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Understanding Formula Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Starch and Palm Oil

Understanding Formula Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Starch and Palm Oil

Naturally, you want to make sure that the formula you give your baby is as healthy and nutritious as possible. 

And often, that means you end up staring at confusing formula ingredients’ lists for far too long. Maybe you’ve heard that maltodextrin, starch and palm oil can be harmful…but there doesn’t seem to be much consensus. 

Are these ingredients OK or not? The answer is yes…but there are important things you need to know. 


An easily digestible carb, maltodextrin is made either from corn starch (most commonly), or from rice or potatoes. It’s used in formula as it’s a complex carb that helps babies build healthy muscles and feeds their brain growth. It also helps thicken the milk, giving it a creamy, smooth texture that’s similar to breastmilk and helping hungry babies in particular feel satisfyingly full. 

Many parents want to avoid maltodextrin because there’s a misconception that, because it’s often derived from corn starch, it is an empty filler or sweetener. But because it’s a complex rather than a simple carb like corn syrup, maltodextrin can be useful nutritionally and helps balance out calories from lactose and other energy sources. 

That said, maltodextrin is high on the GI index, and can spike blood sugars. Some maltodextrin, such as that used by Holle, is more slowly digested and therefore less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.


Starch, like maltodextrin, is a complex carb that’s essential to babies’ growth, development and energy levels. Also like maltodextrin, it helps make formula smoother and thicker. 

Many parents are understandably concerned about starch in formula, but for most babies, it’s a good, sustainable form of carbs that will help them stay healthy and strong as they learn to crawl, walk and play. 

But starch can be hard for some babies, particularly younger babies, to digest. Most European organic brands leave it out completely in their infant stage pre and stage 1 formulas, while HiPP German uses a particularly mild, organic starch that even newborns can digest. 

Generally, babies over 6 months won’t have any problems digesting starch – especially once they’re used to eating starchy foods. Younger babies can sometimes struggle with it, so it’s worth trying a starch-free formula if you have concerns about digestion.

Palm oil

Palm oil is used in most formulas because it’s very similar to palmitic acid – a natural fatty acid found in breastmilk that supports healthy brain development. 

However, some studies have indicated that palm oil might interfere with fat absorption, which could lead to lowered calcium levels and reduced bone density. While these studies aren’t conclusive, many parents are understandably concerned. It’s worth noting that, whether formula or breastfed, most babies reach toddlerhood with good calcium levels and bone density. 

But, if you’re worried about palm oil in formula, it’s worth considering Loulouka, which uses organic coconut oil instead. 

Are there any formula ingredients you should be worried about?

While all formulas, wherever they’re made, have to meet certain minimum nutritional requirements, some formulas do contain ingredients that could be harmful. Many store bought formulas contain corn syrup and other simple sugars, and non-organic formulas can contain GMOs and traces of pesticides, herbicides and hormones. 

If you want your baby to have the most nutritious formula possible, consider switching to a European organic brand. Because European organic regulations are the world’s strictest, these formulas are 100% free of potentially harmful additives.

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