When it comes to determining the relative safety of a food product, there are few absolutes. A food additive called maltodextrin, a powder often found in snack foods such as flavored potato chips or crackers, is a case in point. Because few consumers would ever have the need to eat a significant amount of this substance, it is considered to be safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA does not necessarily equate "safe" with "healthy," however. Many artificial sweeteners and additives are considered to be safe in the sense of non-toxic, but many experts question their unhealthy effects on the human body.
Maltodextrin is a white powder derived from either corn or potatoes, at least in the United States. It is often used in combination with other additives and spices to form a dry savory or sweet coating for fried snack foods, such as corn chips and potato chips. The substance is considered to be a polysaccharide, which qualifies it as an alternative sweetener to sucrose or fructose. Although rarely marketed by itself, it can often be found as an ingredient in a number of other artificial sweetener blends.
The primary concerns over the safety of maltodextrin lie mostly with the sources used to create it. If the product in question is derived from corn or potatoes grown in the United States or Canada, it is generally considered safe for all consumers. Corn or potato-based products are gluten-free, which makes them safe for those with Celiac disease to consume in small quantities. Celiac disease is a condition triggered by the ingestion of food products that contain wheat gluten, such as traditional breads and many grain cereals.
Wheat-based maltodextrin, commonly processed in Asian countries, is not gluten-free, however. If it is used in a food product, it should be clearly listed in the list of ingredients. Sometimes, the enzymes used to convert the corn or potato starch into this additive may be derived from other grains that contain glutens, such as rye, barley or wheat. Manufacturers should make any possible use of gluten-containing enzymes clear to commercial or private customers.
Maltodextrin derived from corn or potatoes grown in the United States or Canada should be considered safe for moderate consumption. For those with Celiac disease, avoiding any product containing maltodextrin from wheat or processed with other grain enzymes is a good idea. Further research on the effects of alternative sweeteners, some of which contain this substance, is still being conducted, so it would be difficult to say with any certainty that its use as an alternative sweetener is completely safe in the long term.