How to choose a healthy baby formula

baby formula

Last month, my sister had a baby and I become an aunt for the first time! Yes, I am now that person with hundreds of photos of their niece on their phone, and I am really trying hard not to compulsively show them to anyone who makes eye contact with me. Fortunately, during my time in Edmonton I also received a crash course on “how to keep a baby alive” and learned how to feed a baby, prepare formula, change diapers, swaddle, soothe, burp, bathe and everything else in between!

Of course, as Holistic Nutritionist I also couldn’t help myself from obsessively reading the ingredients label on every formula bottle I came across. Was this safe for my niece? Would it give her gas? What about an allergic reaction? How does someone select the best baby formula possible? These are some of the questions I hope to answer in this blog post.

First Things First 

I learned that there should be no judgment in supplementing with formula, as nearly every new mother I’ve spoken to has had to do this whether it’s due to the latch, milk production, feeding time etc. While I would love to breastfeed 100% of the time when I’m a mother, I’m prepared for the (very likely) reality that this might not happen.  Also, let’s remember that most of us are formula-fed babies and we ended up pretty okay, so please take the following information seriously, but not too seriously to the point of overwhelming anxiety. Kapiche?

What To Look For In A Healthy Baby Formula:

Ideally, the best baby formula is one that mirrors breast milk as closely as possible. Which begs the question, what is the composition of breast milk? (1)

  • 3-5% fat
  • 0.8-0.9% protein
  • 6.9-7.2% carbohydrate (lactose)
  • 0.2% mineral constituents
  • 87.5% water

Now let’s compare this with an example of a popular baby formula, Enfamil:

  • 5.3 g fat = 3.5% fat
  • 2.1 g protein = 1.4% protein
  • 11.2 grams carbohydrate = 7.4% carbohydrates
  • 133 grams water = 87.7% water

At a first glance, this looks pretty good since the percentages are quite close. However, two things caught my attention:

  • Nearly double the amount of protein
    • A study done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that due to the higher protein content, formula-fed babies are at a higher risk of developing childhood obesity. (2) 
    • Did you know: the protein content in breast milk changes over time to best meet the baby’s needs. In fact, by week four the protein content in mother’s milk naturally gets halved. The protein content in formula however, remains constant and is fixed at the upper limit.
    • Here’s what you can do: opt for a low-protein formula (look for one that is at the lower end per 100 ml)
  • Higher carbohydrate
    • The main carbohydrate in breast milk is lactose, which babies can digest easily using the enzyme lactase
    • However, most formulas add other forms of carbohydrates such as corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn maltodextrin, glucose and sucrose, because they are cheaper and taste sweeter. Corn syrup spikes blood sugar quickly, and has been repeatedly called out in studies linking it to obesity and other health issues such as diabetes. If we’re trying to avoid it as adults, why put it in baby formula? (3) 
    • Here’s what you can do: try to avoid formulas that use any form of corn syrup (and its counterparts) as a sweetener

Of course, the nutrition panel alone never tells the full story. Below are some other “red flag” ingredients I’ve noticed on some formula bottles.

Ingredients To Avoid

Soybean Oil

Unless specified as organic, soybean oil is made from genetically modified soybeans. The research into the health effects of GM foods is still ongoing, but I would personally err on the side of caution and opt for organic.

Carrageenan

This is a stabilizer and thickener that is often found in infant formulas and almond milk, and its use has been a bit controversial. Studies have been mixed, but it appears there is still ongoing research on its ability to cause  intestinal inflammation. (4) 

Lactose (added)

According to Jay Highman, the founder of Nature’s One, “lactose is naturally occurring in all milk powder used for formula unless it’s taken out. So when lactose is listed in the ingredient declaration panel, this means an additional amount of lactose has been added”. This added amount of lactose can overwhelm the baby’s available supply of lactase; undigested lactose can lead to bloating, cramps and diarrhea. (5)

Vegetable oil

Most manufacturers rely on these oils in order to get a fatty acid profile that is similar to breast milk. However, vegetable oils (such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean) are high in Omega 6 fats, which are inflammatory when consumed in excess. At the moment, I’m not sure there’s much of an alternative, but a better option is to look for a formula that also uses coconut oil or palm oil to balance out the high Omega 6 content. Also aim to buy a formula that uses organic oils where possible, to avoid the exposure to pesticides and GM ingredients.

5 Best Baby Formulas:

For mothers who are reading this blog post, please add to this list, or write in the comments below if you have come across others that are better! I would love to have this information before my time comes 😉

Note: some of these are outside North America, but you can get them shipped or look for a local retailer that sells them.

  1. Holle formula
  2. Hipp formula
  3. Nanny Care formula
  4. Nature’s One formula
  5. Earth’s Best formula

Sources:

  1. R, Jenness. “The Composition Of Human Milk. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
  2. Weber, M. et al. “Lower Protein Content In Infant Formula Reduces BMI And Obesity Risk At School Age: Follow-Up Of A Randomized Trial”. N.p., 2016. Print.
  3. Moeller SM, et al. “The Effects Of High Fructose Syrup. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
  4. Fahoum L, et al. “Digestive Fate Of Dietary Carrageenan: Evidence Of Interference With Digestive Proteolysis And Disruption Of Gut Epithelial Function. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
  5. Phillipson-Webb, Lianne. Sprout Right. 1st ed. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010. Print.

 

 

 

 

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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