You’ve likely seen maltodextrin on food labels but you may not know what it really is.
What Is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a sugar compound (called a polysaccharide) that’s created from starches like corn, oats, rice, potato, or tapioca. It can be sweet or tasteless. It’s used in food as a thickener, binder, preservative and it’s often a sugar replacement.
Artificial sweeteners such as maltodextrin are classified based on how sweet they are … called a dextrose equivalent (DE). The higher the DE number, the sweeter the product is. Anything with a DE number of 10 or less is called a dextrin. Anything with a DE of more than 20 is defined by the European Union as glucose syrup. Maltodextrins have a DE between 3 and 20.
How Is Maltodextrin Used?
For more than 30 years, the food industry – for humans – has used maltodextrin in processed foods. You’ll find maltodextrin in common foods like:
- Health supplements (pre and probiotic)
- Frozen dairy products
- Hydration drinks
- Salad dressing
In 2017, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved maltodextrin for use in pet foods.
So now, you’ll find maltodextrin in …
- Pet treats
- Pet foods
- Pet supplements
Food companies use maltodextrin to bind ingredients together or thicken a liquid product. Maltodextrin can also change the texture or freezing point of a product. Maltodextrin can also be used to replace fats in foods.
How do you find out if your food or food product includes maltodextrin? It’s not as simple as reading the label every time. Sometimes labels say “syrup solids” or “dextrins.” It isn’t always obvious that maltodextrin is an ingredient hiding in your dog’s food, treats and supplements – or your own. And it’s not clear just where on the DE scale the ingredient falls. How much sugar is really in your dog’s food, treats or supplements? This isn’t always mentioned on the label.
Why Sweeten Dog Food And Treats?
We know humans don’t need sugar. So, why do dogs? Well, we have a “sweet tooth” and it turns out that dogs do, too. But maltodextrins aren’t just added for their sweetness. They’re added because they change the structure of a product, thickening it or changing the freezing point.
So you’ll see maltodextrin often in semi-moist treats, canned foods and supplements to protect from freezing and to maintain the structure of the product.
What’s more concerning is that some of the most common dog products containing maltodextrin are supplements. So, even if you’re feeding your dog a fresh, raw diet … and you avoid canned food and soft treats, your dog may get maltodextrin in his supplements.
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) lists maltodextrin as GRAS – generally regarded as safe. But is it truly safe for in your dog’s diet?
Maltodextrin Research In Dogs
Research on maltodextrin in dog products has been focused on its ability to boost recovery times after exercise. Long-term safety studies for dogs and humans are sparse, but the general consensus is that maltodextrin, much like all sugars, should be used in moderation.
For humans, this study analyzed the health impacts of consuming maltodextrin:
“… the decrease in the consumption of ‘whole’ foods and dietary fiber, along with a rise in the consumption of rapidly digestible and absorbable CHO sources such as isolated starches, starch derivatives, and sugars, parallels an increase in the global prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
Have you seen the Purina® Pro Plan® exercise supplement bars? There are even rehydration products for dogs like there are for humans. In 2011, Dr Cheryl L Morris from Evolve Animal Nutrition said she stays away from products with maltodextrin.
“I actually don’t use any of these products but I do “rehydrate.” I use a mixture of meat-based baby food, honey, and some glutamine mixed with water.”
If your dog is active and could use a boost, choose fresh, ideally organic, energy sources. They’re simpler and will help you avoid the health risks associated with maltodextrin.
Is Maltodextrin Harmful To Dogs?
Yes, maltodextrin can harm your dog. Here are 3 good reasons to avoid maltodextrin for your dog.
#1 Maltodextrin Causes Nutritional Deficiencies
With 4 calories per gram, maltodextrin is a quick source of energy, but just like sugar, it burns fast and leads to a crash.
Sugars in the form of simple carbohydrates provide little to no nutritional value … just a quick jolt of fast-burning energy. Maltodextrin also provides “empty” calories, devoid of nutrition. Maltodextrin is considered a complex carbohydrate … but it acts as a simple carb. And that means it robs your dog of vitamins and minerals that he’d get from a true complex carb.
Complex carbs – the real ones – contain vitamins and minerals as well as energy. Because maltodextrin is a simple carb disguised as a complex carb, it borrows vitamins and minerals from your dog’s body. This can deplete your dog’s vitamin and mineral reserves, and eventually, lead to a deficiency.
#2 Maltodextrin Harms Gut Health
Your dog’s gut health is vital to his health. More than 80% of your dog’s immune system is in your dog’s gut. So poor gut health can lead to disease and illness in your dog.
A 2012 study showed that maltodextrin changes gut bacteria. Maltodextrin suppressed the growth of probiotics (friendly bacteria) and increased the risk of bad bacteria like E.coli. If your dog already has digestive problems or leaky gut issues, feeding him products with maltodextrin will make his issues worse.
And that can easily happen, because maltodextrin is often hiding in probiotic supplements.
Maltodextrin In Probiotics
Always check the labels of your dog’s supplements. One common place maltodextrin hides is in pre and probiotic supplements. But the manufacturers are sneaky … because the FDA doesn’t require them to show maltodextrin on the label.
Probiotics are tiny, so they always come in a carrier base. And that carrier is often maltodextrin. (Other carriers are FOS (fructooligosaccharides) or inulin – those are safe.)
Since the carrier isn’t mentioned on the label, you’ll have to call the manufacturer and ask them this question: What carrier are your probiotics in? They may not even know, because they didn’t think to ask their probiotics supplier.
So if they don’t know and don’t offer to find out, it’s safest to avoid that product.
#3 Maltodextrin Exposes Your Dog To GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be risky for your dog. And maltodextrin is often created from genetically modified plant sources. GMOs help keep the costs down, but they add another layer of health concerns for your dog because they expose your dog to glyphosate (Roundup).
Glyphosate is a dangerous herbicide used in GMO products. And it has a long list of known harmful effects in people and animals … including cancer. The World Health Organization lists glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.”
In the US, maltodextrin is often made from corn, a major GMO crop. Even though the FDA considers GMO corn safe, remember that many of the studies that conclude GMOs are safe are funded by the companies that created them. Many independent scientists believe GMOs are harmful to health.
In fact, GMO crops have been banned in 28 European countries and 38 countries worldwide. Unfortunately, the US and Canadian governments allow GMO crops and foods, which places us and our dogs at risk.
As a result, you should assume that in North America, maltodextrin is made from crops that are genetically modified. To avoid them, and reduce the risks to your dog, feed him only certified organic products.
Minimize Your Dog's Maltodextrin
Even if you can’t avoid maltodextrin completely, try to limit how much you give your dog. It may be safe in small amounts (as the FDA claims), but to be safe, try not to give your dog products with maltodextrin. Feed your dog fresh foods, avoid moist treats and check your supplements!