The Dangers of Maltodextrin with the Keto Way of Eating


Look over the food labels of many of your packaged foods and you may notice a very common ingredient called maltodextrin. This artificially produced white powder is often used in our everyday foods, like yogurt, sauces and salad dressings, sometimes without us even realizing it.

The truth is that maltodextrin can be considered a metabolism death food — it lacks nutritional value, and there are some pretty scary maltodextrin dangers to consider before opening up a bag of chips or baked goods, such as spiking blood sugar. The good news is that there are healthier, more natural substitutes for maltodextrin, and some of them may already be sitting in your kitchen cabinet.

What Is Maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is used as a thickener, filler or preservative in many processed foods. It’s an artificially produced white powder that can be enzymatically derived from any starch, most commonly made from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat.

Although maltodextrin comes from natural foods, it’s highly processed. The starch goes through a process called partial hydrolysis, which uses water, enzymes and acids to break down the starch and create the water-soluble white powder. When the powder is added to food, it thickens the product, prevents crystallization and helps bind ingredients together. The difference between maltodextrin and corn syrup solids is that maltodextrin is hydrolyzed to have less than 20 percent sugar content, whereas corn syrup solids have more than 20 percent sugar content.

Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide, which is a type of carbohydrate. It’s commonly used as a thickener or filler to increase the volume of processed foods, like instant puddings and gelatins, sauces and salad dressings, baked goods, potato chips, jerky, yogurts, nutrition bars, meal replacement shakes, and sugar-free sweeteners (like Splenda). Tapioca maltodextrin is used to make powders because it absorbs and thickens fats. It encapsulates the oil and holds it within the powder until it comes into contact with water.

Bodybuilders sometimes use simple carbohydrates after hard workouts in order to restore the body’s glycogen (stored energy) and glucose (usable energy) levels. Post-workout, bodybuilders or athletes may choose to consume high glycemic foods (like maltodextrin and dextrose) that raise normal blood sugar and insulin levels in order to get carbohydrates to the muscle cells.

According to research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, carbohydrate powder in the form of maltodextrin is safe for healthy young athletes who use it for post-exercise glycogen resynthesis, assuming they have adequate glucose metabolism. (3)

5 Dangers of Maltodextrin

1. Spikes Blood Sugar

Maltodextrin can cause spikes in your blood sugar because it has a high glycemic index, and this can be particularly dangerous for people with diabetes symptoms or insulin resistance. Maltodextrin’s glycemic index is even higher than table sugar, ranging from 106 to 136 (while table sugar is 65). In short maltodextrin will increase blood sugar levels 4x higher than regular table sugar. YIKES!

Easily absorbed carbohydrates like maltodextrin and sugar get into your bloodstream quickly, and if the carbs aren’t used for energy, they’re stored as fat. This is very different than real complex carbohydrates from whole grains that are broken down and absorbed slowly, helping keep you feeling full and energized for a longer period of time. (4)

2. Suppresses the Growth of Probiotics

Maltodextrin can change the composition of your gut bacteria by suppressing the growth of beneficial probiotics. Research conducted at Lerner Research Institute in Ohio relays polysaccharides like maltodextrin have been linked to bacteria-associated intestinal disorders. According to researchers, the escalating consumption of polysaccharides in Western diets parallels an increased incidence of Crohn’s disease during the late 20th century.

A 2012 study found that maltodextrin increased bacterial adhesion to human intestinal epithelial cells and enhanced E. coli adhesion, which is associated with autoimmune disorders. Even more research points out that maltodextrin promotes the survival of salmonella, which may be responsible for a broad range of chronic inflammatory diseases.

A study conducted at the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center in Boston also indicates that maltodextrin impairs cellular antibacterial responses and suppresses intestinal antimicrobial defense mechanisms, leading to inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions that arise from an inappropriate immune response to bacteria

3. Made From Genetically Modified Corn

Although the Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), increasing independent research has linked them to a number of health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, kidney damage, antibiotic resistance, reproduction disorders and allergies.

According to research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, genetically modified foods have shown that they may toxically affect several bodily organs and systems, including the pancreatic, renal, reproductive and immunologic parameters. (8) Because corn maltodextrin is made by processing corn with enzymes and the United States Department of Agriculture found that 85 percent of corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified to be tolerant to herbicides, it’s most likely that the maltodextrin you eat is a genetically modified food

4. May Cause an Allergic Reaction or Side Effects

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that maltodextrin consumption, especially at higher doses, may cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as gurgling sounds, gas and even diarrhea. There have also been reports of other allergic reactions to maltodextrin, such as skin irritations, cramping and bloating.

Maltodextrin is sometimes made with wheat, but the production process is said to completely remove gluten from the wheat, making it “safe” to eat for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance symptoms. During the processing of maltodextrin, all proteins are removed, including gluten, but there may still be traces of gluten in products containing maltodextrin. This can be dangerous for people suffering some celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

You may see maltodextrin listed with the product ingredients, but the name doesn’t indicate the source, such as wheat. Although maltodextrin is generally considered to be gluten-free, people with severe allergies should avoid foods containing this ingredient

5. Has No Nutritious Value

A teaspoon of maltodextrin has about 15 calories and 3.8 grams of carbohydrates, and that’s about it. It’s so highly processed that it’s devoid of all nutrients. While it can spike blood sugar levels and promote the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, there are no health benefits that come with the consumption of maltodextrin. When choosing foods to use as sweeteners, binders or bulking agents, pick natural foods that provide some nutritional value.

