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The scoop on GUMPs.

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

Have you heard about GUMPS? No not of the FORREST variety. Actually they’re more closely related to open pastures. Popular in many Asian countries GUMPS stands for Growing Up Milk Powders and they are widely used as a cow’s milk replacement for toddlers and older children. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller recently presented findings at the Nutrition Society of Australia conference on the glycemic testing of a selection of these milk replacement products and the results revealed a growing concern around their usage and dietary balance.

What are they? When it comes to picking milk for toddlers, there is a clear international trend toward parents’ preferences for a growing up milk powder over fresh cow’s milk. We know that cow’s milk rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A and zinc is an important food for children. However, with a heightened awareness of the links between nutrition and good health, many parents are dedicated to making sure their child gets the very ‘best’ available. And that’s where GUMPS can sound very attractive. You see many of these products are fortified with additional nutrients like, zinc, vitamin D and omega-3 DHA and carry attractive claims about boosting growth and brain development. So it’s no surprise to hear they are growing in popularity in places like Australia and New Zealand too.

So what’s wrong with that? A 2009 ACNielsen survey looking at GUMP consumption shows that the average child in Malaysia from the age of one is consuming over four servings per day with the range stretching to seven daily glasses of powdered milk. While four servings per day may be within recommendations, it’s important to realise that not all GUMPS are created equal.

Testing conducted by SUGiRS looking at six different GUMPS from Indonesia and Malaysia revealed a huge range in the GI and GL levels. You see many GUMPS are formulated with added carbohydrate ingredients (up to 25% by weight) such as maltodextrins, glucose syrups, fructose and sucrose. Not only does this increase their energy or kilojoule density, but it also adds to the carbohydrate load on top of the natural lactose content in milk. Compared to cow’s milk with a low GI of 30 many of the GUMPS tested had a relatively high GI and GL, therefore potentially placing a high insulin demand on little bodies. Check out the GI and GL values of the 7 GUMPs tested in GI Update in this issue.

The scoop? We know that over nutrition in early life puts children at risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and chronic disease later in adulthood, so it’s vital that a milk replacement look beyond simply the optimal level of nutrient fortification and assess the GI and GL as well.

There is also a typical problem in the toddler years of children becoming fussy eaters and “milkaholics”, favouring an easy to consume milk diet over eating and trialing solid foods. If busy parents perceive that GUMPS are so superior, they may fall into the trap that more is better. Education is vital.

However, as cow’s milk is a low source of dietary iron essential for cognitive development, GUMPS with a low GI and other boosted nutrients, can play a role with fussy eaters or parents looking for vitamin and mineral insurance.

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites and a healthy serve of what’s in flavour.