Did you know that for infant formula to mimic human milk, manufacturers need to include carbohydrates?
A healthy baby needs carbohydrates. It’s what will provide energy and nutrients essential to their development.
Sugar is a carb source, so it’s no wonder all kinds of syrup, like glucose, corn, and even brown rice syrup, have made their way to the baby formula ingredient list.
But are these sugars in baby formulas, especially corn syrup, SAFE for your little one?!
The short answer is YES; it isn’t known to cause great harm.
But there are also some disadvantages in using corn syrup in formula that I believe you need to know, so read on!
What Is Corn Syrup?
Corn syrup is a viscous sweet syrup from cornstarch that is hydrolyzed either with heat and a weak acid or by adding enzymes.
This liquid syrup is available in light or dark and is used for jams, baking, cooking, etc.
Meanwhile, corn syrup in baby formula is derived from this liquid syrup.
When the liquid is dehydrated, it turns into a powdered form of glucose. So, corn syrup solids are the dry version of liquid corn syrup.
Is Corn Syrup in Infant Formula Safe for Babies?
It is the first ingredient listed in powdered amino acid-based formulas, meaning there is more of it than any other ingredient in the baby formula.
Corn syrup solids make up half of infant formula’s ingredients in most formulas.
So what does this mean?
It means that more than half of the infant formula is composed of low-cost corn syrup solids, or in simple terms, SUGARS.
So, lactose is still the best carb source in infant formula.
But for babies who are lactose intolerant, corn syrup is generally recognized as safe. Even the Infant Nutrition Council of America agrees.
Why Is Sugar or Corn Syrup in Baby Formula?
Baby formula companies need to include a carbohydrate source in their infant formulas.
Both the FDA and the European Commission require that baby formulas source at least 40% of the calories from carbs or sugar.
Now, the options for this sugar source in formulas are usually lactose, corn syrup, glucose syrup, and maltodextrin.
Many baby formula companies opt for corn syrup solids because it is a LOW-COST carbohydrate source that is easily produced and widely available.
Another reason corn syrup is used is that it is a well-tolerated carbohydrate source for babies who cannot consume the standard formula.
For instance, this sugar source is the winner for babies with food allergies, gastrointestinal diseases, or lactose intolerance.
What Are the Different Types of Carbohydrates in Infant Formulas?
I usually consider added sugar bad and check infant formula labels for this magic phrase. And then, I try to apply it when reading the label for baby formula.
But carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL in infant formulas, which your baby needs for healthy development.
Carbohydrates, in the form of sugar, mimic breast milk’s composition the best. And mimicking breast milk is the ultimate goal of baby formula.
However, not all carbs are created equal.
So let’s compare the two carbohydrate sources to see which is the healthy sugar for formulas.
Lactose vs. Corn Syrup in Baby Formula
Let’s start with the best carbohydrate formulas and compare lactose and corn in baby formulas!
Lactose is the same carb source naturally found in human milk.
It’s what babies are physiologically equipped to digest, and it’s the closest baby formula we have to breast milk.
European formulas require that lactose-based formula is what baby formula manufacturers should use as a primary carbohydrate source.
On the Glycemic index (the measurement and relative ranking of how fast carbohydrates are absorbed in the body and how they affect blood glucose levels), lactose has a low GI value.
- Low GI carbs like lactose are slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, allowing babies who consume this formula to maintain stable blood sugar.
It allows blood glucose levels to have a lower and slower rise, consequently affecting insulin levels.
Aside from that, babies are naturally equipped to metabolize lactose, so they won’t have to deal with this same problem.
The lactose-based formula is the best carbohydrate for the formula.
You should always pick lactose over corn syrup solids. Only babies born intolerant to lactose or allergic to certain sugar sources should avoid lactose-based formulas.
The European Commission bans the use of corn syrup in baby formula, but the U.S. currently does not.
Thanks to corn syrup being cheaper to produce and more widely available, many baby formula manufacturers choose corn syrup as their carbohydrate instead of lactose.
But don’t worry too much! Corn syrup isn’t completely bad for your baby.
It’s still PERFECTLY SAFE and supplies them with the nutrients they need to be healthy babies.
It’s also the perfect alternative if your baby has certain food allergies, is lactose intolerant, or has certain gastrointestinal diseases.
But this sugar in baby formulas does have a disadvantage.
Corn syrup is a FAST-ACTING carbohydrate. On the glycemic index, corn syrup has a high GI value.
- Carbohydrate sources that have a high GI value will regularly increase blood sugar levels, causing the body also to increase insulin levels.
- Babies that drink formulas containing glucose syrup as the primary sugar source have a higher risk of having diabetes.
- They found that this preference for sweet flavors contributes to the growing obesity problem.
