Best Organic Baby Formulas 2020
- Top 5 Organic Formulas Comparison Table
- 1. Best Organic Formula Overall: Holle Bio
- 2. Baby's Only LactoRelief
- 3. Lebenswert Stage 1 Organic
- 4. HiPP Combiotik Organic Formula
- 5. The Honest Co Organic Formula
- 6. Baby's Only DHA & ARA
- 7. Similac Organic Infant Formula
- 8. Earth's Best Organic
- 9. Happy Baby Organic
- 10. Happy Tot Grow & Shine
- Discontinued: Plum Organics Grow Well
- Discontinued: Gerber Natura Organic
- Baby Formula Ingredients
- Good Ingredients
- Bad Ingredients
- Downright Ugly Ingredients
|Model and Link to Amazon||Our Rating|
|#1. Holle Bio Stage 1 Infant Formula|
|#2. Baby's Only LactoRelief|
|#3. Lebenswert Stage 1 Organic|
|#4. HiPP Combiotik Formula|
|#5. Honest Co. Organic Formula|
Infant formula comes in dozens of brands and varieties, and figuring out what's best for your baby can be a daunting task, especially for discerning parents who want a natural formula without preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial sweeteners. Organic formula contains all-natural and non-GMO ingredients, plus they are sourced from farms that feed their cattle only organic foods, without traces of pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics, or other harmful additives. In contrast, non-organic formulas have some truly scary ingredients: vitamins derived from petroleums, sulfate-based pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, corn syrup solids, etc. But organic formula options tend to be quite a bit more expensive, especially at the local grocer, and also vary widely in quality and taste.
Here are the Best Organic Baby Formulas of 2020!
This organic baby formula is taking the market by storm! As of this year, we can't count on both hands how many new parents we know who have made the switch to Holle Organic for all their formula needs. Many of these moms are mixing the Goat and Cow milk versions of the Holle Bio formula to make for an easily digested and delicious formula blend that meets the needs of even the pickiest parents, babies, and pediatricians. Holle formulas are made by one of the oldest and most widely respected baby formula companies in the world, with over 85 years of experience making non-GMO organic baby food products. Based in Switzerland, they work directly with German raw organic ingredient suppliers and carefully track the sourcing, sustainability, and quality of every ingredient they include in their baby formulas. Ingredients are sourced from Demeter biodynamic farms, which is the highest European standard for sustainable farming without chemicals and synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. This is an organic baby formula that you can truly feel good about. The Holle Bio line comes in the infant formula stage (stage 1, intended for birth upwards), and what the company calls "follow-on milk" (stages 2-4). We've personally tested the stage 1 and 2 varieties, in both Cow and Goat varieties, and are thrilled with what they have to offer. Each has no artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, thickeners, sweeteners, or chemicals. The cow version contains organic skim milk and whey powder as the first two ingredients, then organic vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, sunflower), and a ton of vitamins and minerals. The goat version is great for infants with cow milk sensitivity, using organic goat milk and lactose, along with the vegetable oils and vitamins and minerals. We suggest trying the Cow version first and adding the goat version if your baby shows sensitivity to the cow milk (of course, check with your pediatrician first). In our testing, the formula was super easy to dispense and mix, and it shows a super high acceptance rate even for primarily breast-fed babies, making it a good option for parents who need to switch between breastfeeding and formula, or as a transition formula. We saw very low levels of gas, spit-up, reflux or other gastrointestinal distress in babies using this formula, and many parents are using it on recommendation from their pediatrician. Cons? Well, it is pricey, just like the Lebenswert (below). Fortunately, this European baby formula is now available right here in the US from certain online stores (like Huggable), making it less expensive than it used to be. A package of Holle Bio is 900g (about 14 ounces, which makes about 95 ounces of formula), for about $25. By comparison, the Baby's Only organic formula (below) is about $1.15/ounce, whereas this one is about $1.75/ounce. If you can afford this level of quality and performance, definitely go for it, otherwise consider the Baby's Only or Plum Organics options. Another con is that it contains palm oil, which some believe can cause a bit of gassiness in babies with more sensitive tummies. Interested? You can check out the Holle Bio Stage 1 and 2 baby formulas here.
