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Maltose: Good or bad?

How maltose affects your body, and whether it’s healthy or unhealthy

Maltose is a type of sugar that is used as a substitute for high-fructose corn syrup and fructose. This article examines its effectiveness compared to other types of sugar.

Is it healthy?
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Maltose: Good or bad?
Last updated on January 21, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on September 5, 2023.

Maltose is found naturally in the seeds and various parts of plants. While it’s similar to glucose, more studies are required to understand if it’s a healthier sugar option.

Maltose: Good or bad?

Made up of two glucose molecules linked together, maltose is formed in seeds and other plant parts as they break down stored energy to grow. As a result, foods like grains, some fruits, and sweet potatoes naturally contain high levels of this sugar.

Although maltose isn’t as sweet as table sugar or fructose, it’s often used in items like hard candy and frozen treats due to its stable properties when exposed to extreme temperatures.

With increasing awareness about the health risks associated with high-fructose corn syrup and other fructose-containing sweeteners, many companies are opting for maltose, which doesn’t contain fructose.

This article explores the impact of maltose on your body, its sources, and whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy choice.

In this article

What is maltose?

Sugars are generally composed of smaller sugar molecules arranged in short chains. Maltose, for instance, consists of two glucose units, while table sugar or sucrose comprises one glucose and one fructose unit.

Maltose forms when starch, a long chain of glucose units, is broken down. Your digestive system uses enzymes to break these glucose chains into maltose. Similarly, as plant seeds sprout, they produce enzymes that convert starch into sugar.

Humans have long leveraged this natural mechanism for food production. In the malting process, grains are allowed to sprout in water and then dried. This activates enzymes in the grains that release maltose, other sugars, and proteins.

These sugars and proteins are excellent food for yeast, making malt essential in the production of products like beer, whiskey, and malt vinegar.

Malted grains also find their way into candies and desserts as sweetening agents.

You can find maltose in specialty stores selling brewing supplies as dry crystals or as syrup in the baking section. Though the syrup is typically derived from corn, it shouldn’t be confused with high-fructose corn syrup.

Sucrose vs. glucose vs. fructose: What's the difference?
Suggested read: Sucrose vs. glucose vs. fructose: What's the difference?

In recipes, maltose can be used as a one-to-one substitute for other sugars, although you may need a bit more than a 1:1 ratio to achieve the same sweetness level as sucrose or fructose.

Summary: Maltose is produced by the breakdown of starch, which occurs in the gut after consuming starch and in sprouting plants. It is commonly used in brewing and as a sweetener.

Foods high in maltose

Maltose is naturally present in a variety of foods.

Grains like wheat, cornmeal, and barley, as well as ancient grains, are good sources of maltose. Many breakfast cereals also use malted grains to bring a natural sweetness to the product.

Fruits such as peaches and pears contain maltose, adding to the diet’s maltose content. Sweet potatoes are especially rich in maltose, which is why they taste so sweet.

Syrups are also a typical source of maltose. High-maltose corn syrup, for example, contains over half its sugar as maltose. This syrup is particularly handy for making hard candies and serves as a cost-effective sweetening option.

Summary: Maltose is a type of sugar found in starchy grains, vegetables, and fruits. High-maltose corn syrup is a cheap source of this sugar.

Is maltose a healthier option compared to table sugar?

Table sugar, also known as sucrose, is commonly used for cooking and adding sweetness to foods. It consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule linked together.

The health impacts of sucrose fall somewhere between those of glucose and fructose because it contains both types of sugar. However, fructose is considered to be more problematic for health, as it is metabolized differently than glucose.

Suggested read: The 6 best sweeteners on a low-carb keto diet (and 6 to avoid)

A diet high in fructose can lead to issues like quicker weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes more rapidly than glucose.

Maltose, being composed entirely of glucose molecules, might be a marginally healthier option compared to table sugar. That said, there hasn’t been enough research to definitively say that replacing fructose with maltose is better for your health. More studies are needed to draw any conclusions.

Summary: Table sugar contains fructose, whereas maltose does not. Hence, substituting table sugar with maltose in your diet can help you steer clear of the adverse health effects associated with excessive fructose consumption. However, the impact of maltose on health has not been extensively researched.

High-maltose corn syrup vs. high-fructose corn syrup

Many folks assume table sugar is a healthier choice compared to high-fructose corn syrup, which has gained a negative reputation.

However, the fructose content in both is pretty similar. Table sugar is a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose, whereas high-fructose corn syrup has about 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This small variation essentially means that table sugar isn’t a significantly healthier option.

To sidestep the growing negative view of fructose, some food manufacturers have started using high-maltose corn syrup instead. Switching from fructose to maltose, gram-for-gram might offer a marginally healthier alternative.

Typically, high-maltose and high-fructose corn syrups can be swapped in a 1:1 ratio in recipes, although this may vary depending on the specific product.

It’s important to remember that while maltose might be a tad better for you than fructose, it’s still a form of sugar. Therefore, it’s best to use it sparingly.

Summary: Replacing high-fructose corn syrup with high-maltose corn syrup might have a minor health benefit since it would reduce your fructose intake. However, no conclusive research is available, so more is needed.

Is maltose bad for you?

There’s limited information available about how maltose impacts your health when it’s part of your meals.

Suggested read: How much sugar is in beer?

Since your body turns most maltose into glucose during digestion, it’s likely that maltose affects your health in ways similar to other forms of glucose.

In terms of calories, maltose is on par with other sugars and starchy foods.

Your brain, muscles, and liver convert glucose into the fuel they need to function. Actually, your brain relies almost entirely on glucose for its energy. If there’s extra glucose in your blood, your body stores it as fat for later use.

Just like other sugars, maltose won’t harm you when you consume it in reasonable amounts, using it mainly for energy.

On the flip side, eating too much maltose can put you at risk for weight gain, diabetes, and issues with your heart and kidneys, much like overdosing on other sugars.

So, when it comes to maltose—or any nutrient, really—the amount you take in makes all the difference between it being safe or harmful.

Summary: Research suggests that maltose has similar health effects to other sugars, and moderate consumption is not harmful.


Maltose is a less sweet-tasting sugar than regular table sugar and doesn’t contain fructose, making it an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup.

Like any form of sugar, consuming too much maltose can have negative health consequences, such as weight gain, diabetes, and heart issues.

A better option is to use fruits and berries to sweeten your food. They provide a touch of sweetness and come packed with extra nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

While maltose may be a better choice than sugars that include fructose, remember it’s still sugar, so use it in moderation.

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