Naturally, you want to take the best care in choosing the right infant formula for your baby. But without a degree in nutrition or a friendly dietitian on speed dial, it can be a laborious task to sift through formula ingredients you don’t recognize.
Maltodextrin is one of those ingredients that many of us have likely consumed but aren’t familiar with. It’s a widely used substitute for lactose and can be advantageous for some babies. We'll be discussing the pros and cons of this ingredient and what role it plays in supporting infant development.
Some Background Info on Carbohydrates in Baby Formula
First, it is helpful to know the important role carbohydrates play in infant nutrition. When we think of carbohydrates, it's usually about high-carb or low-carb meals. However, the story goes much deeper.
And when it comes to the carbs that babies need as they are developing, getting the right amount in their diets is essential. Luckily, our bodies naturally provide the precise amount of this nutrient through lactose in break milk!
What are Carbohydrates?
In the simplest sense, carbohydrates are made up of chains of simple sugars, AKA monosaccharides, like glucose and fructose. These simple carbohydrates, as they are known, are readily digested, sweet-tasting, and provide instant energy. We commonly refer to them as simply “sugar.”
Carbohydrates are one of 4 groups of biomolecules (biomolecules are compounds found in living organisms that play an important part in biological processes) that include: amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids.
In more scientific terms, a carbohydrate is an organic compound that consists of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. They are the most abundant biomolecules and a major source of nutrition. There are three main types of carbohydrates which include sugars, starches, and fiber.
Simple sugar molecules combine to form more complex sugars, like lactose which is made of two simple sugars and is the major source of sugar found in breast milk. Larger chains called polysaccharides, such as starch, are higher in fiber than their simpler counterparts and less likely to spike blood sugar levels. We break down the carbohydrate molecules from the foods we eat into glucose, our body's main source of energy, which is carried by the bloodstream to our cells.
Infant formulas Can Contain a Variety of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a baby's primary source of energy and a component in infant growth and development. There are a variety of carbohydrates found in infant formulas, including maltodextrin.
The following is a list of some of the Common Carbs in Infant Formula:
Lactose (milk sugar)
Fructose (fruit sugar)
Glucose (starch sugar)
Sucrose (cane sugar)
Starch (plant-based complex carb)
Maltodextrin (plant-based processed carb)
The carbohydrates found in breast milk and infant formula, are important forms of nutrients that are easy to digest and a major source of energy for your baby.
Experts, like those at the European Commission, agree that lactose is the preferred carbohydrateand recommend that infant formulas contain at least 50% of carbohydrates in the form of lactose. Some formulas, as you may have already seen, contain maltodextrin, which also has its benefits. Keep reading to learn more about this frequently misunderstood ingredient...
What is Maltodextrin in Baby Formula?
You may be wondering what is maltodextrin and why do I see it in my baby's formula.
The dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin is a class of carbohydrates that differs from naturally occurring sugars in that it is industrially produced through the process of hydrolysis or the addition of water to corn, wheat, or potato starch.
In the European Union, the raw materials are sourced from non-GMO crops, and it is processed into a powdered form for use in packaged foods. Maltodextrin is a gluten-free food additive that is in high demand as it has a variety of applications in packaged foods, including its use as a main ingredient in some infant formulas.
Is maltodextrin a starch?
Although the dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin is derived from starch, it’s not exactly the same as maltodextrin meal, is highly processed.
Corn maltodextrin vs. corn syrup, are they the same?
Unlike corn syrup, it has very little to no sugar or sweetness and more of a neutral flavor. It is closely related to corn syrup solids, however, differs in sugar content.
Is maltodextrin natural or artificial?
While maltodextrin is derived from naturally-occurring starch, it is not itself natural. It is processed from starch through the addition of acids or enzymes such as the heat-stable bacteria alpha-amylase, which breaks the starch down into a water-soluble white powder with a neutral taste known as maltodextrin.
Is maltodextrin Safe for Babies?
Foods containing maltodextrin are generally considered safe for babies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems maltodextrin safe for consumption. However, there is little scientific research on the long-term effects of substituting lactose with maltodextrin.
