Is modified starch gluten-free?

What is Modified Starch?

Modified starch, also known as starch that has been chemically altered, is a food additive that is commonly found in packaged foods. The starches are extracted from foods like corn, wheat, rice or potato and then modified chemically to enhance their functional properties. Food manufacturers use modified starches as thickeners, stabilizers, binders, emulsifiers, and to improve the texture and shelf-life of processed foods. Some common types of modified food starch include:

  • Distarch phosphate – A modified starch that is crosslinked with sodium trimetaphosphate. It helps thicken and stabilize foods.
  • Acetylated distarch phosphate – An acetylated modified starch. It provides a gummy texture.
  • Acetylated distarch adipate – An acetylated starch that is esterified with adipic acid. It has a smooth texture.
  • Hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate – A modified starch that is hydroxypropylated. It helps retain moisture.
  • Hydroxypropyl starch – A hydroxypropyl modified starch. It thickens and stabilizes at lower temperatures.
  • Maltodextrin – Cooked and modified starches made from corn, potato, rice or wheat. Used as a filler, binder and emulsifier.

So in summary, modified food starches are starches that have been processed to change their properties. Many types are made by chemically altering corn, wheat or potato starch.

Is Modified Starch Gluten-Free?

Whether or not modified starch contains gluten depends entirely on the original source of the starch before modification. Let’s take a look:

Modified Starches from Naturally Gluten-Free Grains

Starches derived from gluten-free grains like rice, corn, potato and tapioca will remain gluten-free even after modification. Some examples of gluten-free modified starches include:

  • Modified corn starch
  • Modified tapioca starch
  • Modified rice starch
  • Modified potato starch

So if a modified starch is made from a naturally gluten-free grain, it will still be gluten-free after modification.

Modified Starches Derived from Wheat

On the other hand, modified starches made from wheat (a gluten-containing grain) are NOT gluten-free. Examples include:

  • Modified wheat starch
  • Maltodextrin (if made from wheat)

So modified starches derived from wheat will contain gluten. Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid these types of modified wheat starches.

It is important to note that even modified starches produced from wheat can sometimes test below 20 parts per million of gluten. This is the threshold for labeling foods “gluten-free” in many countries.

However, experts recommend avoiding all forms of wheat, even when testing shows a very low gluten content. This is because it can still trigger adverse reactions in those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Cross-Contamination Risk

There is also the issue of cross-contamination to consider with modified starches.

During production, starches from gluten-containing grains can mix with gluten-free starches, leading to cross-contamination. Those who are highly sensitive should take caution.

It’s advised to look for modified starch made in a gluten-free facility if you want to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Review of Gluten-Free Status

To quickly summarize the gluten-free status of modified starches:

  • Modified starches from gluten-free grains like corn, rice, potato and tapioca are gluten-free.
  • Modified starches derived from wheat or other gluten-containing grains are NOT gluten-free.
  • Cross-contamination may occur during manufacturing. Gluten-free facilities are safest for those highly sensitive.

Always check the ingredient label and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure if a modified starch contains gluten. Avoid any modified food starch that lists wheat as the source or is not labeled gluten-free.

Should You Consume Modified Starch on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Whether or not you want to include modified starches on a gluten-free diet is a personal choice that depends on your health goals and sensitivities.

Here are some things to consider:


  • Gluten-free modified starches can help improve the texture and moisture in gluten-free baked goods. This can result in products that more closely mimic wheat-based foods.
  • Modified starches may be needed in some gluten-free products as a replacement for the gluten found in wheat-based foods.
  • When used in appropriate amounts, modified gluten-free starches are considered safe for most people on gluten-free diets.


  • High intakes of modified starches could lead to increased exposure to chemical additives used during processing.
  • Over-consumption may promote unhealthy eating patterns and poor nutrition.
  • Those with high sensitivity need to check for gluten cross-contamination risk.


  • Consume gluten-free modified starches in moderation as part of an overall healthy gluten-free diet.
  • Aim to get nutrients from whole, minimally processed gluten-free foods as often as possible.
  • Check labels carefully and contact manufacturers to verify gluten-free status if needed.
  • Choose certified gluten-free oats and gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, teff and buckwheat in place of modified starches when possible.

Including some gluten-free modified starch can provide help when baking or improve the texture of processed gluten-free products. However, overuse may promote unhealthy eating. Prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods first whenever possible.

