Can celiac disease have maltodextrin?

Quick Answer

Maltodextrin is usually made from wheat, barley or corn starch. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, maltodextrin derived from wheat or barley can trigger symptoms or intestinal damage similar to gluten. Maltodextrin derived from corn does not contain gluten and is generally considered safe for people with celiac disease. It’s important for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to check the source of maltodextrin in foods and supplements to determine if it could be problematic.

What is Maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is a food additive used as a thickener, filler, sweetener, preservative, or binding agent. It is a white powder made from starch, often corn, wheat, rice or potato starch.

The starch is cooked and acid or enzymes are used to break it down into smaller carbohydrates called dextrins. Dextrins are further broken down to produce maltodextrin, which consists of glucose chains three to 20 glucose units long.

Maltodextrin has a variety of uses in processed foods:

  • Thickening agent – adds thickness and texture to sauces, puddings, syrups.
  • Filler – bulks up low calorie foods to replace fat or sugars.
  • Preservative – helps maintain freshness and prevents oxidation.
  • Binding agent – helps keep food intact and maintain shape/texture.
  • Sweetener – 20% as sweet as sugar but with fewer calories.
  • Coating – used to evenly coat surfaces and prevent caking.

On an ingredients label, maltodextrin may also be listed as modified food starch. It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.

Maltodextrin and Gluten

The issue with maltodextrin for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity depends on the original starch source:

  • Wheat – Maltodextrin derived from wheat contains gluten and is unsafe.
  • Barley – Maltodextrin derived from barley contains gluten and is unsafe.
  • Corn, Potato, Rice – Maltodextrin derived from these gluten-free grains/starches is considered safe.

Maltodextrin made from wheat or barley contains gluten proteins that can cause intestinal damage in people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

About 1% of maltodextrin may be composed of residual protein (1). If the source is wheat, this protein would be gluten. One study found that maltodextrin derived from wheat starch retains enough gluten to test positive for the gluten protein gliadin (2).

For this reason, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid maltodextrin derived from wheat or barley.

Is Corn Maltodextrin Gluten-Free?

Maltodextrin made from corn does not contain any gluten proteins. Corn maltodextrin is generally considered safe for people with celiac disease and will not cause gluten reactions.

One small study found that corn maltodextrin did not trigger intestinal immune activation or intestinal cell damage in people with celiac disease (3).

An expert panel on gluten-related disorders says corn maltodextrin is safe, even in large quantities, for those with celiac disease (4).

However, there is still some debate over corn maltodextrin’s suitability for a gluten-free diet. Some researchers argue that corn maltodextrin could be contaminated with gluten during processing and therefore should be avoided (5).

Others point out that many foods labeled “gluten-free” contain corn maltodextrin without any evidence of gluten cross-contamination. Most experts consider corn maltodextrin safe as long as good manufacturing practices are followed.

Identifying the Source of Maltodextrin

Since the safety of maltodextrin depends on its source, it’s important to check where the maltodextrin is derived from.

Unfortunately, food labels do not always clearly identify the source of maltodextrin. It may just be listed generically as “maltodextrin” or “modified food starch.”

Here are some tips for finding out if a maltodextrin ingredient could contain gluten:

  • Contact the manufacturer to ask about the source.
  • Look for a gluten-free label. Products certified gluten-free very likely have corn maltodextrin.
  • Check for mentions of corn, potato or rice. These labels indicate a gluten-free source.
  • Avoid products that also contain wheat or barley ingredients, which signal wheat/barley may be the source.
  • Call out ingredients derived from wheat or barley specifically on the label.

If the source cannot be confirmed, you may want to avoid that product out of caution.

Risk of Gluten Contamination

In theory, maltodextrin should not contain detectable levels of gluten proteins if properly processed, purified and separated from gluten grain sources.

However, skeptics argue that contamination could occur:

  • During processing – shared equipment may transfer gluten proteins.
  • During transportation – gluten and non-gluten ingredients are stored and hauled together.
  • In the facility – airborne gluten dust particles may get into the product.

Several small studies have detected trace amounts of gluten in maltodextrin labeled gluten-free (6, 7).

In most cases, the detected gluten levels were below 20 parts per million (ppm), the FDA threshold for gluten-free labeling. However, those with celiac disease react to amounts under 20 ppm.

While cross-contamination is possible, many researchers argue it does not occur frequently or significantly enough to warrant avoiding all maltodextrin.

Proper equipment cleaning, batching procedures, air filtration and ingredient storage practices minimize contamination risks. Maltodextrin made in dedicated gluten-free facilities have the lowest risk.

Maltodextrin Glycemic Index

Maltodextrin is a refined carbohydrate with a high glycemic index between 85-105 (8). This means it is digested and absorbed very quickly and can lead to spikes in blood sugar.

