How much sugar is in brand-name baby formula?

Brand-name infant formulas don’t always list sugar levels in their product ingredient labels (Photo/Getty)

Infant formulas may seem a natural option for mothers of babies under 12 months of age, but a new investigative report shows that premium formulas may contain as much as 13.5 grams of sugar per serving – levels of sugar that could have affect a baby’s weight and taste for sugar.

NBC affiliate WMAQ in Chicago took seven popular brands of infant formula to independent lab Deibel Laboratories, where scientists conducted a sugar profile on each sample and tested for five different types of sugars.

Although none of the seven brands tested listed grams of sugar per serving in their nutritional labels, the test results were nonetheless surprising.

Enfamil Premium had the highest sugar content of formula tested at 13.5 grams per serving, followed closely by Parent’s Choice premium infant formula at 12.4 grams per serving. The type of sugar found in these formulas, lactose, is considered the best because it mimics the natural sugar found in breast milk.

Formula brands like Similac Advance Organic Complete Nutrition and Similac Soy Infant Formula contain the sweetest type of sugar: sucrose, which measured at 3.5 grams of sugar per serving and 3.8 grams per serving, respectively. That’s roughly one teaspoon of sugar in every 5 ounces of formula.

Gerber Good Start, Similac Advance Complete and Enfamil Pro-Sobee were found to be low across all five types of sugar.

“Parents need to read formula labels as educated consumers with the realization that sugar, with its high caloric content, can be harmful to a baby’s health,” says Hector G. Balcazar, M.S., Ph.D., who is a professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston. “It’s especially important when the tendency with formula-fed babies is to overfeed because the cues that come with breastfeeding are absent.”

Although Dr. Balcazar says that tracking infant weight data to predict adult obesity can be challenging, there still remains the possibility that introducing high levels of sugar to infants can contribute to their taste for sugar.

"We’re conditioning them to crave sweetness," pediatric dentist and nutritionist Kevin Boyd told NBC Chicago. "I would say any formula that has sucrose, it’s super sweet, it makes the kid crave sugar. It triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, and it’s a comfort-level thing. It makes the kid want to eat more, so they become hypersensitive to sweetness."

In Europe, sucrose in baby formula has been banned because of its link to childhood obesity.

“Following the European model of adhering to formulas that are closest to breast milk is an important topic that consumers, manufacturers and doctors should address,” says Dr. Balcazar.

“Breastfeeding for the first six months of life is best, but if that’s not an option, examine product labels and if possible, go into consultation with a doctor to discuss formula options,” recommends Dr. Balcazar, whose research has found that breast feeding rates among Mexican-American women decreases with acculturation.

“Like I see it, this is a window of opportunity for parents to be more aware of the formula they’re feeding their children.”


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