The Safety of Modified Food Starch

While gluten cross-contamination is a concern for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, what about the safety of modified starch itself?

Here is an overview of the health effects linked to high consumption of chemically altered starches:

Potential Increased Exposure to Chemicals

The chemical modifications applied to starches alter their molecular structure. For example:

  • Acetylated starch – Adds acetate groups
  • Hydroxypropylated starch – Adds hydroxypropyl groups
  • Cross-linked starch – Bonds starch chains together
  • Acid-hydrolyzed starch – Breaks bonds with acid solutions or enzymes

While regulators claim chemical modification agents are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), some argue inadequate testing has been done.

Higher intakes may lead to greater exposure to chemical residues in processed foods. The long-term impacts are unknown.

Effects on Blood Sugar

Some modified starches have been linked to spikes in blood sugar when consumed in large amounts.

For example, maltodextrin has a high glycemic index. Large intakes may promote insulin resistance.

Those with diabetes or metabolic disease should use caution with high glycemic modified starches.

Impacts on Gut Bacteria

A handful of animal studies suggest high intakes of emulsifier modified starches could alter gut bacteria and increase gut inflammation markers (1, 2).

However, human studies are needed to confirm effects on gut health at normal intake levels.

Increased Risk of Overeating and Obesity

The highly processed texture and neutral flavor of most modified starches could affect appetite control.

Some research indicates overuse as food additives may promote overeating and weight gain (3).

To reduce risk, limit portion sizes of foods high in modified starches. Focus on whole foods and fiber to support satiety.

Nutrient Dilution

When included in large amounts in processed foods, modified starches may displace more nutritious whole food ingredients.

This could reduce vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake if over-consumed. Prioritize whole foods to maximize nutrient density.

Allergen and Sensitivity Reactions

In rare cases, modified starches could trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, especially when derived from corn or wheat (4).

Those with food allergies should exercise caution and monitor symptoms closely when introducing modified starches.

Identifying Modified Food Starch on Ingredient Labels

Modified starches will typically be named explicitly on ingredient lists:

  • Modified starch
  • Modified food starch
  • Modified corn starch
  • Starch sodium octenylsuccinate (an emulsifier-treated starch)

Other common names that often indicate modified starches include:

  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Pregelatinized starch
  • Food starch
  • Emulsifier (can refer to modified starch-based emulsifiers)

Check the ingredient list for these terms to identify sources of modified starches. Also look for “starch” listed near ingredients like acetic acid, succinic acid, propylene oxide or phosphorus oxychloride – which are used in starch modification.

Contact the manufacturer if you need help determining if a “starch” ingredient contains gluten or has been modified.

Should You Avoid Modified Food Starches?

Based on the potential health impacts linked to overuse, here are some recommendations on limiting intake of chemically altered starches:

  • Avoid foods where modified starch is one of the first few ingredients. This indicates it is likely a major component.
  • Limit portion sizes of packaged snacks, desserts, ready meals and processed gluten-free replacements that contain modified starches high on the ingredient list.
  • Check labels on sauces, dressings, soups, bakery items and other packaged foods. Choose brands with simpler, shorter ingredients lists when possible.
  • Consume gluten-free whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds instead of heavily processed replacement foods made with modified starches.
  • When baking at home, experiment with whole food flours like almond, coconut or banana flour. Use modified starches sparingly for functional purposes.

While small amounts of modified starch as a minor ingredient are likely safe for most, overconsumption could have implications for health and disease risk. Focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods as often as possible for optimal well-being. Those with food sensitivities should take extra precautions and verify manufacturing processes when consuming modified starches.


Modified food starches are common additives used to improve the texture, moisture, shelf-life and palatability of packaged gluten-free products and other processed foods.

The source starch determines if they are gluten-free. Starches derived from gluten-free grains like corn remain gluten-free after modification. However, those made from wheat are not safe for gluten-free diets.

While occasional use of gluten-free modified starches may provide benefits when baking or improve the quality of some manufactured foods, overuse could have implications for health. Focus on whole, minimally processed gluten-free foods and limit intake of heavily processed items with modified starches high on the ingredients list. Check labels carefully, contact manufacturers if needed and aim for balance to maximize nutrition on a gluten-free diet.

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