Maltodextrin is a sweetener derived from cornstarch, but might also contain rice or potato starch, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In some cases, maltodextrin might be made from wheat starch. Regulations require the ingredients label to clearly indicate whether the product contains wheat. However, many manufacturer's claim that the product is so highly processed that even wheat maltodextrin is gluten-free, according to the experts at Gluten-Free Living magazine.
During the processing of maltodextrin, all proteins are removed and because gluten is a protein, maltodextrin is generally recognized as safe for most populations by the FDA. All that being said, while maltodextrin as in additive isn't bad, someone living with celiac disease is at risk of health complications when gluten in consumed. Your best bet is to discuss your consumption of maltodextrin with your physician, who is privy to the nuances of your specific health condition.
Unless you're sensitive to the substance or cannot have gluten, maltodextrin isn't inherently bad, though it does appear in many foods that are otherwise unhealthy and should be limited in a well-balanced diet. As with anything, moderation is the key. The Mayo Clinic recommends focusing on a variety of foods from each food group, including alternative gluten-free whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein. These items are maltodextrin-free and are good choices for a healthy diet.
Foods with Maltodextrin
If you've decided that you're better safe than sorry and want to avoid maltodextrin, it's important to familiarize yourself with the foods that commonly contain it. Read ingredient labels carefully to be sure an item doesn't contain the additive.
The following foods often contain maltodextrin. Keep in mind that not all versions of the product do, which is why it's vital to peruse the ingredients list before eating anything you aren't sure is safe.
- Commercially baked goods, even those labeled gluten-free
- Sugar substitutes
- Pie fillings
- Prepared soup products
- Canned fruit
- Nutritional drinks
- Salad dressings
Maltodextrin is used as a thickening agent in some foods as well, notes NeuChem, Inc, so check for it in foods that are creamy, thick or chunky.
According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is a genetic condition that is autoimmune in nature. When a person with the condition consumes wheat, rye or barley it produces a response in the intestines that can lead to inflammation and damage over time. This interferes with proper absorption of nutrients, which can lead to a host of health problems if the disease is undetected or left untreated. Even if you don't have obvious symptoms, maltodextrin may still cause intestinal damage.
Unlike celiac disease, gluten intolerance isn't a danger to your overall health, but is typically treated with a gluten-free diet like the one that celiacs follow. This condition is also called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It's characterized by a sensitivity to foods that contain gluten, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, but doesn't produce intestinal damage or lifelong health issues. That means that maltodextrin isn't dangerous to gluten intolerant folks, but it can produce symptoms typical of gluten intolerance if the version you consume happens to contain traces of wheat protein.
An allergy to gluten also requires a gluten-free diet, even though it isn't the same thing as celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Often, a person has a wheat allergy, but follows a gluten-free diet since it's free of any wheat products. Like celiac disease, a gluten allergy can be very dangerous so strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is absolutely vital. Gluten allergy symptoms can vary in severity, and if you experience one after eating a food that contains maltodextrin, it's imperative to get medical help right away.
Maltodextrin Specific Symptoms
In some cases, maltodextrin poses its own set of side effects, exclusive of the ones that might arise if it contains gluten, though some are same as a reaction to gluten. In rare cases, a person can be sensitive to the additive and consuming it can cause symptoms. Even if you're not on a gluten-free diet, the following signs warrant a talk with your doctor and you might have to avoid foods that contain the additive, notes the University of Maryland. Keep in mind that symptoms of a food sensitivity are pretty universal, so your issue may or may not be maltodextrin.
- Stomach upset
Make Eating Enjoyable
Being on a restrictive diet can be hard to manage. It's difficult to make a spontaneous decision to go out to eat and consuming foods anywhere but home can be very hard.
That doesn't mean you can't enjoy mealtime. Choose fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese and gluten-free alternative grains, which are free of maltodextrin and can be safely eaten anywhere you go. However, it's important to pay attention to the risk of cross contamination with foods that do contain maltodextrin. These simple steps can make each meal delicious and safe.