What is Maltodextrin?
Milkshake on acid or food additive?
What exactly is “maltodextrin” and is it gluten free? The answer is, like many of life’s quandaries; it depends.
Not many people are aware of this commonly used food additive and yet it is everywhere. For example, it’s contained in a bag of popcorn for sale at this mega-chain coffee shop I’m sitting in.
It’s used as a filler or binder. You can find it in packaged foods and even in pharmaceuticals.
Where does it come from?
Now, luckily for us in North America, it’s most commonly derived from potato, rice, or corn starch. In Europe, however, it can be made of wheat starch. And even though the reactive wheat proteins are destroyed during the making of maltodextrin, there is still some debate if there is enough of the protein remaining to cause a reaction in gluten sensitives and Celiacs.
According to a European Food Safety Authority study back in 2007, they determined that even though low level amounts of wheat protein were present in wheat-derived maltodextrin, the finished product was unlikely to cause adverse reactions in Celiac patients. However, the study, also concluded that they aren’t really sure what level of protein would cause an adverse reaction in sensitive individuals. A link to the study is below. It’s an epic saga so be warned.
Now let’s talk about food labeling. In the US, there are two different food industry regulators. According to the Food Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, if an FDA regulated food (all foods except for livestock meat and poultry products) contains wheat-derived maltodextrin, the word “wheat” must be listed on the label. Example: “maltodextrin (wheat).” If you don’t see the word wheat, the additive was derived from another food starch.
The other food regulator here is the US Department of Agriculture. Under the USDA (they regulate meat, poultry, eggs), food manufacturers have the option to say if their maltodextrin is derived from wheat, but they don’t have to. And based on the amount of meat in a product, we could be talking about soups and countless packaged meat products.
So let’s boil all of this down into key considerations…
In the US, maltodextrin is usually made from something other than wheat. Big sigh of relief. Well, sort of.
If the product is FDA regulated and it contains wheat, the label has to say so. Always read labels. Quick reminder, FDA foods are processed items that typically are not meat or animal products.
If the product is USDA regulated (meat, eggs, poultry), the label doesn’t have to say so. The big red flag here is that USDA regulated foods are things like hot dogs, deli meat, sausage, seasoned chicken, egg products, stuff we eat all the time. If you’re very sensitive to gluten or you simply want no exposure to it in any amount, be very cautious around processed meat and animal products. Check with the manufacturer directly or use my favorite shopping site,gfoverflow.com.
The underlying theme of this whole discussion is processed foods. Maltodextrin is used in processed foods. If you’re eating a whole foods diet of unprocessed animal protein, whole nuts, fruits, and veg, chances are you won’t run into food additives very much. And you may feel and look a lot better too. Always read labels and be your best health advocate.