There are endless debates about whether maltodextrin in baby formula is either good or bad. Some manufacturers claim that the maltodextrin is easier on a baby’s sensitive stomach, others say that it is just a cheaper source to provide the essential carbohydrates to the mix – where’s the truth?
What is maltodextrin?
When you just read it off the label it sounds quite natural and completely harmless, because we see it everywhere in today’s food market (pastries, soft drinks, candies, etc.). Regardless, scientifically, maltodextrin is a polysaccharide – in other words, a carbohydrate. That can’t be very bad, right? Well, it depends – especially for people who would like to avoid allergens like corn or wheat. Maltodextrin is sourced from the plants, through a process called partial hydrolysis. The source itself can be either corn, rice, potatoes, or wheat – meaning it will always have starch present. As we are not going to be super geeky about the process itself, all we need to know is that it is intensively processed to make it easily digestible and absorbed. Talking about absorption, it is said that it’s as rapid as glucose – how about those insulin levels skyrocketing?
Why use maltodextrin in the first place?
Truth is, manufacturers add it to the food (and baby formula) to improve the flavor, thickness, mouthfeels, and also shelf life. Its natural taste or flavor is slightly sweet and babies most likely love anything that has a sweet taste, right? When we talk about money, profits, production cost – maltodextrin is a cheaper substitute for naturally occurring lactose. Way cheaper! Some manufacturers say that it is very hard for a newborn to digest lactose and that’s the reason they have replaced it with maltodextrin. Lactose intolerance is actually very rare, even if one of the parents is lactose intolerant. A newborn baby might have some minor issues digesting lactose in the first couple of days due to the lack of an enzyme called lactase – but it builds up in time. Mainly, the missing enzyme (lactase) problem occurs for preemies, but they just need some time.
Lactose vs maltodextrin
Interestingly enough, lactose and maltodextrin actually have the very same caloric value, estimated at 4kcal per gram. As lactose is present in human breast milk and mammals milk in general, we do need an enzyme called lactase, as mentioned previously. Lactase breaks down the lactose into galactose and glucose. The research is quite limited to the benefits of lactose in general, but can we argue against mother nature especially when it comes to our baby’s nutrition? Some studies have shown that lactose can have a positive impact on building beneficial prebiotics in the gut – which would be super important for a newborn. It is also claimed to help the absorption of calcium, another good point for a baby.
Are there baby formulas that avoid maltodextrin and use naturally occurring lactose?
Absolutely. There are quite a few brands, but I would recommend sticking with the ones that have been on the market for quite some time. Call me naive, but I tend to believe that they have more experience and customer feedback in this field. As said, there are a lot of options to choose from, baby formulas without maltodextrin from birth and even if you are already bottle feeding and thinking about changing – there are options to choose from.
This certainly was a very brief overview but I hope it gives you more willpower and courage to continue your research on this topic. I would suggest you dive more deeply into the benefits of lactose and when it comes to my personal preference – I always tend to side with mother nature.