How much sugar in formula is too much?

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Unfortunately, many formulas on the market contain added sugars and because we want parents to make the best formula choice for their baby, BabyYumYum investigated the labels of some of the infant formulas available on the South African market.

In our post Is the sugar in formula safe for my baby? we discussed the different types of sugars and how lactose is good and sucrose is bad. What became apparent is that most of the carbohydrate profiles of starter formulas (number 1 formulas indicated for infants 0 to 6 months) comprise of lactose and are free from sucrose.

However, the addition of sucrose seems to become prevalent among follow-on formulas (number 2 formulas indicated for infants 6 to 12 months), where sucrose is often found in the ingredients list of some products (S26, Infacare, Isomil, Infasoy and Similac Total Comfort). Remember to check the ingredient list as it will tell you which sugars have been added.

“It is important for parents to question whether the total amount of sugars in infant formula is good for their baby’s health.”

The main culprit in the market is growing up formulas, to which anything from 30g to 50g/100g of ‘sugars’ are added and more often than not sucrose is one of the first carbohydrates to be found on the ingredients list (Nido +1, Nido +3, Pediasure, Nutrikids and S26 Gold 3). These are shocking quantities that translate into approximately 6 to 10 teaspoons of sugar per 100g. As parents, this is not what we would consider to be nutritious for our toddlers.

The main reason for adding sucrose to formulas is to make the formula more palatable, since we know that toddlers do have a taste perception and definitely know what they like and dislike. Fortunately, there are other formulas that find their way around adding sucrose to sweeten the product, such as the Novalac range. The Novalac growing up formulas (the number 3 formulas indicated for infants from 12 to 36 months) contain vanilla extract instead of sucrose to make the formula tastier and more acceptable for the toddlers.

With this in mind, it is obvious why it is important for parents to question whether the total amount of sugars in infant formula is good for their baby’s health. Added or free sugars as part of a baby’s diet should be limited because of the role it plays in the development of tooth decay, obesity and malnutrition. It has even been shown to have a role in the development of food preferences too.

Health consequences

  • Nutrient dilution: Excessive sugar consumption has an effect on the consumption of other micronutrients.
  • Tooth decay: The increased consumption of sugars is a contributing factor to the rising incidence rate of tooth decay. General oral hygiene such as frequent brushing has a much greater impact on the reduction of tooth decay, than limiting the sugar intake alone. However, sugar should not be added to baby food and drinks, as this could lead to tooth decay when the first teeth come through. It is also important not to put bottle-fed infants to sleep with their bottles containing carbohydrate-rich liquids such as juice and milk, since this could result in baby bottle tooth decay.
  • Hyperactivity: Sugars have been associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the 1970s. However, more recent and better controlled studies have been unsuccessful in linking sugar with activity or the behaviour of children. Some studies have even reported that parental perception of the effect of sugar could have influenced the results. Today, the importance of the link between sugar intake and behaviour has decreased but the concern is still prevalent.
  • Overweight and obesity: Studies have shown that sugar consumption, particularly added or free sugars such as sucrose and fructose (often from corn syrup) brings about diseases that are associated with the metabolic syndrome such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. The European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) suggests avoidance of frequent consumption of juice and other sugar-containing drinks in bottles or beakers, discouraging sleeping with a bottle and establishing good dental hygiene.

It is suggested that you take the time to research the formula that you have selected to give your baby and do comparisons on the level of ingredients used.

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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 the advice of health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.

Also read:

Is the sugar in formula safe for my baby?
What’s behind a formula tin label?