can babies digest starch?

Jessica Penner, RDUncategorizedLeave a Comment

If you’ve ever googled “infant cereal” you may have come across this damning article on The Food Renegade. Part of the author’s criticism of infant cereal is her claim that babies can’t digest the starch in it. 

Here’s a snippet from her rant:

“In order to digest grains, your body needs to make use of an enzyme called amylase. Amylase is the enzyme responsible for splitting starches. And, guess what? Babies don’t make amylase in large enough quantities to digest grains until after they are a year old at the earliest.”The Food Renegade

This is a classic case of someone with limited nutrition knowledge taking a piece of information that’s correct and then jumping to a conclusion that’s incorrect.

 Yes, the enzyme amylase is needed for starch digestion. The enzyme breaks down the structure of carbohydrates in starch into smaller sugar molecules.

Yes, babies make very little pancreatic amylase (made in the pancreas and released into the small intestine) compared to adults.

babies find a way

This seems like bad news for babies BUT when scientists have assessed whether babies can digest starch they’ve found that babies somehow absorb 99% of the starch they consume! How can this be?

They discovered that babies..

  • produce considerable amount of salivary amylase that travels from the mouth to the intestine where it digests starch
  • receive a considerable amount of amylase from mama’s milk (if breastfed, of course)
  • produce another type of amylase in the small intestine, called glucoamylase 

All these other pieces of information give us an idea as to why babies actually can digest starch, and do so quite efficiently. 

If you’re interested in the long answer to this question, The Science of Mom has done an excellent job writing about the research on babies, amylase, and starch digestion.

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