Walk down the grocery aisle and you’ll see packaged products with ingredient lists that span the length of the box or bag. Even in many “all-natural” or “organic” products, little known additives pass the scrutiny of shoppers’ eyes. One such bewilderingly common food additive is rewiring your gut health and gut biome. The result? Increased susceptibility to gastrointestinal diseases and chronic inflammation. [1-3]
Maltodextrin. This highly processed carbohydrate is typically derived from wheat, potato, corn, or rice starches. During the manufacturing process, the starch is enzymatically broken down into a nutrient-stripped chain of sugars.
Why is it used?
Packaged food producers use maltodextrin as a filler (so you get less real food), a thickener (to bulk up stripped down products), a texturizer (to improve mouthfeel), or as a cheap carbohydrate to increase caloric value of certain foods. Take a look at any cheap ‘good tasting’ food or drink at the store and you’ll likely see maltodextrin listed. Similarly, if you use a protein powder with any high carbohydrate content, chances are you’ll see the same stripped-down starch on the back.
Interestingly, the highly chemical manufacturing process creates a maltodextrin product with a glycemic index (the measure of a compound’s effect on blood sugar) higher than pure glucose itself. Glucose sets the standard at 100 and maltodextrin ranges as high as a whopping 110-135. If you decided to stick a spoon full of pure table sugar in place of maltodextrin, the glycemic index would fall to 65.
What does maltodextrin do to your gut?
Several studies have examined the effects of maltodextrin inside the intestinal space. One such study determined that maltodextrin depressed antimicrobial activity of the gut and created a protective area for harmful bacteria to colonize. The same study concluded that maltodextrin can prime the intestinal space for infection and the development of chronic inflammatory diseases. 
Other studies have found correlations with the advent of maltodextrin use in “western” diets and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis (UC) and Chron’s disease (CD) (shown above). 
Cheap food additives are becoming increasingly tied to the decline in western gut health. Specifically, researchers are beginning to link additives used as emulsifiers (i.e. maltodextrin, xanthan gum, carrageenan, or lecithin) to detrimental impacts on intestinal homeostasis.
In other words, these emulsifiers and additives decrease the protective barriers around intestinal cells and increase the likelihood of chronic inflammation and disease progression. [1-3]
So what is the solution?
Read the back of your ingredients lists and don’t buy products with cheap additives thrown in. If you see maltodextrin listed, weigh the pros and cons of eating that product versus something with more nutrient-dense carbohydrates (a list on which nearly every pure sugar is included). If you’re interested in taking precautions for ultimate gut health, consider avoiding the common emulsifiers listed above as well.
- Nickerson KP, Chanin R, Mcdonald C. 2015. Deregulation of intestinal anti-microbial defense by the dietary additive, maltodextrin. Gut Microbes 6(1):78-83.
- Nickerson KP, Homer CR, Kessler SP, Dixon LJ, Kabi A, Gordon IO, et al. (2014) The Dietary Polysaccharide Maltodextrin Promotes Salmonella Survival and Mucosal Colonization in Mice. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101789. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101789
- Nickerson KP, McDonald C (2012) Crohn's Disease-Associated Adherent-Invasive Escherichia coli Adhesion Is Enhanced by Exposure to the Ubiquitous Dietary Polysaccharide Maltodextrin. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52132. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052132