Maltodextrin is made up of glucose, a simple sugar that the body uses for fuel. In and of itself, maltodextrin has no other nutritional value than the glucose it contains, so when it is added to food, it is only supplying additional sugar. For more basic information, please see the post What is Maltodextrin?
Although maltodextrin is considered a complex carbohydrate because it consists of branched chains of glucose molecules, its highly processed state divorces it from the accompanying nutrients found in whole foods. It is quickly digested and has a high qlycemic index similar to simple sugars.
Glucose is required for the body as a primary source of energy, however, there is rarely a need to supplement it. Proper nutrition rich in green, leafy vegetables and fruits, along with limited consumption of grains and starchy vegetables (like potatoes or yams) typically supplies plenty of glucose for the average person.
Some endurance athletes and bodybuilders do use maltodextrin as an energy-booster and recovery aid. It is a common ingredient in sports drinks. Once again, however, it is supplying only the stripped down energy from a highly processed additive, without the benefit of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in whole foods. Many sports drinks are little more than sugar-water, and although they can provide an energy boost, there is nothing healthy about them.
In fact, a new breed of endurance athlete, like Ultraman competitor Rich Roll, is showing how a plant-based diet can supply the physiological building blocks for optimum nutrition. During training and competition, Roll relies on whole foods as much as possible, with supplementation that is based in sound overall nutrition, not quick energy fixes. See his book Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself for more information.
Do You Need Maltodextrin in Your Diet?
The answer is a simple no. Maltodextrin is an additive, often used as a binder or filler in processed foods, with no nutritional value beyond the extra glucose it supplies. Many people don’t even realize they are consuming extra sugar because maltodextrin is present in so many processed foods.
Additional sugar means additional calories as well as other potential problems associated with excessive sugar consumption, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.
Long-term elevated blood glucose levels can contribute to:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Insulin resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Premature aging
Other possible maltodextrin side effects are discussed here.
Since maltodextrin is a very common additive in processed foods, it can be difficult to know just how much one is consuming, as it’s usually lumped into the “Total carbohydrates” category on food labels.
Most egregious, perhaps, is that maltodextrin is used as a filler in “sugar substitutes” like Splenda and Equal. Most people don’t realize that these substitutes are not actually sugar-free because they contain maltodextrin. Sucralose and aspartame (the synthetic sweeteners in each of these products, respectively) are unhealthy themselves.
To avoid consuming unexpected amounts of sugars (and other additives) always read the label on any processed foods you may be eating. Always ask yourself, what is maltodextrin or any other additive on the label. Even better, avoid processed foods as much as possible and eat a diet rich in whole foods, especially plants.