Lactose and Maltodextrin in Baby Milks

I have recently been asked by a parent about the use of maltodextrin in baby milks and infant formula. It seems there are a number of misconceptions about maltodextrin generally and the use of maltodextrin in baby milk in particular, often fed by misinformed articles elsewhere on the internet.

I approached the Holle team of nutritionists and asked them to set the record straight about just what maltodextrin is and about the use of maltodextrin in Holle baby milks. What follows is a bit ‘sciency’ but provides the definitive statement on the subject. As usual, there is often more to a particular nutrient appearing on a label than whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Some Background on Baby Milks and Formula

Breastmilk is composed of a number of nutritional elements such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats plus vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Breastmilk has, of course, the optimum nutrient composition to meet the special nutritional needs of babies. Baby milks and infant formula are strictly regulated according to currently available scientific evidence in order to fulfil developmental and growth needs.

Baby milks and baby foods generally are some of the most highly regulated ‘foodstuffs’ in the European Union – and that is just the way it should be. These evidenced based regulations are regularly reviewed and amended and all manufacturers, including Holle, must meet their requirements. Quality assurance is strictly applied.

Carbohydrates, Lactose and Maltodextrin in Baby Milk

Carbohydrates are a group of nutrients that contains sugars and starches. A sugar is a simply structured collection of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen chemical elements that form molecules that are generally soluble and are sweet tasting. In its simplest form it is known as glucose but occurs in many forms, both naturally and artificially. Starch is a poly-sugar, mainly built out of lots of glucose-like units in chains and with a more complex, tree like structure.

An important point to bear in mind is that a glucose ‘unit’ itself tastes sweet while glucose structured as starch doesn’t. For example, the classic dietary carbohydrates potatoes, pasta and bread are made to a large extent from starch but are not considered as ‘sweet’ foods in themselves.

When carbohydrates contain 1 to 2 glucose-like units and taste sweet they are called ‘sugar’. Of which lactose is one of many examples:

  • Glucose = dextrose = grape sugar
  • Fructose = fruit sugar
  • Sucrose = white sugar (one glucose and one fructose molecule combined)
  • Inverted sugar = artificial, (honey = natural) = mixture of glucose and fructose in equal parts, these taste sweeter than the same amount of sucrose
  • Lactose = milk sugar (one glucose and one galactose molecule combined)

The more sugar units are connected with each other the less sweet a carbohydrate tastes. Usually carbohydrates with 3 to 4 sugar units no longer have any sweetening properties.

Maltodextrin and Lactose in Baby Milk

All baby milks naturally contain lactose – that is the naturally occuring sugar in milk. To ensure their milks have sufficient energy content manufacturers are, according to the regulations, able to add either lactose or maltodextrin. The Holle brand uses maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin is a modified starch, which means the length of the glucose chains in the carbohydrate is shorter than the one from the original starch. The basic properties remain those of starch. There are many varieties of maltodextrin, depending on the structure present.

Holle uses a maltodextrin that has starch like properties and yet doesn’t taste sweet. Because of the shorter chain length it is easier for babies to digest than the starch itself would be, while still serving its purpose of providing energy.

Starches, including maltodextrin, release their energy slower than sugars. This means that two different baby milks with the same amount of energy per portion can release that energy at different rates. Holle uses a maltodextrin that is slower releasing which means that their formula can help a baby feel satisified for longer.

Certain internet sources often suggest that maltodextrin is used merely as a ‘filler’ and that it is a sugar or sweetener – neither of which is necessarily the case. Holle uses maltodextrin in their baby milks, not just because it is easy for babies to digest and releases energy at a slower rate, but for another very specific and very sensible reason.

Avoiding Excessive Sweetness in Baby Milks

Breastmilk naturally contains a lot of energy, much of which comes from its naturally occuring milk sugar, lactose – and so this essential nutritional element is reflected in baby milks and formulas. As in breastmilk, the sugar in Holle baby milks naturally comes from the milk itself in the form of lactose. A small amount of energy also comes from starch in the form of maltodextrin. If Holle didn’t use maltodextrin they would need to add more lactose in order to comply with the legal requirements for energy levels. That would, in fact, make the baby milks and formulas much sweeter in taste. Holle want to avoid having their milk taste too sweet. Not encouraging a lifetime tendency to having a sweettooth from the beginning, seems to me, to be a very sensible thing to do.

When I try the Holle milk myself I agree with the many, many parents who tell me that the Holle baby milks are one of the few on the market that taste just like ‘ordinary’ milk. They don’t have that ‘chemical set’ tang that so many brands do and they aren’t overly sweet. If you have the opportunity, try the Holle milk yourself and you’ll taste the difference too.

Easy to Make up Bottles

An additional benefit that Holle gains from the use of maltodextrin in their baby milks is that maltodextrin helps to make the milk powder more soluble in water. Holle baby milks are definitely easy to prepare – many mums tell me that. While this is not the reason for Holle using maltodextrin in their baby milks and infant formula, it certainly gives busy parents wanting to quickly make up a bottle an added benefit.

Using the Best Raw Ingredients

As I mentioned, baby milks and baby foods generally are, rightly, highly regulated. Holle doesn’t just want to meet those regulations – just like all the other baby food manufacturers. They want to go even further. Whenever they can see an opportunity to do so they surpass the regulations.

One way Holle baby milks distinguish themselves are by using biodynamically produced and certificated milk – the highest organic quality. They take the view that using the best quality raw materials and using the gentlest methods of production is better than adding too many isolated ingredients later. For mothers who cannot or do not wish to breastfeed, using a high quality baby milk or infant formula that contains an easy to digest and non-sweet maltodextrin is an advantage. Baby milks that are not excessively sweet may help avoid getting babies hooked on the really sweet flavours that come from sweeteners such as sugar.

If you would like any further information please feel free to get in touch and we’ll gladly answer any questions.