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Are maltodextrin and maltitol safe for people with type 2 diabetes?

Question:
I have type 2 diabetes. Should I be concerned about ingredients like maltodextrin and maltitol that are found in some protein bars and drinks?

Answer:
Maltitol is not a problematic ingredient for people with type 2 diabetes, and although maltodextrin can raise blood glucose levels, it, too, should not be much of a concern if figured into ones total carbohydrate intake. In fact, both are sometimes intentionally used in products specially formulated for people with diabetes.

As described in ConsumerLab.com's Nutrition Bar Review, maltitol and other sugar alcohols like erythritol, glycerol, sorbitol and xylitol, add sweetness but have fewer calories and less of an impact on blood sugar levels than regular sugar. Sugar alcohols are an acceptable sweetener for people with diabetes -- the American Diabetes Association considers sugar alcohols an option when trying to reduce sugar, carbohydrate and caloric intake (American Diabetes Association 2014). Be aware, however, that sugar alcohols may promote gas and have a laxative effect, especially in large doses (20 to 50 grams). The amount of sugar alcohols in nutrition bars varies from none to about 30 grams. Protein powders and drinks are less likely to contain sugar alcohols.

As noted in ConsumerLab.com's article about Inactive Ingredients in Supplements, maltodextrin is added to protein products to increase bulk, improve texture, and prevent clumping, but it also adds sweetness. Unlike maltitol, maltodextrin can affect blood glucose levels -- something most people with type 2 diabetes should keep in mind. However, it may be safe to consume maltodextrin as long as you factor it into your total carbohydrate intake and limit that intake accordingly. Be aware that maltodextrin is not included in the listed amount of sugars on the label, but is included in total carbohydrates.  Although the exact amount of maltodextrin in a bar or drink is typically not listed,  you can get an idea of how much a product contains based on where maltodextrin appears in the list of ingredients since, by law, the ingredients must be listed in order of quantity, from greatest to least. Small amounts of maltodextrin can also be found in artificial sweeteners, such as Equal and Splenda, used to sweeten protein products.

If you have type 2 diabetes, its best to work with your doctor to plan your meals and snacks, and decide what types of foods and amount of ingredients like sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and maltodextrin are best for you. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) notes that there is not a one-size-fits-all recommended eating pattern for people with diabetes, but, as a general guideline, suggests that a meal should contain between 45 and 75 grams of carbohydrates, and a snack should contain 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates (Spritzler, Diabetes Spec 2014). If you decide to try a nutrition bar or protein drink, consider whether it will serve as a meal replacement or snack, then look for a product that contains the appropriate amount of total carbohydrates to meet your needs. Be aware that the ADA cautions that carbohydrate sources high in protein should not be used to treat or prevent hypoglycemia.

Total carbohydrate amounts in nutrition bars tested by ConsumerLab.com tend to range from about 20 to 40 grams per bar, while protein drinks tend to have fewer carbohydrates (1 and 20 grams) -- although some may contain higher amounts, so be sure check the label.  Be especially cautious with energy or weight gainer formulas, which may contain more carbohydrates than others.



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nancy16531   March 3, 2018
I have also noticed that sugar alcohols have an effect on blood sugars of my diabetic patients. Only Erythritol appears to have little if any effect.

Heather16242   November 26, 2017
I am in health care and aware of the ADA's stance. However, I have verified with my own glucometer that my blood sugar goes up after ingestion of any sugar alcohol, and maltitol and maltodextrin cause spikes almost equal to table sugar. So I tell diabetic patients to trust no artificial sweetener until they have verified their own response with their glucometer. Even some stevia preparations are dispersed on a base of a sugar alcohol, and the consumer has to read labels to know that.
I think another part of the problem is that some people gorge if they think that they are eating “safe chocolate” or “safe ice cream,” and take in a lot more than they realize.
So I don't think any sweet or starch is “safe” unless your own glucometer told you for sure, after you ate it, that it's okay.

Kelli182   September 26, 2014
Maltodextrin is NOT safe for diabetics any more than table sugar or other concentrated simple carbs. For myself, maltodextrin causes my blood glucose to skyrocket and stay up for longer than table sugar does.

Regarding what was said about maltodextrin not being included in the amount of sugars listed on nutrition labels but is listed in the total carbohydrate count. THAT IS NOT TRUE! My understanding is that the way regulations read, food manufacturers are not obliged to list it anywhere on the label except in the ingredient list.

A good example of this is sugar free jello. It says it's sugar free and carb free and yet on most flavors, the third or fourth ingredient listed is maltodextrin from corn.

Maltodextrin is a cheap filler that isn't good for anyone but especially diabetics. My doctor said if it was up to him, it would be banned from the food supply. Why eat it? There are other things out there that aren't so hard on your pancreas.

ConsumerLab.com   September 26, 2014
Hi Kelli - As noted in the Answer, it's true that maltodextrin can raise blood sugar, but, to clarify about labeling, maltodextrin is counted as part of the total carbohydrate on the nutrition panel.

However, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of maltodextrin, food manufacturers are allowed to list the amount as "0". This is likely the case with the sugar free jello.

It can be confusing to see maltodextrin listed in the ingredients but the total carbohydrates listed as "0", but if you see this on other labels, that means the amount of maltodextrin should be less than 0.5 grams.

Kelli186   September 26, 2014
Regarding the cut off point of 0.5 grams of maltodextrin - is that per serving or for the entire package?

I wish they'd list the amounts because even though you think it's just a little amount so it's okay if you "splurge" a bit, it adds up because it's in so many of the foods that many diabetics think are okay for them to eat, like sugar free Jello, some sugar free coffee drink mixes and I could go on and on.

You can probably tell I'm irked by this because I exercise at my target heart rate for minimum of 30 minutes (and usually double that) 6 days a week, I've lost 40lbs and I eat no more than 20-30 grams of carbs total per day and yet I couldn't get my A1C down below 9.7 until I cut out everything I was using that had maltodextrin in it. Now I'm at 6.5.

Do you think some people are more sensitive to substances like maltodextrin, sorbitol, maltitol, etc?

By the way, thank you for the information. I had no idea how it was calculated. My nutritionist never said - only that I should avoid it if I saw it in the ingredient list.

ConsumerLab.com   October 7, 2014
Yes, that would be per serving. Sounds like this can be frustrating - but it's interesting that your A1C went down after you eliminated maltodextrin - maybe others will find your experience with this to be helpful.

It's possible that some people are more sensitive to maltodextrin, sorbitol or maltitol than others.

Thank you for the kind words, Kelli!

tsultrim101   August 10, 2014
What about the other artificial sweetner I know they are all bad and some with aspatame even carcenogenic but are some better than other amongst sweet n low, equal, etc?

MAX 8031   November 4, 2015
Stevia is a sweetener that is not bad for you. It is suitable for people with diabetes.

Rebecca100   August 10, 2014
Most physicians have little time to devote to the finer points of meal planning. People with diabetes are best served by a referral to a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist. The RD/N has the training and the time to develop an individualized plan and to facilitate behavior change to achieve goals.

daliya 8061   November 15, 2015
From experience I find holistic nutritionists are better qualified to help with healthy eating. The studies of the dieticians are limiteds to the conventional food ladder . Grains and what not a first choice and no mention of gmos or gluten free or organic in their protocol.

This CL Answer initially posted on 8/9/2014. Last updated 8/8/2017.

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