packets of sweetener
Packets of sweetener almost always contain maltodextrin and/or dextrose. Dextrose is glucose, and maltodextrin acts like sugar in our bodies. Bill Boch/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you are a reader of ingredients lists, you've probably seen the word "maltodextrin". It is an additive that is in a wide variety of processed foods, including most packets of sugar substitutes, soy milk, candies, and many other foods. But what is it, and what does it mean to us as low-carbers?

What is Maltodextrin and What is it Used For?

Maltodextrins (they are actually a group of additives) are white powders that are made by treating starches with various chemicals and enzymes.

Some of them are mildly to moderately sweet. They are used as bulking agents, fillers, binders (many pills have maltodextrin as an "inactive ingredient"), thickeners, and have many other uses.

Does Maltodextrin Have Calories and Carbohydrate?

Yes. Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate, and so has 4 calories per gram, and 4 grams of carb per teaspoon. Furthermore, the glyciemic index of maltodextrin seems to be at the very high end of the scale, in the high 90's (this is widely reported, but I did not find a scientific study of it). Some products marketed to athletes (sports drink, gels, bars, and powders to add to drinks) use maltodextrin to very quickly raise blood sugar.

  • Important Note! A product can contain maltodextrin and be labeled sugar-free. For example, sugar-free Metamucil contains maltodextrin.
  • Another Note! Most packets of sugar substitute have ingredients (maltodextrin and/or dextrose) which raise blood sugar.

    Should you Consume Maltodextrin?

    Like any carbohydrate, be aware of what you are eating. It's probably no better or worse than most refined carbohydrates, which is to say, not good. On the other hand, a small dose once in awhile, as with most things, is not going to kill you.


    Minich, Deanna M. An A-Z Guide to Food Additives: Never Eat What You Can't Pronounce. Conari Press, 2009

    U.S Pharmacopeia

    Continue Reading