Lactose, the main sugar in human breast milk, is widely held as the preferred carbohydrate in infant and follow-on formulas. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) proposes a required minimum content of lactose of 30% unless the formula is labeled lactose-free (like in the case of soy formula for babies with lactose intolerance).
Conversely, there are no minimum or maximum amounts of maltose or maltodextrin set for infant formulas as long as the maximum amount of carbohydrates is not exceeded.
We know that infant nutrition plays an important role in development. In fact, the wonder of nutritional programming refers to the impact of early nutrition on long-lasting metabolic, immune, and behavioural adaptations that we carry with us throughout life.
Carbohydrates, in particular, play a crucial role in perinatal brain development and are one of the primary sources of energy for infant growth. Interestingly, carbohydrates consumed early in life have been found to shape metabolism and preferences for sweet foods later on.
What to make of maltodextrin's mixed reviews?
While the scientific literature on maltodextrin is mixed, recent studies are pointing to some promising benefits of maltodextrin, like improved long-term memory, when given to developing piglets. Of course, further studies are needed to determine any beneficial effects for humans.
Other studies are flagging some potentially negative consequences of maltodextrin’s role in things like tooth decay and the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria. While further research on its impacts is warranted, overall, the scientific community, along with the FDA and ESFA, consider maltodextrin to be safe for infants.
What is the best carbohydrate for baby formula?
Infants rely strongly on lactose for their nutritional needs and energy. It is the primary carbohydrate found in breast milk, and the gold standard of sugars found in infant formulas that strive to be the next best thing to the natural food source possible.
Maltodextrin vs. Lactose
It's worth noting that there are instances when babies cannot tolerate lactose. In fact, lactose enzyme deficiency is common in newborns, but is typically temporary and resolves on its own as an infant’s digestive system matures.
We see this with colic babies and symptoms like diarrhea that develop in infants with lactose intolerance. In these cases, maltodextrin is considered a safe substitution that is easily absorbed to provide infants with hydration and necessary nutrition. Maltodextrin in baby formula is gluten-free, which may also be a consideration for some parents.
The Pros and Cons of Maltodextrin
Like any of the food additives found in packaged products, there are pros and cons to maltodextrin intake. The following is a list of some of the main things you may wish to consider when deciding if infant formula containing maltodextrin is right for your baby.
The EU considers maltodextrin a valuable source of energy for growing babies
It is quickly absorbed and readily available for use by the body
Maltodextrin gives milk a smooth consistency
It's a great substitute for babies with lactose intolerance
Maltodextrin is gluten-free
Maltodextrin is highly processed
When used in follow-on formulas, maltodextrin has been found to contribute to tooth decay
May promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria which can damage the intestine and increase the risk of inflammatory diseases. However, more research is needed to confirm this.*
Baby Formulas with Maltodextrin
The following is a list of high-quality European infant formulas that contain maltodextrin-derived carbohydrates:
Holle (from stage 2 and up)
Holle Goat (except Stage PRE)
Holle Goat Dutch
HiPP Comfort (which also has reduced lactose content)
Baby Formulas Without Maltodextrin
If you're looking for a reputable European baby formula without maltodextrin, the following is a list of some of our favourite brands:
HiPP German (PRE is lactose only, all later stages have starch)
HiPP Goat PRE
Holle Goat PRE
HiPP HA (PRE is lactose only, all later stages have starch)
HiPP Anti Reflux
See the chart below for a more in-depth overview of our baby formula ingredients:
When it comes to choosing a formula for your baby, it’s important to inform yourself about the different ingredients. When contemplating complementary carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, it really comes down to your baby’s needs and your personal preferences.
If you could use a hand finding a formula for your baby, check out our free formula finder quiz that allows you to filter by your baby's age, dietary restrictions, and ingredient preferences!
There are pros to the use of products containing this ingredient, especially for babies with lactose sensitivities. And while the jury is still out on some of the potential side effects, you can confidentially follow the advice of the FDA and EFSA that it is a safe and effective nutrient for growing infants.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel