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The Importance of Balanced Carbohydrates in Baby Formula Nutrition



Last Updated on December 20, 2023 by Joshua Isibor

The infant’s health is the main foundation of his or her development and overall well-being. It depends on many factors, including nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and environmental safety.

In the case of bottle feeding, milk formula is a key to your baby’s health as it provides essential nutrients. It is specially designed for infants, considering their age and physiological needs. In addition, the formula allows you to balance your baby’s nutrition throughout the day. It ensures an optimal supply of energy and nutrients.

A balanced composition of infant formula is vital for the baby’s proper development. Apart from the essential components of baby food: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, the vitamin and mineral composition of the product is also of great importance.

Let’s look at one of the significant nutritional components and find out what carbohydrates are needed in a baby’s diet and how the composition of breast milk affects their content in infant formula.

Carbohydrates in the diet of babies and toddlers

Carbohydrates are essential nutrients for the brain and nervous system during the active growth of babies in the first year of life. Carbohydrates are an important energy source for the body and typically make up about 50-70% of our diet. Cereals are an accessible and high-quality source of carbohydrates. Dietary fiber, although difficult to digest, should be part of any diet once your baby’s digestive system is mature enough. Whole-grain cereals, vegetables, beans, fruits, and nuts are good sources of dietary fiber.

What about a source of carbs for newborns?

Lactose is the main carbohydrate that prevails in a newborn’s diet.

Breast milk, cow’s milk, or goat’s milk contains lactose (milk sugar). Lactose nourishes the baby’s brain, supports the gut microbiota, and gives breast milk and European Baby Formulas the sweet flavor babies love.

Milk sugar, or lactose, is broken down in the body by the enzyme lactase, which can be insufficient due to the immaturity of the digestive and enzyme systems in the first year of life. Until the enzyme has not worked in full force, babies often suffer from tummy troubles, colic, and loose stools. Such digestive symptoms are diagnosed as lactase deficiency.

Lactose is a carbohydrate, and lactase is an enzyme that helps digest and assimilate it.

Starch and Maltodextrin

In addition to lactose, other carbohydrates are also used in the production of infant formula.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate that consists of a long chain of molecules of simple sugars – glucose. By the end of the first month, babies have enough enzymes to digest starch; therefore, the infant’s body can already digest it.

First of all, it is important to know that starch is an ingredient allowed to be used in baby food production. In infant formulas, modified starch, along with milk sugar, is a source of energy. However, nowadays, starch is not added to all formulas as a source of carbohydrates – babies can meet their energy needs with milk sugar – lactose.

Starch is often used as a thickener in special anti-reflux formulas to prevent regurgitation due to its ability to hold liquid food in infants’ stomachs. Unfortunately, starch allergies are not uncommon in pediatric practice.

Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate that is easily broken down to glucose by your baby’s body. It is the same source of energy as the milk sugar – lactose. Energy is needed for muscles, all organs, and systems to work actively. Kids have a much higher energy requirement for carbohydrates than adults because they are actively growing and have a dynamic metabolism. With carbohydrates, it is easier for them to get energy.

Maltodextrin is used as a carbohydrate in infant formula, including lactose-free formula for babies who are lactose intolerant. It is also used as a thickener in the baby’s stomach to prevent food from being thrown from the stomach into the esophagus and mouth, i.e., regurgitation.

Oligosaccharides as carbohydrates

Oligosaccharides (HMOs, non-digestible carbohydrates, and prebiotic fibers) are the third most common component in breast milk after lactose and lipids. They are a structurally and biologically diverse group of complex carbohydrates that cannot be digested in the upper part of the digestive tract and reach the colon almost unchanged. Interestingly, the composition of oligosaccharides is individual and varies depending on the lactation stage, gestational age, and genetic factors.

Oligosaccharides in breast milk are especially good for infant health. They act as prebiotics, immunomodulators, and pathogen inhibitors, improving intestinal barrier function.

The production of oligosaccharides for infant formula is a complex and expensive process. The complexity and variability of human milk oligosaccharides’ structure and structural diversity make it impossible to reproduce them all in infant formulas. With the development of food technologies, it has so far been possible to reproduce only two ingredients with the same structure as in breast milk.

Traditionally, manufacturers add non-digestible carbohydrates such as galacto-oligosaccharides and fructo-oligosaccharides (GOS/FOS) to infant formula. However, the potential of breast milk oligosaccharides is much higher.

Also, Read Benefits of Organic Baby Clothes

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