Is my child getting the right nutrition required for his age and should I add anything more to his diet? This is the most common question among mothers of young children. Since fussy eating is also common problem among children, the above question becomes all the more relevant. It’s in this context that mums end up wondering whether or not to add growing up milk and milk food drinks to their kid’s diet. Before deciding, it is important to understand what these products contain.

Here is what you should know before adding these products in your child’s diet.

What is growing up milk?

Growing up milk or GUM refers to products that are specially created and are intended for use by children between 1 and 3 years of age. These are sometimes also called ‘toddlers’ milk’ or “milk for kids” or “follow up or follow on milk”. GUMs are usually recommended after the first two years of a child’s life, when he or she is consuming complementary feeds. There is a wide array of GUM variants available in the market today.

Each variant is matched with a specific age group. Usually, there is no single product for all children above 2 years of age, and so, as a child gets older, you will also have to switch to the next GUM category.

Growing up milk is commonly available in the powder form, which has to be dissolved in water before it is given to the child.

What do GUMs contain?

There is no globally recognized consensus or recommendation about what the nutritional composition of a GUM has to be. So, if you read the label carefully on the packet, you will see that GUMs from different companies will have different compositions and ingredients.

So, what do they typically contain?

  • GUMs primarily contain whey protein or casein derived from cow’s milk, which contributes to the protein content of the product.
  • There are also some GUMs available which are based on plant protein and do not contain protein from animal milk.
  • GUMs also contain a blend of milk and/or vegetable fats that contribute to the fat content.
  • Different kinds of sugars and lactose contribute to the carbohydrate content of GUMs.
  • Every GUM’s nutritional composition is unique to the manufacturer and there is no one specific composition that is followed by all.
  • Apart from this, micronutrients such as vitamin A, C, D, B1, B12, folate, calcium, iodine, iron, zinc, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are also added to GUMs. These nutrients are specifically added because these are thought to be inadequate or deficient in a child’s normal diet. The amounts that are added to the product are typically matched with what the child requires at a specific age, based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). But again, this may vary among manufacturers.
  • Since GUMs are designed to be consumed in place of milk, a glass of GUM will contain a substantial amount of calories, protein and fat.

What are milk food drinks?

Milk food drinks (MFD) are malted and unmalted food drink powders that are added to milk or water and then consumed. There is a wide variety of MFDs available in the Indian market and some of them are specifically meant for children. Usually, MFDs are meant for children above 3 years of age and these are often considered as food supplements. MFD should not be confused with GUM.

What do MFDs contain?

Again, each manufacturer follows a different composition or formula.

  • Most of the MFDs available in India for children contain wheat flour, malted barley, soya and protein isolates, corn starch, whey protein, skimmed milk powder and vegetable fats.
  • They also contain added sugars in the form of sucrose and maltodextrin and also contain some amount of prebiotic fibre.
  • These also come in different flavours like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and might also contain cocoa and natural and artificial flavourings.
  • Apart from these, MFDs also contain micronutrients like vitamin D, A, B complex, calcium, zinc, selenium copper, magnesium, phosphorous, and DHA among others. The amounts of these micronutrients present in the MFDs vary from one brand to another. They contribute around 25% to 100% of the daily requirement or RDA for nutrients in the recommended number of servings.

Are GUM and MFD really good for my child?

Nutrition experts globally will agree that children have high requirements for both macro and micronutrients. It has been established that if nutritional inadequacies occur during this sensitive growth phase, the child will not be able to attain his or her genetic potential for growth and development. Nutrient deficiencies can occur due to pre-term birth, improper feeding habits, faulty introduction of complementary foods (too early or too late), fussy eating and frequent illnesses. GUMs and MFDs have been created to address the issue of nutrient deficiencies and fulfil nutrient gaps that may occur in such children.

So should you give your child GUM or MFD?

This depends on the following factors.

  • If your child is sick, unable to get his or her nutrients from a regular well-balanced diet, and is not meeting the growth milestones for his or her age, then a paediatrician should take the call on whether your child needs GUMs or MFDs. It is very important to remember that a wholesome meal is the best way to provide nutrition to your child.
  • It is important to note that milk is only a part of a child’s daily diet and it should not become the only meal that the child consumes. It is very easy to miss out on a wide variety of nutrients that are present in other foods, if you make milk the main food item in your child’s diet. Indian dietary guidelines recommend that children above 1 year should consume about 500 ml of milk daily.
  • GUMs and MFDs do provide nourishment with nutrient-dense formulas. However, remember that these also contain additives, preservatives and flavourings. The biggest issue with these products is the presence of high amounts of sugars in the form of sucrose and corn syrup, which can lead to cavities and childhood obesity. Hence, moderation is the key.
  • Very often, night time feeds involve the use of a bottle. If GUMs are fed during this time, the child will be at high risk of developing dental caries.
  • Children who are fed such sweetened drinks can also develop a preference for sugary foods and can become fussy eaters as they get older. Drinking flavoured milk might cause the child to prefer strong flavours and might dull his or her taste buds.
  • Some GUMs and MFDs also contain large amounts of fats, which are not required and can lead to obesity if not consumed moderately. So, even if your child is thin but eats normally, doesn’t fall sick, and happily jumps around, just wait for nature to work its magic and the growth spurt to begin naturally.
  • MFDs can sometimes contain more than the required amounts of micronutrients. So, if you need to give your child MFD, look for products that fulfil part of the daily requirement and not 100% of the nutrient requirement in a serving. The remaining part of the daily requirement should be met with natural food sources.

So, if you feel that your child is not growing adequately and you would like to include GUM or MFD in his or her diet, check your child’s growth curves first. Consult a doctor for guidance and read label of these products to understand the ingredients and compositions.

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