Sugar Babies

02.23.12 Testing finds that baby formula in U.S. contains sugar without ingredient's amount being listed on product labels.


We all know that breast is best, but formula-feeding is just a part of life for some moms—that's just real life. So when looking for the best and safest formula available, parents will be stunned to find the amount of one key ingredient missing from formula labels: sugar.

According to a report from the NBC affiliate in Chicago, a grandmother's label reading prompted the station to hire an independent laboratory "to measure sugar content in seven popular brands of formula."

Nancy Brecj, the grandmother quoted in the NBC Chicago article, said she began label reading baby formula containers when her granddaughter's weight "shot up four pounds in one month after mom switched her from breast milk to formula." To her surprise, "she couldn't find a sugar amount listed" on any formula labels.

According to Brecj, one company told her that it didn't add sugar to baby formula, NBC says. However, the grandmother clearly saw corn syrup in the ingredients list on the labels.

The lab tested seven baby formulas looking for five types of sugars. Among its findings:

  • "Enfamil Premium and Parent's Choice premium infant formulas had the highest sugar content, at 13.5 grams and 12.4 grams per serving. The amounts are high, but experts say the type of sugar revealed is best: lactose, the same type found in breast milk."
  • "Three brands tested low for any sugar: Gerber Good Start, Similac Advance Complete and Enfamil Pro-Sobee."
  • "Similac Advance Organic Complete Nutrition contained one of the sweetest kind: sucrose — measuring 3.5 grams of sugar per serving. Similac Soy Infant Formula with Iron contained four kinds of added sugar, including sucrose, for a total of 3.8 grams per serving, roughly the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar per 5 ounces."

The NBC article noted that childhood obesity concerns in Europe prompted a ban on sucrose in baby formula, mirroring dozens of other countries that also forbid the use of this sugar. In response to requests for comment from one U.S. formula maker, the International Formula Council said that "sucrose has been found safe in both clinical trials and years of consumer use.

The FDA "does not require formula makers to list sugar amounts," and does not disclose how much sugar is allowed, NBC says.

Medical experts quoted by NBC acknowledge that the amounts of sugar overall may be low, but that the ones that are overly sugared may be conditioning infants "to just really like super sweet."

So what to do if you're formula-feeding? Experts say to continue to do so and try to stick with the ones with lower sugar levels. Our First Foods page offers tips on how to pick the best formula for your baby.

When your baby is ready for more than milk, feed him or her the most natural foods possible. This might be your chance to try your hand at making homemade baby food!

— Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.