As a Nutrition Specialist here at Nutricia North America, I spend a lot of time talking to patients, parents, and health care professionals. Some of the questions I receive most often are “Do Neocate products contain any ingredients derived from corn?” and “Are Neocate products safe for an individual with a corn allergy?” Before we delve into these questions, let’s discuss the basics of a corn allergy.
Allergic reactions to corn are rare and often difficult to diagnose using standard skin or blood tests. Because a corn allergy can be difficult to diagnose through traditional methods, your allergist may recommend a food elimination diet in which you avoid corn and any derivatives of corn, for a specific period of time (normally two to four weeks). During this time, symptoms will be monitored, specifically to determine if there is an improvement in symptoms while corn is eliminated from the diet, and if symptoms reoccur when corn is reintroduced. If a corn allergy is identified by the allergist, treatment would involve avoidance of corn and ingredients derived from corn.
Corn is not among the top eight food allergens in the United States, for which special label information is required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Because corn is not required to be called out on the label, it is important for an individual with a diagnosed corn allergy to become familiar with ingredients that are derived from corn. Some common sources of corn are:
Please note, these are just a few examples and not a comprehensive list of ingredients derived from corn. If you are ever unsure as to whether an ingredient is derived from corn, it is best to contact the manufacturer.
Now that we have a basic understanding of a corn allergy, let’s address these frequently asked questions as mentioned earlier. The primary carbohydrate source in each of our Neocate products is derived from corn: The primary carbohydrate source in powdered Neocate products is corn syrup solids, while the primary carbohydrate source in liquid Neocate products is maltodextrin. Corn syrup solids are derived from corn starch, and maltodextrin is structurally similar to corn syrup solids. These ingredients are often used in nutritional formulas as a carbohydrate source because they offer a blend of simple and complex carbohydrates. In Neocate products, they are used in proportion with amino acids and fat to provide a balanced nutritional profile. No Neocate products are completely free of corn-derived ingredients.
That being said, the carbohydrates used in all Neocate products undergo extensive refinement in a multi-step process that includes purification, distillation and drying. This process is designed to remove impurities, including protein and fat that are naturally present in corn. As proteins are what the body responds to in a typical allergic reaction, this removes the trigger for patients with a corn protein allergy. With that said, we cannot make the claim that our Neocate products are completely “corn protein free”. In order to make such a claim, each and every batch would need to be tested for the presence of corn protein, which we do not do.
We cannot say with certainty that Neocate is “safe” for anyone – that’s a question for your healthcare team. It is important to note that leaders in food allergy diagnosis and management, such as those at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, find a majority of patients with corn protein allergies tolerate refined corn syrup solids with no allergy symptoms. In practice they do not restrict corn syrup solids in the diets of patients who are allergic to corn. If you have questions about the safety of the corn syrup solids or maltodextrin in Neocate, it would be best to discuss this with your healthcare team, especially the allergist, to see if they recommend a supervised trial or other testing to see if Neocate is appropriate.
Since we’re on the topic of corn, I figured I would mention two facts that are of importance to many Neocate families. The corn from which Neocate's carbohydrate ingredients are sourced is certified by the suppliers not to be genetically modified. In addition, the corn syrup solids used in Neocate products would not be expected to contain fructose and are not the same as “high fructose corn syrup” or “HFCS”. HFCS is produced from corn starch in which about half of the glucose molecules have been chemically converted to fructose. Many consumers prefer to avoid HFCS for a number of reasons, and we do not use this ingredient in Neocate products.
-Kendra Valle, RDN
Image source: Liz West