However, maltodextrin’s glycemic response depends on the chain length of the glucose polymers it contains:

  • Maltodextrin with shorter chains (3-9 glucose units) has a higher GI of 105.
  • Maltodextrin with longer chains (10-20 glucose units) has a lower GI of 85.

Furthermore, maltodextrin typically makes up only a small portion of a food product. The glycemic index of the total meal or snack is often much lower.

Those with diabetes or on a low glycemic diet may want to limit foods with added maltodextrin. But it can be incorporated into the diet in moderation, especially the lower GI varieties.

Maltodextrin vs Dextrose

Dextrose is pure glucose while maltodextrin consists of short glucose chains. Dextrose has a very high glycemic index of 100.

Maltodextrin tends to have slightly better texture, viscosity and solubility properties compared to dextrose. It also has a cleaner, less sweet taste.

Here’s how they compare:

Property Maltodextrin Dextrose
Sweetness 20% as sweet as sugar 70-80% as sweet as sugar
Calories 4 calories per gram 4 calories per gram
Glycemic index 85-105 100
Texture Smooth, powdery Gritty, crystalline
Solubility More soluble Less soluble
Viscosity Higher viscosity Lower viscosity

Maltodextrin and dextrose are used for similar purposes like adding sweetness, texture and bulk. Maltodextrin offers some advantages but dextrose is slightly cheaper to produce.

Is Maltodextrin Bad for You?

Maltodextrin is generally recognized as safe by food regulatory agencies. But there are some potential downsides of consuming maltodextrin:

  • May contain gluten – unsafe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity if derived from wheat/barley.
  • High glycemic index – can spike blood sugar.
  • Highly processed – derived from starchy refined grains and heavy processing.
  • Often genetically modified – corn maltodextrin comes from GMO corn in the U.S.
  • Promotes overeating – adds bulk and mouthfeel that facilitate overconsumption (9).
  • Linked to altered gut bacteria – may influence gut microbiome negatively (10).
  • May be contaminated – potential for trace gluten, endotoxins or solvents.

For those without gluten concerns, maltodextrin is likely safe in the small amounts found in processed foods. But it’s best to limit intake from heavily processed foods and choose whole foods instead.

Those with diabetes, celiac disease and food sensitivities may want to avoid maltodextrin containing foods altogether.

Maltodextrin in Supplements

Maltodextrin is commonly used as an additive in dietary supplements like protein powders, pre-workouts and meal replacements. Advantages include:

  • Improves texture and flavor.
  • Helps powder dissolve and reduces clumping.
  • Adds bulk and manages moisture.
  • Increases shelf life.
  • Aids manufacturing processes.

However, there are drawbacks to maltodextrin as a supplement additive:

  • Adds extra calories and carbohydrates.
  • May spike blood sugar – poor for low carb diets.
  • Can cause gas, bloating or stomach upset.
  • Not suitable for those with gluten intolerance if source is unknown.

The amount of maltodextrin varies substantially between brands – from 2 grams to over 25 grams per serving.

When evaluating supplements, check for maltodextrin near the end of the ingredients list. Contact the company if its source is unclear.

Opt for supplements transparently labeled gluten-free or with alternative binders like stevia, cellulose fiber or guar gum.

Maltodextrin-Free Diet

A maltodextrin-free diet avoids foods with added maltodextrin, especially from unknown sources. This is necessary for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Tips for avoiding maltodextrin:

  • Read ingredient labels carefully.
  • Check with manufacturers about sources.
  • Look for gluten-free and non-GMO labels.
  • Avoid processed snack foods, sauces, salad dressings, canned goods.
  • Be wary of low-fat, diet or light foods.
  • Watch out for thickeners or anti-caking agents.
  • Make own sauces, dressings, baked goods from scratch.
  • Choose whole fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, legumes, nuts.
  • Select certified gluten-free supplements if needed.

With diligent label reading and whole food choices, it’s possible to avoid maltodextrin from unknown sources. Corn maltodextrin confirmed gluten-free may be tolerated.


Maltodextrin derived from wheat or barley contains gluten and is not suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Maltodextrin from corn, potato or rice does not contain gluten but there is a small risk it could get contaminated.

To be safe, those with celiac disease should verify the plant source of maltodextrin in foods or supplements and avoid it if unsure. Corn maltodextrin that is clearly labeled gluten-free is generally considered acceptable.

For improved health, it’s best to minimize consumption of highly processed foods with additives like maltodextrin. Be sure to read ingredient labels closely and get confirmation from manufacturers when needed. With care, people with celiac disease and gluten concerns can successfully navigate maltodextrin in the food supply.

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