A Must Read: Maltodextrin

Hi friends, happy Friday!

Happy Vijayadashami/Dussehra to you all!!

Anything exciting at your end this weekend? I for one, am pretty excited, about turning another chapter in this book called life. I have started the very renowned ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) certification for becoming a certified Fitness Trainer!

I already am an ACSM-certified nutritionist and with this new degree, I would finally be able to offer my clients a complete package of nutrition combined with fitness. For optimal health, they both need to go hand-in-hand, don’t they?

The next few months are going to be very hectic for me. It is a hard certification to complete and requires long hours of classes, associated certificates and self-study but despite all that, am looking forward to it 🙂

Coming back to today’s post, let me introduce you to maltodextrin today.  We need to be very careful when we consume packaged foods or even so-called ‘healthy foods’. Label reading is hard for most of us and dubious marketing claims don’t help either.  Most of the ‘healthy foods’ that I see around are still quite unhealthy especially if we consume them more, thinking that they are healthy.

The front side of the packaging tells us how healthy the product is and reading the back-side turns out to be a different story altogether.

e.g. just because the front of the packaging says sugar-free doesn’t mean that it is healthy by default. It could be high on fats (to make up for the lack of taste) or it could have unhealthy artificial sugars/sweeteners that could be even worse, in reality.

Maybe, with this post today, you would be a little more equipped to read labels and moderate your intake of maltodextrin. It is usually present in small, safe amounts in products and if we are careful, we can stay safe from its ill-effects.

What Is Maltodextrin?

In short, maltodextrin is a food additive. We can also call it an artificial sweetener even if it is less sweet than table sugar. It is a highly processed carbohydrate with no nutritional value and one that comes from mostly corn but also from rice, barley, wheat, tapioca or potato starch etc

The starch is put through hydrolysis process and further acids/enzymes etc are mixed into it to break it down and finally, the white, water-soluble powder is derived. This tasteless and odorless white powder is added to various foods (as an additive) to increase their shelf-life as well as improve their texture and taste.

In small quantities, its usage as a food additive is approved by govt. authorities worldwide.

Why Is It Even Made If It’s So Bad?

There are lots of additives, preservatives and fillers used in food industry and maltodextrin is one of those. It is a thickener or an additive. It is used to:

  • to increase the shelf life of the products
  • as a thickener to improve the texture of various puddings, sauces, salad dressings and gelatins
  • combine with other sweeteners to sweeten canned fruits, desserts and drinks
  • provide a quick boost of energy to athletes, by adding to sports drinks and other performance-snacks meant for them
  • provide a lot of calories pre/post/during-workout, to bodybuilders/athletes who are trying to gain quick body-weight without getting dehydrated in return
  • help people suffering with low sugar levels (hypoglycemia) as it provides quick boost in sugar-levels
  • in preventing colorectal cancer. Long story short, it prevents the tumor growth without any toxic after-effects
  • used as a thickener in various personal-care products such as lotions, shampoos etc

Then What Exactly Is The Problem Here?

  • The problem lies in it having a high GI (glycemic index)

Compared to regular sugar (GI 65), maltodextrin has a GI of 95-136. This could be good thing when we want a quick boost of energy or calories. For athletes etc, this might a good way to consume more calories and quick energy etc.

However, for diabetics especially, high GI index of maltodextrin and products containing it, doesn’t exactly sound like a good news. It spikes up the blood-sugar levels very quickly.

So, if one is diabetic, prediabetic or insulin-resistant, the maltodextrin consumption should be kept low and the daily carbohydrate count should be made to include maltodextrin into it.

  • Another reason to limit its consumption is its negative effect on our gut bacteria

This can easily compromise our immune system by causing a disbalance in our gut and the friendly bacteria residing there. Also, if one is at high risk for auto-immune or digestive disorders, one should keep maltodextrin consumption low.

  • Though after so much processing, maltodextrin becomes gluten-free. However, people with celiac disease or IBS, are advised to avoid it as the source might be wheat-starch
  • Many a times, people sensitive to MSG- Monosodium Glutamate (E621) are also sensitive to maltodextrin as the body processes both in the same way

How To Find It On Labels?

Now, this is an important question. We might know all about maltodextrin and might want to be aware about its consumption but how to ensure? Lot of packaged foods around us have it already and we might be consuming a lot of it, unknowingly.

Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in packaged foods, such as

  • beer, soft drinks and energy/sports drinks
  • meal replacement shakes
  • work-out supplements
  • low-fat and low calories food alternatives/substitutes
  • culinary additives by chef/restaurants
  • infant formula
  • meat substitutes
  • salad dressings
  • spices, sauces and ketchups
  • soups
  • yogurt, milk shakes
  • cereals
  • Instant meals/frozen meals
  • candies, sweets, desserts and baked goods
  • hair-care products, lotions etc

Here is how we can know that the product has maltodextrin. It can be made from any starchy food e.g. corn, potato, wheat, tapioca, or rice. If the label says – dextrin, maltodextrin, corn/wheat/potato starch, modified starch, starch solids etc, E1400…it means it has maltodextrin.

You see, it’s almost impossible to avoid maltodextrin in today’s time. It is also given a ‘safe’ status by various govt authorities however high consumption can lead to various ill-effects. The best solution is to:

  • consume less of junk and processed foods. We need to focus more on whole foods and home-cooked meals
  • stay aware of the ingredients in any case
  • one can find small brands using simple/clean/fresh ingredients for various food requirements as it is not possible for us to make/do everything at home, after all. Even then, keep an eye on ingredients
  • keep a food record whenever we find any allergies or recurring issues
  • to know that just because  a product is plant-based, vegan or gluten-free, it is not necessarily healthy

In the end, let’s keep the processed food consumption to minimum, adopt an active lifestyle free of stress and trust our bodies to handle whatever comes our way.

Rather than stressing over what is inevitable, let’s focus on how to minimize it by finding alternatives and keeping our bodies healthy, inside out.

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Till next Friday

Love, Health & Peace