Understanding Formula Ingredients: Maltodextrin, Starch and Palm Oil
We at OrganicBaby.la are always trying to help you better understand what makes a formula a good and healthy choice for your baby. With so many ingredients, and so much controversy over many of them, it can be daunting trying to figure out which ingredients are ok and which are not. We have written several articles to help you make heads or tails of the issue: DHA and ARA What’s the Big Deal, Understanding Sugars in Formula ,Understanding Formula Ingredients. And now we will try to answer your questions about the common ingredients maltodextrin, starch and palm oil.
Maltodextrin is a starch derivative. It is generally made by hydrolyzing corn starch, though it can also be made from rice or potatoes. Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate that is commonly added to infant formulas as a source of calories and as a thickener. Babies need a certain amount of carbohydrates in their diet to help them build healthy muscles and to sustain brain activity and growth. Carbohydrates like maltodextrin also help your baby to stay fuller longer. Maltodextrin’s composition also lends to the smooth and creamy texture that formulas have.
Parents are often concerned about maltodextrin being added to formula as a sweetener. This is a common misconception. Maltodextrin is not a sweet substance. It is generally bland and flavorless. Maltodextrin is often used in products containing a sugar carbohydrate, to balance out the sweetness of the product by providing non-sweet carbohydrate calories. While maltodextrin, like most carbohydrates, is high on the glycemic index, it is considered one of the safer carbohydrate additives.
Starch is also a common ingredient in formulas. Much like maltodextrin, it is added to formulas as a necessary source of carbohydrates, and as a thickener. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that is harder to digest than sugars. It provides a more sustainable energy level and helps to keep your baby fuller longer. Starch also lends thickness and a smooth texture to formulas.
Parents are often concerned about starch because it is a carbohydrate and it is sometimes more difficult for young, sensitive babies to digest. Babies need a certain amount of carbohydrates in their diet to grow and develop. Because starch is a complex carbohydrate, it does not spike blood sugar in the same way that glucose or corn syrup does. It takes time for your baby to digest and break it down, and so provides a more sustainable form of energy to your baby’s body.
If you are concerned that your baby may be sensitive to starch, as it is sometimes difficult for young babies to digest, OrganicBaby.la offers several formulas which do not contain starch. Most of our pre and stage 1 formulas do not contain starch. HiPP also offers a starch free version of its Bio Combiotik Stage 2 formula. However, most babies, by the time they reach 6 months of age and are beginning to eat solid foods, are able to easily digest starch.
When formula companies develop their formulas, they try to mimic breastmilk wherever possible. Breastmilk contains essential fatty acids which are healthy for your baby’s body. Palm oil mimics the fatty acid profile of breastmilk because it contains palmitic acid and oleic acid. Unfortunately, there have been studies which have shown that palm oil may interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, like calcium. However, these studies were not conclusive, and further studies have shown that most babies who reach toddlerhood, whether formula fed or breastfed, have appropriate calcium levels and bone density. Palm oil is generally one of several oils in the ingredients list of most formulas. This means that it is a relatively small part of the ingredients list, and is unlikely to have a large impact on your baby’s health.
Of all the offending ingredients that can be found in infant formulas—including sugar, soy, GMO’s, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and preservatives—maltodextrin, starch and palm oil are very low on the possible offenders list. Even the purest formulas on the market, which clearly have your baby’s best in mind, generally contain one or more of these ingredients. Maltodextrin, starch and palm oil are generally considered safe ingredients, which are unlikely to cause issues in your baby.