This is an outstanding option for babies who seem to have some issues related to digesting dairy, such as gas, reflux, or bloating. This is a lactose-free organic and kosher baby formula, with high levels of essential fatty acids that the baby's body converts to DHA (an omega-3) and ARA (an omega-6). To our knowledge, it is one of the only high-quality organic formulas for sensitive stomachs made in the US, and parents rave about its flavor - much better than the Similac Sensitive or Enfamil Gentlease, and it has no corn syrup or genetically modified ingredients. It also uses naturally-sourced rather than petroleum-based vitamins, such as vitamin E acetate, DHA sourced from eggs rather than algae, and brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup solids. We are also impressed that Baby's Only has managed to make a great sensitive baby formula without including many of the ingredients that we prefer not to find in a formula, such as glucose or corn syrup solids, palm oil, or DHA sourced using hexane. Instead, they took the high road and used ingredients they could stand behind. Of course there are a couple little exceptions in there like inositol and sodium selenate, but realistically that's minimal and there are no formulas currently available that do not have one or more of these ingredients. European-sourced brands come close. In our testing with 3 infants (two 3 months and one 6 months), both not only readily accepted this formula but also showed no signs of discomfort or gas whatsoever; in fact, the mom of one of these babies immediately switched to Baby's Only after the test! Note that while we are fully aware that the label says "Toddler Formula," the manufacturer claims that this is only because they suggest breastfeeding for babies under 1 year old. It has nothing to do with ingredients or its suitability for newborns (but always check with your pediatrician first). This could be a good option to try before your pediatrician considers antacids. We also want to point out that this is one of the few baby formulas that receive the highest rating from the Clean Label Project. Negatives? Like any baby formula, some parents suggest that it can cause mild constipation, but we didn't experience any in our tests, and certainly any gassiness will likely be less than with any of the non-sensitive options. Interested? You can check out the Baby's Only Formula here.
This is one of the only organic formulas on our list that is specifically targeted toward newborns and infants, rather than just toddlers. This Lebenswert formula sets the gold standard for how organic formulas should be sourced and manufactured. Based in Spain, the Bioland company has been making the top-rated European organic infant formula for several years. The Lebenswert formula is based on organic skim milk, organic whey, organic vegetable oils, organic lactose, and vitamins and minerals. With skim milk as the first ingredient, it seems like a better option overall than several other baby formulas on this list that use things like brown rice syrup (the Baby's Only options), or lactose (Plum Organics, Happy Baby, and Earth's Best). So rather than using a sugar (lactose is a milk-derived sugar, and brown rice syrup is a sugar as well) as a primary ingredient, this organic formula uses milk itself and then adds in the fats and sugars later. And there's other stuff to feel good about - the farms and ingredients are certified organic, they only use high-quality raw ingredients, and the company uses its profits to fund conservation of natural resources. Even better, because this baby formula is suitable for use from birth onward, it is great for exclusive bottle formula feeding, which makes it a really unique addition to the organic baby formula market. In our testing, we found it to taste great without being too sweet or oily, mix well with water or breast milk, and it caused the least gas of all the other formulas on this list. And that's impressive because some of them are also really great at that. This is a baby formula intended for highly discerning parents who are willing to pay a bit more money for the perfect baby formula. At this point, you can finally purchase it from right here in the US! Huggable ships their European baby formulas from Nevada with free shipping on orders over $40. Shipping takes a couple days for the west coast, and a few more days for the east coast, and the company is super responsive and helpful. This is the same company that will ship you the excellent Goat Milk Holle Formula, and the Hipp Organic Combiotik Formula, both also excellent European formula options (the Hipp formulas include prebiotics to aid digestion). If you're intimidated by the fact that the information on the box is not in English, just scroll down on the Huggable website to see ingredients and instructions in English. Interested? You can check out the Lebenswert Organics baby formula here.
