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. 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 into smaller carbohydrates. There are three monosaccharides (glucose, fructose and galactose) which are paired to form three 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 breast milk 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 and improves the microflora in the infant’s gut, which has been shown to reduce allergy risks and strengthen the infant’s immune systems.

Parents shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not formula contains sugar, but rather the type of simple carbohydrates it contains and if the sugar occurs naturally in the product or if it has been added.

How to read food labels

The key to knowing what the sugar content is of your baby’s formula 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’ are predominant in the formula. Ingredients are listed in descending order, which means that the first ingredient listed is the most prevalent in the product.

“As a parent who wants the best for your baby, you would want lactose to be listed first on the nutrition label and sucrose not to even to be on the list.”

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 if 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. Maltodextrin 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 or not 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 on the nutrition label and sucrose not to even to be on the list, for example, some Novalac formulas clearly demonstrate this. 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 the advice of healthcare professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.

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What’s behind a formula tin label?