Maltodextrin. You may have never have heard of this food ingredient before, or you may have heard a lot. Either way, you most likely have ingested it several times throughout your life.
Pick up 5 things in your kitchen with a label and read the ingredients list. Chances are a couple of those labels have maltodextrin in them. You find it in salad dressings, frozen yoghurt, spice mixes, Cheetos, candy, baked goods, fat-free and sugar free products. You'll even find it in meats, nutrition bars, splenda, mass gainers, and many meal replacement shakes like Ensure and Advocare. There's been a lot of hype about MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils, but maltodextrin is found in even more foods, yet going under the radar. So the question is: What exactly is maltodextrin, and is it healthy? Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of this starch-derived product.
First the facts: Maltodextrin comes from treated grain starch, primarily corn or rice starch. It can also come from wheat and potatoes, but is less common in the U.S. Hydrolyze this starch by adding some enzymes and acids, filter and purify it some more and you get either Maltodextrin, or Corn Syrup Solids. The difference is that Maltodextrin is hydrolyzed to have less than 20% sugar content, whereas Corn Syrup Solids have more than 20%. It gives fat-like body to food products, increases their shelf life, and mixes quite well with other ingredients. It's also cheap to make and produce. Though not a sugar, it still has a glycemic index of 130 by itself (table sugar is only 65).
Update 03/06/2014: As some have inquired on this blog, Maltodextrin is not MSG: here's my blog on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Monosodium Glutamate.
The Good: Though maltodextrin is technically a complex carbohydrate because of it's sugar content, it's high glycemic index means it goes through the digestive system super fast. There are 2 instances where this is a good thing. 1) After a hard workout, maltodextrin will quickly get energy and protein (if accompanied) to your muscles. That's why the Results and Recovery drink has some in there along with Dextrose (a sugar that maltodextrin mimics). 2) During a long workout (aka marathons), maltodextrin's quick absorption by the body and low osmolality (It doesn't absorb much water) make it a good candidate to give energy while not dehydrating you.
The Bad: Outside of the aforementioned time-frames, maltodextrin is just as bad, sometimes worse, as having sugar. Easily absorbed carbs like maltodextrin and sugar get into your bloodstream fast. If there is nothing for all that blood sugar to do (i.e. repair muscle-tissue, give energy), it will get stored as fat. Contrast that with real complex carbs from whole grains, which are broken down and absorbed slowly, and maltodextrin looks more and more like sugar.
The Ugly: the ugly truth is that maltodextrin is hard to avoid. Even dieting companies overload their shakes and bars with the stuff because it's cheap, they don't have to label it as sugar, and it's fatty texture can replace real fats (both good and bad).
The moral of the story here is to stick to whole foods or whole-food derived products—like Shakeology. Check your labels, and if it has maltodextrin in the ingredients list, it better be a post-workout supplement.[Update Jan 27th, 2014] Some commenters have also pointed out that Maltodextrin is associated with
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