Have you ever scrutinized a food label? Ever notice the term maltodextrin? One of my clients with PCOS recently asked me about it and I decided to do a little investigating. I never thought much about maltodextrin but have since noticed it in many food products, including some artificial sweeteners, salad dressings, pudding, etc. Some of these products even claim they don't contain carbohydrates. The question remains...what is maltodextrin and what effect does it have on your body?
What is maltodextrin?
Maltodextrins are made from natural corn, rice or potato starch. The starch is cooked, and then acid and/or enzymes are used to break the starch into smaller polymers. This process is similar to how the body digests carbohydrates. Basically, it is an easily digested form of carbohydrate. It comes in a white powder with a mildly sweet taste and is used in processed foods as a thickener, or a filler since it's fairly inexpensive. It's often used to create additional volume to a food product (such as in confections or some packets of artificial sweeteners) without altering flavor.
Where is it found?
Maltodextrins are found in many different foods, including canned fruits, snacks, confectionery, desserts, nutritional beverages, instant pudding, flavored gelatins, sauces and salad dressings. It is also used in sweetening some teas, coffee, and powdered soft drinks. Maltodextrins may also be an ingredient in the single-serve, table-top packet of some sugar substitutes such as Splenda and Equal. It is also used in pharmaceuticals as a binding agent. So you can see that maltodextrins are a popular ingredient in our food supply. Check some of the food labels on products in your cabinets and refrigerator for the word maltodextrin.
Effects of maltodextrin on blood sugar
Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate and will have an effect on your blood sugar. It contains the same amount of carbohydrate and calories as sugar (4 calories per gram). It's easily digested and is absorbed even more rapidly than glucose. Maltodextrin has a glycemic effect of 106 - 136 (depending upon what chart you read) as compared to table sugar (sucrose) which has a glycemic effect of 65 and glucose which has a glycemic index of 100. So obviously, maltodextrin will affect your blood sugar, and in turn, your insulin levels. However, the degree as to how maltodextrin will affect blood sugar depends upon the quantity of it in the food product. Here's the problem - maltodextrin is included in the total carbohydrate content, so you really can't tell how much maltodextrin is in the product.
So how can products that are supposedly sugar free contain maltodextrin? Take the example of Equal. If you read the label, you will see it contains maltodextrin. Yet, the label says Equal contains less than one gram of carbohydrate. This is because while maltodextrin is added to bulk this product, only very small amounts are used - less than one gram of maltodextrin and glucose are added. So in reality, it shouldn't have much of an effect on your blood sugar because the amount is so small. However, it is possible that if MANY packets are consumed, it could have an effect on blood sugar levels.
Misinformation on maltodextrin
In my research for this article, I came across several websites that said maltodextrin has a minimal impact on blood sugar and was great for diabetics because it was broken down very slowly. Another site said it had shown a "much lower release into the bloodstream than typical sugar." Now you all know the real scoop - maltodextrin has a similar impact on your blood sugar as compared to sugar - it even has a higher glycemic index!
Starch resistant maltodextrin
Now things get a little confusing. There is another kind of maltodextrin that is called "resistant" or maltodextrin-soluble fiber. This type of maltodextrin has a much lower glycemic. It was developed by using natural enzymes to transform the linkages between glucose molecules in conventional maltodextrin to a form that is not digested in the upper digestive tract. Since it isn't digested, it contains minimal calories and carbohydrate and has a negligible effect on blood sugar. One product that I found this type of maltodextrin in is Fibersol-2. But for the most part, we should assume that maltodextrin in the majority of products is not starch resistant maltodextrin.
Bottom Line: What does maltodextrin mean for women with PCOS?
Many women with PCOS, especially those women who are insulin resistant, are following lower glycemic index diets. As most of you know, a low glycemic diet is one that contains only moderate amounts of carbohydrates and focuses on carbs that digest more slowly. Slower digesting carbs, such as legumes, most vegetables and many whole grains, will cause a slower rise of blood sugar, which in turn will cause less insulin to be secreted. Compare this to rapidly digested carbs such as sugar and processed or "white" carbs - which cause a more rapid increase of blood sugar, thus triggering the pancreas to produce more insulin. The last thing a women with PCOS wants is an increase in insulin production.
Maltodextrin is a natural product. It is not dangerous and has been approved as safe for consumption. However, it is a carbohydrate with a high glycemic index and can have an impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels. It is important that you are aware of this as maltodextrin is a very common ingredient in food products.
At this point, I wouldn't say that you have to totally avoid products with maltodextrin. Just be aware of the carb content of that product. And very importantly, pay attention to how you feel after consuming these products. Do they make you hungrier? Do you find that you are gaining weight? If so, you may want to avoid or at least limit them.
Martha McKittrick RD,CDN, CDE
MALTRIN® Maltodextrins and Corn Syrup Solids, GPC, www.grainprocessing.com
Sugar, Sweet By Nature, www.sugar.org
SPLENDA FAQs, Splendatruth.com
Colon Formula, www.aomega.com