HiPP is one of the best-selling European formulas (made in Germany and the Netherlands), and for some great reasons. It is a skim-milk and lactose-based certified organic formula that contains both prebiotics (plant fiber) and probiotics for digestability, omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), and uses whey powder (and whey protein) along with a mix of vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, sunflower). Just like breast milk, it also contains lactic acid bacteria cultures (B.lactis) that can help reduce colic and irritability (according to published research). Even more compelling is what this formula does NOT contain, which includes no starch, gluten, maltodextrin, processed sugar solids, artificial preservatives or vitamins/minerals, and no GMO ingredients. It's a relatively comprehensive infant formula that isn't as simple as the Holle Bio or Lebenswert options (above), but it makes a relatively sensitive baby formula option given its ingredient composition, and it's also relatively complete in terms of nutritional value. But with all that completeness comes some ingredients that are less than ideal, such as palm oil, alpina oil, sodium selenate, biotin, inositol, calcium chloride, biotin, and a few others. In fact, its ingredient profile is a bit more similar to some US brands such as Baby's Only. But it excels relative to the typical Baby's Only (below) in its sensitivity and nutritional composition, making it a great source for babies with sensitivity and more complex nutritional needs (of course, always ask your pediatrician first!). We tested this infant formula (stage 1) on 4 babies, including two 2-month olds, one 4-month old, and one 6-month old who was beginning solid foods. Three of the four readily accepted the taste, and none of the 4 developed any clear signs of gas or discomfort. All of the moms liked the formula in terms of its consistency, ease of mixing, and lack of bubbles after mixing. Like all premium European baby formulas, Hipp Combiotik is relatively expensive in comparison to US products, so keep that in mind when comparing to other options. If you choose any of the European brands, we suggest using Huggable for their reasonable prices, fast shipping, and great customer service! Interested? You can check out the HiPP Combiotik Formula here!
The Honest Company was founded by Jessica Alba with the intent to develop and market baby products with high levels of quality and transparency, while offering premium products at reasonable prices. A couple years ago, The Honest Co released two awesome organic infant formulas, one they call Premium and the other Sensitive. The Premium version is intended to precisely replicate breast milk, and the Sensitive version is for infants with gas, bloating, and constipation issues. Both are non-GMO formulas, USDA certified organic (certifed by QAI), contain omega fatty acids DHA and ARA, and contain the prebiotic FOS (fructose-oligosaccharides), which are plant-based fibers that help support the gut microbiome and digestion. We reviewed both options, and thought they were excellent options! Let's start with the Premium version. This is a lactose-based and non-fat milk-based formula with palm, soy, coconut, and safflower or sunflower oils. It also contains whey protein, alpina oil (AHA), algal oil (DHA), and a ton of vitamins and minerals, including iron (1.8mg per 100 calories), calcium, folic acid, choline, and Vitamins A, D, E, C, K, and B (B1, B6, and B12). We were impressed that there were no glucose syrup solids or any other added sugars (other than lactose, which itself is a sugar). Like other formulas that use alpina and algal oils, we wonder about the methods and chemicals used to extract and process those oils from their sources; we have an inquiry into Honest Co about this question but have not heard back at this point. It also contains palm oil, which is a bit controversial and some believe linked to gassiness. In our testing, the Premium formula was surprisingly similar to breast milk in terms of nutritional content and even taste, and our 3 test babies (one 2 month-old, and two 3 month-olds), they quickly accepted it. One of the babies showed some signs of gassiness and spit-up. Now let's talk about the Sensitive version, which is intended for babies with gassiness. The way they approach the sensitive formula is by removing the lactose and making it a nonfat milk-based formula. But when you remove lactose you also remove the primary sugar in the Premium version, so they needed to replace it with something - they chose glucose syrup solids. This was a little unfortunate because glucose syrup solids are basically corn syrup solids by another name. But in our testing, all three babies readily accepted it and none of them had any issues with gassiness, which was awesome! But that added sugar issue is one that you'll need to think about carefully; if you're concerned, there may be other sensitive infant formulas you should consider that do not add processed sugars (like the HiPP Combiotic). Overall, we were impressed with the Honest Co organic infant formulas, and think you and your baby will be happy with them as well. We prefer the Premium version to the Sensitive version due to the processed sugars in the Sensitive version, but for babies with sensitivity the Sensitive formula is an obvious choice. We don't like the use of Taurine, Sodium Selenite, and a few other ingredients that are not technically organic according to the US Government. But overall they are better than most other US-based formula options, and we give them credit for that! Interested? You can check out the Honest Co. Organic Premium Infant Formula here, and the Honest Co. Organic Sensitive Infant Formula here!
