenic compared to sucrose. As the DE increases, the fermentation rate increases and also, the acid formation increases. Even though maltodextrins seem to be a better alternative to sucrose, they still affect the tooth enamel in the same manner as sucrose.

Healthier alternatives to maltodextrins

  • Stevia
  • Pectin
  • Dates
  • Honey Guar gum

Maltodextrin in a nutshell

The usage of maltodextrin or DRM must be tailored to our personal requirements and health status. Maltodextrin is an effective option to increase body mass, for extensive physical exercises or sports-related activities and for muscle recovery.

DRM is an effective ingredient for the treatment of obesity and improving metabolic machinery.  However, an abrupt intake of DRM can result in uncomfortable situations (but not life-threatening).

Weighing in the risks and benefits in mind, you can tailor your intake of additives accordingly. Even so, it is always best to opt for a much healthier, nutritive option such as pectin, etc. You can also opt for a combination of both types of maltodextrin but in moderation.

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