No matter where you are on your keto journey, there’s a good chance you’ve come across maltodextrin and wondered: What is it? And is maltodextrin keto-friendly?
This highly-processed thickening agent and sweetener is extracted from different high-carb sources: corn, potato, rice, tapioca, or wheat. But even though it comes from natural ingredients, there’s nothing healthy about this saccharide.
Food manufacturers created maltodextrin as a cheap filler that, when combined with other artificial sweeteners, can be used as a thickener, texture and flavor enhancer, and compound to extend the shelf life of processed foods.
Learn how this additive is made, where you’re most likely to find it, and the side effects of consuming it while following a ketogenic diet.
How Is Maltodextrin Made?
To make maltodextrin, starches are extracted from a natural source (the most common one being corn) and then put through a process called partial hydrolysis. It consists of breaking down starch using acids, enzymes, and water so that the outcome is a water-soluble white powder.
The same process produces corn syrup — the only difference being maltodextrin has lower sugar content.
Some studies suggest that consuming genetically modified corn can increase the risk of developing liver and kidney toxicity, and can negatively affect other organs such as your heart and spleen[*][*].
Maltodextrin isn’t only a highly-processed ingredient with very few (if any) health benefits, but it can also cause some gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, gurgling sounds, and even diarrhea[*].
Common Uses of Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is one of the most ubiquitous preservatives in the food industry, and it’s commonly used to bind ingredients together.
Here’s a list of food items that often contain maltodextrin[*]:
- Ice cream
- Energy and sports drinks
- Salad dressings
- Sugar-free Jell-O
- Power bars
Take time to read ingredient labels before you purchase any packaged goods.
Hidden carbs like maltodextrin can sneak into your pantry, preventing ketosis, and possibly hindering your weight loss goals.
Is Maltodextrin Keto? Potential Side Effects
Maltodextrin comes from starchy sources, so it’s not something you want to add to your keto meal plan. Not only can it take you over your net carb limit, but it can also wreak havoc on your insulin levels and gastrointestinal health.
1. It Can Cause Insulin Spikes
One rat study discovered that consuming maltodextrin has cognitive and metabolic effects on your body, similar to those of glucose (sugar)[*].
Healthy insulin levels are vital to reap the health benefits of a keto diet. When you have high blood sugar levels, your pancreas secretes insulin to redirect that blood glucose into your muscles, fat, and liver cells. It’s kept there for future use and constitutes what is known as glycogen stores[*].
This is what you want to avoid on keto. If your metabolism still has some stored glucose, it will continue to reach for it and use it as its primary fuel source, instead of going for fat and shifting into a state of ketosis.
High blood sugar levels can also lead to low insulin sensitivity and, in the long term, to insulin resistance. This is undesirable as it means your pancreas will need to produce higher levels of this hormone[*].
The more insulin sensitive you are, the more easily your body can digest carbs and convert them into energy instead of storing them as fat. Therefore, keeping your insulin at healthy levels might prevent weight gain and help you transition into ketosis.
Many high-intensity training athletes and bodybuilders consume maltodextrin and dextrose, as they believe it will increase insulin levels and deliver nutrients to their muscle tissue. However, there are no scientific studies to back up these claims.
Maltodextrin has a higher glycemic index (52) than other keto-friendly sugar alternatives, so avoid it when following a low-carb diet[*].
2. It Might Affect Your Gut Health
Maltodextrin can be harmful to your gut bacteria in a number of ways. Research has shown that consuming this saccharide can affect the growth of harmful gut bacteria, and suppress your intestinal antimicrobial defense mechanism[*].
This can lead to increased inflammation levels in your body and the development of chronic diseases[*].
A U.S. study also found that maltodextrin might promote the growth of the harmful bacteria E. coli, which has been linked to the insurgence of Crohn’s disease[*].
Whether or not you have a medical condition, staying clear of this additive can keep your body healthy and promote overall well-being.
Keto-Friendly Sweeteners That Don’t Contain Maltodextrin
When you start a keto or low-carb diet, one of the hardest things to give up is sugar. Besides removing table sugar from your diet, giving up most fruit (fructose) and other natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup is also challenging.
The good news is that there’s a variety of keto-friendly sweeteners that come packed with health benefits, won’t kick you out of ketosis, and will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Now that you’ve learned about maltodextrin keto-compliance (or lack thereof), take a look at some of the best low-carb sweeteners that don’t contain this questionable ingredient.
Stevia is one of the best keto sweeteners to satisfy your sugar cravings while keeping you in ketosis.
It’s a zero-carb alternative to granulated sugar and comes packed with some great health benefits:
- It may help lower blood sugar levels and improve diabetes[*].
- It can promote healthy kidneys and liver[*].
- It’s a powerful antioxidant[*].
- It can improve oral health[*].
2. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit sweetener is extracted from a green gourd that grows abundantly in Southeast Asia. This fruit has been used for hundreds of years as a cure for colds and digestive discomfort.
Monk fruit extract is a zero-calorie sweetener that leaves no bitter aftertaste. Monk fruit also delivers a decent amount of benefits:
- It can help fight infection[*].
- It has anti-cancer properties[*].
- It might aid in weight loss[*].
- It can help to reduce inflammation[*].
Erythritol is a keto-friendly sugar alcohol that doesn’t affect glucose, insulin, cholesterol, or electrolytes, making it a solid keto sweetener alternative.
Erythritol also packs some health benefits:
- It can help promote oral health and cavity prevention[*].
- It can promote good intestinal health[*].
- It might help reduce hunger[*].
Maltodextrin is not ideal for your keto lifestyle. It can raise your insulin levels, disrupt your gut health, and offers no legitimate nutritional value.
Fortunately, you can easily avoid it by reading food labels or even better, making your meals.
Opting for keto-friendly sweeteners and staying away from foods that contain maltodextrin is an excellent way to support your keto journey and overall wellness goals.