Is the sugar in formula safe for my baby?

Did you know that infant formula contains sugar and that this could have an impact on your baby’s health? Not all sugars are bad though, and it’s important to understand the difference between what is meant by ‘sugars’ or carbohydrates. One of the main sources of dietary energy for infants and toddlers include digestible dietary carbohydrates (mainly lactose) and could include starches and other sugars too. Good & bad sugars in formula - Baby Yum YumIn our blog post Unpacking the nutrients required in your baby’s diet Part 1” we explained what you need to know about the carbohydrate profile of formulas. The basics to remember around ‘sugars’ for nutrition, is that there are simple carbohydrates (the sugars) and complex carbohydrates (the fibres and starches).

Sugars can be further divided into monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest carbohydrates in that they cannot be broken down to smaller carbohydrates. There are 3 monosaccharides (glucose, fructose and galactose) which are paired to form 3 disaccharides (maltose, sucrose and lactose). All of these sugars are primarily derived from plants, except for lactose and its component galactose, which come from milk and milk products.

Both formula milk and breast milk contain “sugars”. The primary carbohydrate found in breastmilk is lactose, which is not only an important source of energy, but also has a vital role to play in the absorption of other micronutrients such as calcium. Lactose also has a prebiotic function, which improves the microflora in the infant’s gut which has been shown to reduce allergy risks and strengthen infant’s immune systems. So parents’ shouldn’t be concerned whether formula contains sugar, but rather the type of simple carbohydrates it contains and whether a product naturally contains these sugars (like with lactose) or whether they are added to a product.

How to read food labels

How to read food labels - Baby Yum YumSo how do you know what the sugar content is of your baby’s formula? The key lies in knowing how to read the food labels of formula milks in order to determine the amount of added sugar. The total carbohydrate content per 100g and 100ml will mainly be listed in the nutritional information table and underneath the phrases “of which lactose” or “of which sugars”. Read the ingredients list to find out which ‘sugars’ the formula predominantly contains. Ingredients should be listed in descending order, which means that the first ingredient listed is the most prevalent in the product.

Added sugar or free sugars (sugars naturally present in products such as honey, syrup and fruit juice) take on various names on food labels such as sucrose, corn sugar, corn syrup and solids, high fructose corn syrup and honey. A general tip to establish whether a food product is high in added sugars is if its ingredients list starts with any of the sugars or if it includes a few of them.   On the ingredients list you may also see “maltodextrins” or “corn syrup” which fall under digestible carbohydrates. Maltodextrins is an easily digestible carbohydrate made from corn, rice or potato starch that is also then hydrolysed (broken down). These ingredients are often used to make up the carbohydrate profile when lactose is not the main carbohydrate used. To establish whether a formula contains more of the ‘good’ sugars such as lactose than the ‘bad’ sugars such as sucrose, the order in which these ingredients are listed says a lot. As a parent who wants the best for your baby, you would want lactose to be listed first and sucrose not to even to be on the list. In summary Lactose = Good and Sucrose = Bad

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Disclaimer: This post is based on personal experience and personal brand preference of the content author and has in no way been paid for or sponsored. BabyYumYum reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not applied, an infant formula may be used according to health professionals’ advice. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.