Babies exposed to hypoallergenic formulas get used to the sweet taste of formula and develop a preference for sweeter food as they grow up.
Plus, the long-term ramifications of such early exposure of babies to high amounts of glucose in baby formula are not yet known.
Aside from those, baby formula options that replace lactose from cow’s milk with corn syrup are generally safe.
Alternatives to Corn Syrup in Baby Formula
Aside from lactose and corn syrup added to baby formula, here are other sugars used to make your baby formula options nutritionally complete:
More commonly known as table sugar, sucrose has a lower glycemic index value than corn syrup, making it a BETTER lactose-free option.
Additionally, sucrose is more similar to lactose than glucose, which is more easily digested by your baby’s body.
The lactose-based formula is still the BEST choice, but if you had to choose a lactose-reduced formula, sucrose is the better option than corn.
Maltodextrin is also included in baby formula’s other sugars to replace lactose. It is derived from corn and is commonly used as a lactose-free primary carbohydrate.
But if you see it on the label of your baby formula, it’s also possible that it was used as a supplemental carbohydrate, a thickener, or a natural preservative.
This sugar also has a high value on the glycemic index. And most sources of maltodextrin in the U.S. are genetically modified crops.
In addition, babies are LESS likely to tolerate this sugar than other standard formulas. Therefore, maltodextrin is usually not used as the main sugar source in baby formulas.
It is usually used as a supplementary sugar source or added sugar to be considered safe for baby formulas.
If your baby cannot digest a lactose-based formula and you prefer maltodextrin as the sugar source in your baby’s formula, make sure it isn’t the main sugar used.
And I suggest you go for an organic formula manufactured in Europe instead of the GMO baby formulas manufactured in the U.S.
TIP: Gerber is a great company that makes baby formula, and there Gerber Gentle and Gerber Smooth are two that I really like! See how they fair against each other!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are you still curious about a few more things? Your answers might be right here! Here are the most frequently asked questions about the topic!
Is Corn Syrup Unhealthy?
When we hear the name corn syrup, we usually assume it is unhealthy because the first thing that comes to our minds is high fructose corn syrup. I used to be like that!
But when you use corn syrup in baby milk that is used to substitute lactose as a primary sugar, it has been clinically shown to be safe for your baby.
And it’s something that can hardly be avoided if your baby cannot digest lactose in standard formulas.
It will, however, pose an increased risk of diabetes and obesity for your baby because it causes frequent spikes in blood sugar and influences their preferences.
But I don’t think it’s something that can’t be managed.
Either way, don’t panic if you see this ingredient in your formula! But to be on the safe side, choose an all-organic formula instead!
Babies who drink formula that uses corn syrups for its sugars tend to favor sweeter food as they grow up, but you can remedy it by instilling good and healthy eating habits and monitoring what they consume.
If you still find corn syrup sugars, you could also go for baby milk that uses sucrose as the lactose-free sugar substitute.
Is Corn Syrup Natural?
This sugar is a mix of fructose and glucose syrup manufactured from the enzymatic process of corn’s glucose syrup.
Although the components are all-natural, corn syrup is not naturally occurring, unlike sucrose sugars.
What Are the Benefits of Corn Syrup?
The benefits of this glucose syrup in baby milk include:
- Lactose-free glucose
- Not milk-based or derived from cow’s milk in any way
- Hypoallergenic formulas
- A therapeutic formula that prevents diarrhea and certain allergic reactions
- Sweet and easily accepted by picky babies
How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Intolerant to Lactose?
I believe the most obvious signs that your baby can not tolerate lactose-based formulas are usually:
- Bloating and passing gas
- Pain and swelling in their tummy
- Unable to gain weight
- Fussy at feeding times
- Irritable in general
If your baby has one or a few of these symptoms, they might be intolerant to lactose formulas and need other forms of glucose source.
Is Corn and Glucose Syrup the Same Thing?
Glucose syrup comes in many forms, and corn syrup is one of them.
Since corn syrup is derived from cornstarch, it is plant-derived and therefore qualifies as glucose syrup.
But since there are other forms of glucose besides corn, all corn is glucose, but not all glucose is corn syrup.
Should Parents Avoid Baby Formula That Contains Corn Syrup?
Corn syrup in baby formula is fine.
Fortunately, it is safe for babies to consume, so it’s not like you should avoid it like the plague.
However, it cannot be a substitute for organic formula or breastmilk. These are better options for a growing baby to consume.
On the other hand, corn syrup may have some health risks if consumed too often, like increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
And that’s everything we have about added sugar in baby formulas!
If you are still iffy and don’t want to risk it, I still suggest going for all-natural, organic baby formulas or breast milk, as these are still the best sources of clinical nutrition for babies.
I hope this article has been informative about the need to include these lactose substitutes in baby formulas and that I was able to clear some things up for you.