What is a GI?

Beside each sweetener’s name, you will see “GI” and then a number. This refers to the Glycemic Index, which measures how much a certain food raises your blood sugar. Many sweeteners are 0 GI, meaning they don’t raise blood sugar.

The baseline is glucose, which measures up at 100 on the GI scale. Typically you want to use the sweeteners that are lowest in GI, and may find it more beneficial (taste wise) to use a mixture of two or more low GI sweeteners.

Below you’ll find an overview of our list and their respective glycemic index, carbs, and calorie counts. If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll find more information about sweeteners you must avoid on a low carb ketogenic diet.

Glycemic Index Chart

Better Substitutes for Maltodextrin

If you tend to eat packaged or processed foods, chances are that you often consume maltodextrin. Sticking to natural, whole foods is always a healthier and safer choice, especially if you have blood sugar issues or trouble managing weight. There are natural sweeteners that add flavor to food, help restore glucose and glycogen levels, and can be used to bind ingredients or add bulk to recipes. Here are some better substitutes for maltodextrin

1. Stevia

Stevia is an herb commonly known as the sugar leaf. This completely nutrient-free extract has grown tremendously in popularity over the last few years and is used regularly by many keto dieters.

It is considered a food supplement, free of calories, with sweetening power about 300 times higher than sucrose (table sugar).  It is not metabolized by the body and remains stable at both low and high temperatures.

Stevia extract has been found to promote health as well. Studies have shown that stevia can reduce blood pressure slightly, lower blood glucose and insulin levels in diabetics and healthy subjects, and fight inflammation.

This triple effect (i.e., stevia’s impact on inflammation, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure) makes stevia particularly useful in the treatment of patients with obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and/or diabetes. Among all of the sweeteners that have been extensively studied, stevia seems to be the most promising from a health improvement perspective.

When purchasing, look for the liquid-based stevia. Typically this is raw powdered stevia mixed with a solution that keeps it pure. Powdered stevia is also a great option as long as the only ingredient is stevia extract.

With any stevia product, make sure you read the ingredients label. Many sweeteners, especially the products in powdered form, will come with carb-heavy fillers (e.g., dextrose and maltodextrin) that increase blood sugar level

2. Allulose

Allulose is one of the most sugar-like low-calorie sweeteners on the market. It is made up of a monosaccharide (a simple sugar) that is found in small quantities in wheat, certain fruits (like jackfruit, figs, raisins), and some sugary sweeteners (like maple syrup and brown sugar).

The reason why allulose has no glycemic index or net carb content is that 100% of it is excreted from the body without being metabolized at all. In other words, our bodies don’t have the capacity to use it for fuel.

However, this doesn’t mean that allulose is just some inert sweet substance. Several clinical and animal studies have demonstrated that the natural sweetener can help reduce insulin and blood sugar levels after meals.

Some studies have even found that it has antioxidant and blood lipid lowering properties as well. These results make allulose look like the ideal sugar alternative for preventing common diseases like diabetes and heart disease while enhancing the results of the ketogenic diet.

The only thing to be cautious about with this sweetener is that the long-term effects it has on the microbiome are not yet known. In general, however, allulose has only been found to cause positive effects. Because of this, the FDA states that it is “generally recognized as safe.

3. Swerve Confection and Regular Sugar source.

Swerve is a no calorie, all natural sweetener that does contain sugar alcohols. In the ketogenic world of living, sugar alcohols may be deducted up to 5g per serving to calculate your net carbs. Swerve when calculated correctly, contains 0g sugar per serving. Swerve is my top choice in sweeteners when it comes to ket

4. Pyure

Pyure is a stevia brand sweetener that will not cause an insulin reaction. It is a non GMO product that  made from the stevia plant. Pyure can be found almost anywhere, including Walmart.

All-purpose low-carb sweeteners that are best for the keto diet and overall health:

  • Stevia extract (liquid or solid with no other additives)
  • Monk fruit extract (liquid or solid with no other additives)
  • Pure erythritol
  • Swerve sweetener
  • Sweetener blends that only consists of stevia extract, monk fruit extract, and/or erythritol

All-purpose low-carb sweeteners that should be used sparingly on the keto diet:

  • Pure xylitol
  • Allulose
  • Tagatose
  • Allulose blends with stevia extract, monk fruit extract, and/or erythritol
  • Xylitol blends with stevia extract, monk fruit extract, and/or erythritol
  • Tagatose blends with stevia extract, monk fruit extract, and/or erythritol

Sweeteners that can be used sparingly in their raw, pure form (no baking or cooking):

  • Liquid Sucralose
  • Inulin

Sweeteners best avoided:

  • Aspartame
  • Saccharin
  • Other sugar alcohols (maltitol, sorbitol, lactitol, glycerol, and isomalt)
  • Any sweetener that has maltodextrin, dextrose, or isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO) in it

Any sweetener that has no research to back up its safety and marketing claims

Remember, however, that over-consumption of any sweetener (even the healthiest keto sweeteners) can stimulate more sugar cravings and make keto dieting more difficult. Try to consume sweeteners in moderation to help control your sweet tooth and get weight loss better results.

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Toni Sweeney is a Triple Certified Ketogenic Diet and Primal Health Coach and weight loss expert who personally lost 80 pounds while making a total lifestyle change. The founder of TS Transformations, her formulas and plans has helped thousands of women lose weight and keep it off forever.

1 Comment

  1. Steph on May 21, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for the tips!

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