When it comes to the keto diet, there’s little room for sugar – that’s a no-brainer for anyone following the ketogenic diet.
But that doesn’t mean that keto dieters can’t enjoy a sweet treat once in a while.
The key is to use sweeteners that replace sugar, yet provide just as much sweetness without the insulin spike and calorie count.
It’s not uncommon to experience cravings for sweets on occasion, and these cravings can completely sabotage your keto efforts if you give in, forcing you to spend a few days trying to get back into a state of ketosis.
But you can satisfy these cravings with treats sweetened with keto-friendly sweeteners.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you steer clear of sweeteners when you first start off on the keto diet, because they can actually cause cravings and can hinder your progress if you overdo it with them.
That said, using sweeteners on occasion shouldn’t do much harm and should still allow you to stay in ketosis while allowing you to enjoy something sweet.
The question is, what types of sweeteners are safe to use while on the keto diet?
More specifically, is maltodextrin a sound option? Or are there others that make a better choice?
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is commonly found on food labels.
You’ve probably noticed its presence yourself when reading labels on food products. But like other foreign-sounding ingredients on these labels, you might not know what it is.
Maltodextrin is a white powder that can be made from rice, corn, wheat, or potato starch. Despite the fact that it comes from vegetables, it is highly processed in order to create the final product.
It’s made by cooking the starches, then adding enzymes or acids like alpha-amylase to break it down even further through hydrolysis.
This chemical reaction breaks the starch down into tiny pieces to allow the product to be more easily absorbed when it is consumed.
The final product is a water-soluble white powder.
Maltodextrins are somewhat related to corn syrup solids in that they both undergo hydrolysis.
However, their sugar content differs quite a bit: corn syrup solids have a minimum of 20% sugar, while maltodextrin is less than 20% sugar, which is why many people use it as a sugar substitute.
Maltodextrin is not just used as a sugar substitute, but also as a filler in foods.
It thickens food products to increase their volume and preserves the shelf life of processed and packaged foods.
You’ll typically find it in products such as canned fruit, desserts, powdered drinks, and nutrition bars.
It’s even used in non-food items like hair care products and skin lotions as a thickener.
But while maltodextrin might have a might lower sugar count, it’s not without its side effects.
Nutritional Value of Maltodextrin
Maltodextrin is not exactly that low in calories.
In fact, it has the same calorie count as sucralose – or table sugar – at 4 calories per gram.
Not only is the calorie count a concern for keto dieters, but its glycemic index (GI) is much more of a concern.
Maltodextrin has a GI of anywhere between 106 to 136, which means it can spike your blood sugar levels really quickly.
Benefits of Maltodextrin
Many food manufacturers use maltodextrin as a binding agent for their food products.
It’s also used to give the flavor and texture of foods a boost, while increasing their shelf life. Here are some other potential benefits of maltodextrin.
More energy for exercise.
Although maltodextrin does not have any nutritional value, the body is able to absorb it quickly, providing the body with a quick burst of energy.
In fact, many physically active individuals and athletes use maltodextrin as part of their overall sports nutrition regimen for this specific purpose.
Many companies use maltodextrin to add to their sports beverages, supplements, and protein bars to allow physically active individuals to quickly replenish energy stores after physical activity.
It’s not uncommon for athletes to eat foods with a high glycemic index to restore their body’s glycogen stores as quickly as possible while boosting calories for weight gain.
Some people who suffer from chronic low blood sugar use maltodextrin as a source of blood glucose in an emergency situation.
When hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) sets in, maltodextrin can give the body an immediate energy boost.
But it’s not typically recommended for typical blood sugar regulation purposes because it can lead to severe fluctuations in glucose and hormones, and can also strengthen sugar cravings.
Some studies have found that digestion-resistant maltodextrin may help to improve intestinal functions such as stool consistency and volume, and colonic transit time.
Side Effects of Maltodextrin
High glycemic index.
As already mentioned, maltodextrin has a high glycemic index, which is the opposite of what keto dieters are looking for in a sugar substitute or sweetener.
Foods with a high glycemic index can cause insulin resistance, which can then lead to weight gain, diabetes, and inflammation with excessive use.
The fact that it has a high glycemic index makes it unsuitable for anyone who suffers from diabetes or insulin resistance, or anyone who may be predisposed to developing diabetes.
Bad for gut health.
Studies have shown that maltodextrin is bad for gut health because it can alter the composition of gut bacteria that makes the body more prone to disease.
It can also hinder the growth of healthy probiotics in the digestive system, which the immune system needs for optimal function.
Maltodextrin has also been shown to increase the growth of dangerous bacteria like E. coli.
Increased risk of autoimmune disorders.
This sugar substitute has also been linked to autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.
Potential weight gain.
Maltodextrin is basically a sweetener and a carbohydrate, but without any nutritional value.
The fact that it can cause a spike in blood sugar means that it can also cause weight gain.
May be GMO.
Genetically modified foods have been the source of much controversy over the recent past.
Several studies have implicated GMO foods with serious health risks, including compromised immunity, issues with insulin regulation, infertility, and even accelerated aging.
Maltodextrin is often manufactured from genetically modified corn. And even though the FDA says that GMO corn meets the same standards as non-GMO plants, those who are conscious of GMO foods might want to stay away from maltodextrin.
For anyone following the keto diet, maltodextrin should probably be avoided.
Besides, there are plenty of other alternatives that keto dieters can choose aside from maltodextrin that will provide a much lower glycemic index and calories, helping to keep them in a ketogenic state while still giving them a little bit of a sweet kick.
Stevia is a herb that is naturally occurring and has a glycemic index of zero, which makes it an ideal sugar substitute for the average keto dieter.
Although it’s void of nutrients, it may have some health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, blood glucose, and insulin levels in diabetics.
It may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Stevia has 5g of carbs and 20 calories per 100g.
With a glycemic index of zero, allulose might make a great alternative to maltodextrin and sugar. It’s made of a monosaccharide found in small amounts in certain fruits and wheat.
Some studies have shown that allulose may help to reduce insulin and blood sugar levels following meals. Allulose has between 0 to 5g of carb and 20 to 40 calories per 100g.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly found in fruits and vegetables.
It’s got a glycemic index of zero.
It also has 5g of carbs and 20 calories per 100g. As such, it doesn’t affect blood sugar the way sugar or even maltodextrin does.
But as great as erythritol may be for keto dieters, it should only be consumed in small to moderate quantities, as any more than this may cause slight stomach discomfort.
With a glycemic index of 13, xylitol may not be as good as erythritol for the ketogenic diet, but it still fares better than table sugar.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that’s typically found in fruits and vegetables. Its sweetness is pretty close to that of traditional sugar and is easy to substitute in baked goods.
That said, it should only be consumed in small doses as it contains 60g of carbs and 240g of calories per 100g.
Is Maltodextrin Keto Friendly?
Based on the nutritional value of maltodextrin and its glycemic index, it’s safe to say that maltodextrin is not the ideal sugar substitute for keto dieters.
There are plenty of other alternatives available that provide the same amount of sweetness as sugar but without the calories, carbs, or sugar spike.
Keto dieters may be better off using sweeteners such as stevia or erythritol to add to their favorite foods and help them satisfy their sweet tooth without compromising their state of ketosis.