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What Is Dextrose? Why Is It in Food & Medicine? (What You Need to Know)

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Dextrose - Dr. Axe

We all need to consume some simple sugars. Why? The body is able to absorb them quickly and use them for energy. Unfortunately, many people eat too much sugar, sometimes unknowingly, which can lead to a number of health issues. Dextrose is a type of simple sugar that’s stored as starch in corn and found in high fructose corn syrup.

Because it is used in some medical solutions, people sometimes believe that it’s healthier for you than table sugar or even glucose. This isn’t entirely true. Although there are some benefits to ingesting dextrose under certain medical conditions, it is yet another simple sugar that’s often added to unhealthy, processed foods.

When is it OK to eat dextrose, and what are some healthier alternatives? Read on to find out.

What Is Dextrose?

Is dextrose sugar?

Yes, it is a simple sugar that’s derived from corn. It consists of one molecule of sugar, making it a carbohydrate that’s called a simple sugar.

Dextrose vs. glucose

Chemically, it’s identical to glucose. So are dextrose and glucose the same thing? The term dextrose is used when glucose is produced from corn. Being that it is biochemically identical to glucose, it’s sometimes used medically to raise a person’s blood sugar levels when they are too low.

Is dextrose healthier than sugar?

Well, it’s a simple sugar that’s often used to sweeten packaged and processed foods. Both dextrose and table sugar supply the body with energy, but they affect blood sugar levels differently. Dextrose is water-soluble and dissolves quickly. This is one reason why it’s often used to raise blood sugar levels. While digestive enzymes are needed to break down sucrose, or table sugar, into single molecules, dextrose is ready to be absorbed immediately.

Preparations

The simple sugar is used in some medical solutions to raise blood sugar levels, treat dehydration and provide nutrition to patients unable to absorb macronutrients. You can find it in many forms, including as tablets, gels and dextrose powder. Dextrose injections are commonly used to immediately raise a person’s blood sugar levels or to treat dehydration.

What Is Dextrose Used For?

As a simple sugar, dextrose is used in a number ways. It’s used in baking products as a sweetener and even added to medicinal solutions to improve low blood sugar levels.

Dextrose Medicine

This simple sugar is used medicinally in intravenous solutions, in oral forms or in combination with other drugs to raise a person’s blood sugar levels when they become too low. It is also available in tablet or gel forms that are taken by mouth and found over-the-counter. People who have hypoglycemia and deal with chronic low blood sugar may keep dextrose tablets or gels on them in case their levels become too low. When you have very low blood sugar levels, below 70 mg/dL, you may experience signs such as fatigue, sweating, hunger, light-headedness, rapid heart rate and shakiness.

For people who are unable to absorb essential nutrients, solutions containing dextrose, amino acids and fats may be given intravenously. This combination of macronutrients is called total parenteral nutrition. It allows patients to receive the nutrients that they need for survival. Dextrose is also used to treat dehydration, and it’s sometimes combined with saline in a drip solution.

Food

Dextrose is found in corn syrup, which is used to make processed and sweetened foods, including candies, baked goods, pastas, refined cereals and starchy foods. Just like glucose, fructose and galactose, it’s a simple sugar and used in many food products — many of which aren’t so good for your health.

Other Uses

Some athletes or bodybuilders use dextrose as a nutritional supplement because it’s high in calories but easy to break down for energy. Those looking to gain weight and increase muscle may find dextrose tablets or gels helpful. Looking at dextrose vs. maltodextrin, both sugars supply the body with energy and can be broken down quickly. You may find that dextrose is less expensive and has a sweeter taste. There are some dangers to consuming maltodextrin, so using natural sweeteners, like stevia, is a better option.

Risks and Side Effects

What are the side effects of dextrose? Is dextrose bad for your health?

Although it is used to increase blood sugar levels for those with diabetes or hypoglycemia, it can actually increase blood sugar too much. This can lead to hyperglycemia symptoms, like confusion, increased urination, dehydration, excessive thirst and mood swings. Consuming too much of this simple sugar may also lead to the buildup of fluid, which can cause parts of the body to swell.

Anyone with hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, should avoid foods containing any simple sugar. You should also avoid dextrose foods and solutions if you have low potassium levels, experience swelling in your extremities or have fluid buildup in your lungs, which is called pulmonary edema.

Can you be allergic to dextrose?

You may experience adverse reactions to foods containing this simple sugar if you are allergic to corn. Dextrose is produced from corn and is present in corn syrup, which is used to make many processed and sweetened foods. If you fear that you have a corn allergy and may be experiencing food allergy symptoms, avoid all foods containing the simple sugar until you consult your health care professional.

Dextrose in Food

There are plenty of foods containing dextrose that should be avoided because they supply little to no nutritional value and can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. Basically, foods that are processed and contain refined sweeteners should not be part of your diet. If you do consume these foods, it should only be once in a while.

Here’s a breakdown of the dextrose foods that you shouldn’t consume regularly:

Sugar-loaded baked goods: Dextrose is often used as a simple sugar in baked goods and sweets, like candies, cookies, muffins and other sweetened food products. Table sugar that’s used to sweeten foods and beverages also contains high amounts of dextrose. Being that the U.S. ranks as having the highest average daily sugar consumption per person, it’s so important to reduce sugar intake and use natural sugar substitutes when needed.

Processed and sweetened foods made with corn syrup: Dextrose is also found in corn syrup, which is made by processing the sugars in corn until they create a thick syrup that’s used to sweeten foods. Corn syrup is a common ingredient in processed and sweetened foods. Because it contains dextrose, corn syrup is about three-quarters sweetener than sucrose sugar or beet sugar.

Foods high in starch: The body naturally breaks down high-starch foods into dextrose. Foods like processed grains, white bread, refined pastas and French fries are equivalent to eating pure sugar because of the way these foods break down in the body.

Safter Alternatives

Instead of turning to simple sugars for bodybuilding, cooking and baking, choosing complex sugars and natural sweeteners is also recommended. Complex sugars are better for athletes and bodybuilders because they promote fat-burning. Natural sweeteners can also help keep maintain normal blood sugar levels. Some healthier alternatives include:

  1. Stevia: Stevia is an all-natural sweetener that comes from the leaf of the stevia plant. Green leaf stevia, which is the best choice, helps reduce your overall daily sugar intake. It has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and balance insulin resistance.
  2. Raw Honey: Raw honey is unfiltered and unpasteurized, unlike processed simple sugars. It has been called the “perfect running fuel” and provides as easily absorbed supply of energy in the form of glycogen. Raw honey can be used as a source of energy for athletes and bodybuilders, taken before and after workouts.
  3. Pectin: Pectin is a carbohydrate that’s extracted from fruits and vegetables, like pears, apples and citrus fruits. It’s used in food and medicine as a gelling agent. It also works as a sweetener. It’s water-soluble and even promotes healthy digestion.

Final Thoughts

  • Dextrose is a simple sugar that’s is chemically identical to glucose and derived from corn.
  • The simple sugar is often used to treat low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, dehydration and macronutrient deficiencies.
  • It’s also added to processed and sweetened foods. It is found in corn syrup, a commonly used commercial sweetener.
  • Many Americans eat too much sugar, sometimes without even noticing that it’s lurking in packaged foods. It’s best to avoid sweetened and starchy foods that contain simple sugars. Instead, opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup and stevia.

Read Next: Hidden Sugar Foods to Avoid & Healthier Alternatives

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