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Understanding Sugars in Formula


It’s not hard to understand how added sugars are bad for your health.  Too much sugar causes a variety of problems. These include obesity, dental decay, insulin resistance, diabetes, high triglycerides, fatty liver disorders, ADHD, insomnia and nutritional deficiencies. So why would formula companies add them to infant formula?



To understand why formula companies add sugars to formula we have to first look at breastmilk. Formula companies try to emulate breastmilk, but most fall far short of the mark by adding cheap, simple sugars to their formula.

Breastmilk contains the complex sugar lactose as its main carbohydrate. This lactose is nature’s perfect sugar for a developing baby. It provides for proper growth, and also helps aid beneficial bacteria in the gut of the baby. Lactose also helps in the digestion and absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron.

Breastmilk also contains human milk oligosaccharides or HMOs. HMOs in breastmilk act like fiber. They aid in the digestion of lactose and also support beneficial gut bacteria.

Breastmilk is a whole food. Like all whole foods, the combination of sugar, protein and fiber work together in the body, releasing energy in a healthy way as they are digested. However, when you eat a processed food (like a cookie) that contains added sugar, the components are missing to help it break down in a healthy way. The body is overwhelmed by a large amount of sugar breaking down too quickly, and your blood sugar spikes. The same is true with the added sugars in formulas. 


Cow or Goat Milk

Cow and goat milk are similar to breastmilk. They contain lactose as their main source of carbohydrate. Unfortunately they cannot be used as infant formula without being processed first. Cow and goat milk contain proteins and minerals that are difficult for a baby to digest and can overtax their developing kidneys. So, manufacturers have developed processed formula, many of which have to have added sugars to meet carbohydrate requirements.


What Sugars are Commonly Added into Formula?

-Sucrose: Sucrose, the main component in table sugar, is an easy to produce simple sugar. It is quickly absorbed into the blood stream and spikes blood sugar levels. This contributes to obesity, risk of diabetes and several other health issues. Because of this, all 27 countries in the European Union have banned sucrose in infant formulas.    

-Glucose Syrup: Glucose is also a simple sugar. It is commonly made from the starches in corn (corn syrup), wheat and potatoes. As with sucrose, glucose spikes the blood sugar and contributes to childhood obesity and several other health problems.   

-Dextrose: Dextrose is a manufactured form of glucose that is generally made from the starches found in corn.

-High Fructose Corn Syrup: High fructose corn syrup is produced from corn starch in a similar manner to corn based glucose syrup. Some of the glucose is then converted into fructose. Glucose is bad enough, but added fructose in your baby’s diet is even worse. While fructose found in whole foods, such as fruit, are not a problem for the human body, added fructose is. Fructose has been linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disorders and obesity.

-Brown rice syrup: Though brown rice syrup is often thought of as being a healthy alternative to corn syrup, when it comes down to it, it’s basically just glucose. The only difference is it is made from rice instead or corn. And to make matters worse it has been shown to contain high levels of arsenic. (Note: There are some companies that filter their brown rice syrup to remove as much arsenic as possible, and will state that they do so). 


Lactose Sweetened Formulas:

Nearly all formulas contain some form of added sugar. Some companies, in an effort to avoid the problems simple sugars cause, use lactose as the primary sugar. Though this lactose will not be broken down in quite the same manner as the lactose in breastmilk (because it is missing the HMOs), it is still a complex sugar and is better than the simple sugars listed above.

If you find that you need to use a formula for your baby, look into the sugars it contains. Try to select a formula that contains less added sugar. Better yet, choose a formula that has lactose. Many of our brands, especially Stage PRE, only contain lactose.

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