maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is a common food additive that is safe for celiacs.

Maltodextrin is to Malt as Sea Horses are to Horses

Anyone on a gluten-free diet knows that grocery shopping and deciphering all those labels can be downright maddening. Although, label reading is much easier thanks to the gluten-free labeling rule, I still find myself questioning ingredients and double-checking labels.

That extra care keeps me out of trouble, but it also can throw me for a loop.

It’s like this. I’ll be reading the ingredients on a label and suddenly my eye lands on the word “flour.” If I look more carefully, I notice that it lists “almond flour” or “mustard flour.” They are both safe but seeing the word “flour” is unsettling. So, I stand over the package and read and reread the label just to be sure. It’s time consuming.

Maltodextrin is another ingredient that catches me off guard. Any ingredient that has “malt” in its name makes me think it surely contains barley malt. In the past, I always put products listing maltodextrin back on the shelf.

Now I know better. Turns out, despite the name, maltodextrin has nothing to do with malt. It is a white starchy powder that is tasteless and is added to a lot of foods to improve texture, flavor or even shelf life. It’s usually derived from corn but otherwise comes from tapioca. In the past, maltodextrin could contain wheat, but scientists are quick to say that because it is so highly processed, any gluten protein would be removed, making it gluten free.

Maltodextrin from wheat, however, is hardly ever used and if it were, the “wheat” must be declared on the label thanks to the FALCPA legislation. If you see no wheat warning on the label, the maltodextrin is safe.

Another factoid about Maltodextrin: even if it is wheat-based, it never comes from barley.

Here’s a trick I use to help remember that it is safe. Maltodextrin is to malt as seahorses are to horses and snapdragons are to dragons. That is to say, these all sound a bit dangerous, but all are totally harmless. (Seahorses are a type of fish with gills and snapdragons are a type of flower.)

Now when I am racing through the grocery aisles and must pause to read labels, I remind myself of these comparisons and my frustration about spending so much time in the grocery aisles melts into images of seahorses and snapdragons.

By the time I reach the checkout counter, my fret has turned to a smile and those images have filled my grocery escapade with a healthy dose of laughter! Not to mention my shopping cart is filled with all kinds of tasty packaged snacks containing maltodextrin because it’s safe for celiacs!

15 COMMENTS

  1. I appreciate your description of Maltodextrin, because it works for most people, unless they are like my family and me. We are also sensitive to corn products, of which there are many hidden ones, as well as obvious products, like corn meal. So we just have to keep on reading! I really would like to know the percentage of GF folk who are also sensitive to corn products.

  2. I wasn’t sure about Maltodextrin till I ate Seasoned black beans by Bush’s. There wasn’t anything extraordinary on the label except for the Maltodextrin. I even rinsed 3 times just to be sure. The rest of the meal was totally safe, but soon after I had pretty bad cramping, extreme gas & constipation. My legs tingled for 3 days which usually is a sign I had gluten/wheat & results in edema & leg ulcers. My research indicated that although “generally” made from other ingredients other than wheat, there is still a chance it might.
    According to Dr. Axe it spikes blood sugars &
    “Maltodextrin can change the composition of your gut bacteria by suppressing the growth of beneficial probiotics. Research conducted at Lerner Research Institute in Ohio relays polysaccharides like maltodextrin have been linked to bacteria-associated intestinal disorders. According to researchers, the escalating consumption of polysaccharides in Western diets parallels an increased incidence of Crohn’s disease during the late 20th century.

    A 2012 study found that maltodextrin increased bacterial adhesion to human intestinal epithelial cells and enhanced E. coli adhesion, which is associated with autoimmune disorders. (5) Even more research points out that maltodextrin promotes the survival of salmonella, which may be responsible for a broad range of chronic inflammatory diseases. (6)

    A study conducted at the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center in Boston also indicates that maltodextrin impairs cellular antibacterial responses and suppresses intestinal antimicrobial defense mechanisms, leading to inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions that arise from an inappropriate immune response to bacteria. (7)”

    • I have to agree with your post. Maltodextrin and a long list of other so called “safe” additives are behind the growing number of people diagnosed with food allergies. There wouldn’t be so many if the food industry stuck to whole ingredients.

      My motto: if I can’t pronounce an ingredient, I don’t buy the product.

    • Thank you for your comments. I was about to pass this article on to my daughter, who with her three sons, just remain gluten free. When I cook for them I also have to search the labels and Maltodextrin has always worroed me and she said “it is not good”. Now I know – keep reading the labels and learning what you can.

  3. Please use caution stating maltodextrin is okay! Buyer beware if it does not state the source in parenthesis immediately following the ingredient maltodextrin. They are only required to list wheat on the label, however many products may contain barley, rye, or oats, which they are NOT required to list on the label. Even if the label states “gluten free” you should still read the ingredients. Yes, it is extremely time consuming, but it is worth it not to get sick. I have learned over the past 8 years that I am a very sensitive Celiac. The whole “scientists are quick to say that because it is so highly processed, any gluten protein would be removed, making it gluten free” sounds great, but unfortunately is not true. It may contain less than 20ppm, which is the limit in order to slap a gluten free label on the package, but for sensitive Celiacs, like myself, it’s not enough. My Celiac sensitive could be compared to a peanut allergy. Although I am not anaphylactic, I am very ill for 3 days. Same goes for spirits. I have to stick to tequila, Tito’s Vodka (made from corn), wine, etc. The gluten protein is NOT filtered out during the distillation process as I have been told before.

    • Hi Jennifer, yes – distilled liquor is safe and gluten-free. The distillation process does not allow the gluten molecule to transfer to the finished product. However, if you react to a liquor, please do not continue to drink it.

  4. Another name which could mislead is buckwheat, which has nothing to do with wheat. Most things I’ve read say it’s a relative of rhubarb. Buckwheat flour, in its various forms from light to dark, fine to coarse, is a good component in gluten free flour mixes.

    • After 20 years of eating foods made with corn, my daughter finally figured out my problem.
      It was the processed corn! Now I am just fine. Gluten is also not in my diet, which I had
      to eliminate 22 years ago. People along the way unknowingly helped me also.

  5. I could cry reading these comments and going to the grocery store. I was diagnosed celiac about 5 years ago. Recently had another colonoscopy. Asked the Dr. if my intestines were better than 5 yr. previous as I was about 99 per cent faithful to the gluten free! HER ANSWER WAS “NO”, even though I do not have any recognizable symptoms at this time. I almost felt like saying, “why bother to struggle through every day trying to stick to a healthy diet when every time you turn around, something we eat is poisoning us!

  6. I just knew there was corn in the maltodextrin I was consuming! Food processing companies
    customer service people don’t know if there is corn or tapioca starch in the products they sell!
    I just avoid it all, and am doing quite well now.

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