Is maltodextrin gluten-free? When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease over 10 years ago, there was a long list of ingredients I had to avoid. Most of the ingredients on that list were speculated to contain gluten because they could be derived from wheat. And guess what? Maltodextrin was one of those ingredients.
So for a really long time, I avoided maltodextrin if it was in a product that wasn’t marked gluten-free. But over time, our understanding and testing of food items with this potentially wheat-derived ingredient have changed and thus, our recommendations have changed.
So over the next few paragraphs, I’ll be diving into current science to explain to you when and if maltodextrin is gluten-free.
P.s. Need help with label-reading? Sign up for my FREE USA Label-Reading Class where I show you EXACTLY what you need to look for on a food label to stay celiac-safe in the USA. Stop stressing over grocery shopping in just 4-simple steps with this FREE training!
When talking about if maltodextrin is gluten-free, it’s important we know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.
In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.
Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.
Before we dive into the specifics of the gluten-free status of maltodextrin it’s helpful to know what it is. Maltodextrin is a fine white powder made from corn, potato, rice, or wheat starch.
It can add thickness and mouth feel to products while helping preserve them. Additionally, it can help sweeten products. This takes us to the next question…
Technically, Maltodextrin is a gluten-free starch, not a sugar. This is because again, it’s essentially made by refining starches into an even more refined starch. However, maltodextrin behaves a lot like sugar and can be used to sweeten things.
To understand if maltodextrin is gluten-free, we need to understand what it’s derived from. As I mentioned above, Maltodextrin can be made from wheat starch.
Now the gluten-containing grains are wheat, barley, and rye. So hearing that maltodextrin is derived from wheat starch can be scary because if you are living gluten-free, you’re told to strictly avoid wheat.
However, it’s important to understand that products can be gluten-free but not wheat-free. Meaning that we can process the gluten out of some ingredients making them gluten-free, but they still are derived from wheat, and thus are not wheat-free. More on that in a moment…
So is maltodextrin gluten-free? Well, it can be derived from wheat and if we take a look at the name “maltodextrin” we can see “malt” is in it. Both of these things tend to scare people but actually, maltodextrin is gluten-free, even if it’s derived from wheat.
That’s because to make maltodextrin, you’re starting off with wheat starch, which is basically the starches removed from the wheat plant. Starches are carbs, not proteins, so these starches technically should not have any gluten in them.
However, they might have unsafe amounts of gluten in them due to cross-contact so wheat starch is only considered gluten-free if in gluten-free marked products in the USA (like with Gluten-Free Digiorno Pizza).
Given that wheat starch already has minimal amounts of gluten due to cross-contact, when they further process it down into maltodextrin, the high level of refinement removes any gluten that would be left in the wheat starch (SORT of like distilled alcohol).
Thus, in the USA, maltodextrin is considered gluten-free, no matter what it’s derived from due to the high level of processing required to make this starch.
As I explained before, Maltodextrin is in gluten-free products for a lot of reasons. You can find it in soda and energy drinks to add mouthfeel and sweetness (in fact, you’ll find it in some Monster energy drinks).
You can find it in puddings, sauces, salad dressings, and other food that require thickening. And you can even find it in some candy. The bottom line, wherever you find it, this ingredient is gluten-free and you don’t need to worry about it in the USA.
This confuses a lot of people about the gluten-free status of maltodextrin and other gluten-free but wheat-derived ingredients. This is where it’s important to understand that celiac disease and a wheat allergy are two very separate conditions.
For celiac disease, it’s usually an IgA-mediated reaction to gluten and we have generally safe thresholds we can consume without harm (I.E. the <20ppm FDA gluten-free ruling).
For a wheat allergy, it’s IgE mediated, and there are no generally safe thresholds of exposure. Meaning that something can be considered gluten-free and safe, but if it was derived from wheat, it’s not considered wheat-free for those with a wheat allergy.
This is also why it’s so important to understand that wheat-free and gluten-free are not the same thing. Because wheat-free means no wheat, but when you’re gluten-free, you still have to worry about barley and rye.
And with gluten-free, it means no gluten at <20ppm, but for wheat-free it means no wheat proteins in ANY amount.
Around here I believe that people learn best with examples so here’s an example of maltodextrin on a food label.
If we look at the ingredients of Gatorade Fruit Punch Sports Drink, we will find water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, natural flavor, glycerol ester of rosin, red 40, and caramel color.
Now Gatorade also does carry a gluten-free claim but luckily, the maltodextrin would be considered safe in this drink, even if it were derived from gluten, again due to the nature of processing maltodextrin.
Now Gatorade has some other ingredients of concern that might make it not gluten-free. Ingredients like natural flavor and modified food starch. To learn more about the gluten-free status of Gatorade click here.
So maltodextrin is gluten-free but you might be thinking “my body says otherwise”. If you’re still reacting to foods with maltodextrin, despite the gluten-free status of this gluten-free, it’s important you enlist the help of a celiac specialized registered dietitian to get to the bottom of the root cause.
Because we know that maltodextrin is gluten-free due to its high level of refinement. It’s important to look at other things that may potentially be causing a reaction.
Often when people are gluten-free, they think their only trigger is gluten. But often, there are other food triggers present as well. For celiac disease specifically, this can be due to intestinal damage impairing digestion, the macronutrient distribution of a meal, or a disruption in the microbiome.
If you find yourself still reacting to foods with maltodextrin, even though maltodextrin is always gluten-free, it’s important to work with a celiac dietitian to get to the bottom of what is triggering you. Otherwise, you’re likely going to feel stuck thinking everything is making you sick.
Maltodextrin is gluten-free, even if it’s made from wheat. So if you have celiac disease and you’re wondering if it’s safe, it totally is.
However, if maltodextrin is made from wheat, it is not considered wheat-free for those with a wheat allergy.
Want more help with label-reading? Don’t forget to sign up for my FREE USA Label-Reading Class where I show you EXACTLY what you need to look for on a food label to stay celiac-safe in the USA. Stop stressing about grocery shopping in just 4-simple steps with this FREE training!