This option is very similar to #2 above, but it's not the sensitive version so it contains regular lactose levels that you'd find in any dairy formula. Unlike any other formula, however, it uses naturally-sourced rather than petroleum-based vitamins, such as vitamin E acetate, and uses brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup solids. It also includes naturally sourced DHA (an omega-3, extracted from eggs) and ARA (an omega-6), which some research suggests can promote brain development. Note that while we are fully aware that the label says "Toddler Formula," the manufacturer claims that this is only because they suggest breastfeeding for babies under 1 year old, and that it contains high levels of the milk protein casein rather than whey. Our pediatrician said it's suitable for newborns (but always check with your pediatrician first). Negatives? Like any baby formula, some parents suggest that it can cause mild constipation, likely due to the iron fortification. Maybe add a couple drops of prune juice to the mix to get things moving! Interested? You can check out the Baby's Only Toddler Formula with DHA & ARA here!
Similac makes a wide range of baby formulas, including the popular Pro-Advance, Pro-Total Comfort, Advance, Sensitive, Pro-Sensitive, Spit-Up, and Alimentum options. The sheer range of formula options can perplex even the savviest parents, and we find ourselves wondering how much of that range is marketing versus substantive differences in ingredients, nutrition, and sensitivity. This baby formula stands out from the pack because it's one of only two organic options offered by Similac, and the only option we believe is worth having on this list. This organic formula is suitable for infants 0-12 months and is based on organic nonfat cow's milk, with secondary ingredients including maltodextrin, sugar, and three oils: sunflower, soy, and coconut. The maltodextrin is a very common carbohydrate powder that is used as a thickener and preservative; your body processes maltodextrin like a sugar, so it can cause a quick blood sugar increase. A few formulas on this list avoid maltodextrin entirely, such as the Lebenswert, HiPP, Plum Organics, and Happy Baby options, but it is considered a relatively harmless ingredient. Regarding sugar, it's relatively rare for an organic formula to add sugar, but realize that this formula does not use lactose or whey powder, which other formulas use to indirectly add sugar (and at least they didn't try to disguise processed sugar as a syrup solid). We have no major issues with the sunflower or coconut oils, but understand that some parents might be avoiding soy due to potential allergies. Other ingredients include a variety of vitamins and minerals (including 1.8mg iron and 1.5IU vitamin E), lutein, DHA, and choline. Just as an FYI because we know parents worry about these things, the DHA in this formula is from alpina oil and c. cohii oil, which are likely treated with hexane solvent, acid, and bleach as part of their manufacturing. Baby's Only, for instance, derives DHA from egg phospholipids using water only. In our testing, we found that this powder did not mix easily or well in water, with the powder never fully dissolving. This made for a somewhat grainy formula that left a residue in the bottle. When we let it sit for more than a few minutes, we would need to shake the bottle again to avoid the water and formula separating. Shaking also created a lot of bubbles that will likely cause issues with babies who are sensitive to gas and reflux. The two babies we tested it on readily accepted its flavor, and we tasted it ourselves and found it to be sweet and a bit tart, similar to breast milk. No issues with gas or discomfort were experienced, but the babies we tested on tend to be pretty resilient in this regard to begin with. Overall, we appreciate this new addition to the organic formula market, and think Similac did a pretty decent job with it. Once they figure out the solubility issues they could have a real winner here, as long as you're OK with the addition of sugar, maltodextrin, and the way they source DHA. Costs about a dollar per ounce if you buy in bulk, which is more expensive than the Similac non-organic options but less expensive than some others on this list. Interested? You can check out the Similac Organic baby formula here.
This is the original organic (and kosher) baby formula to the market - or at least the first widely distributed option. This contains DHA and ARA to promote eye and brain development, and contains no growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids, or pesticides or herbicides. This is a very well-reviewed formula option, and parents report that their babies have an easy time digesting it, and like that it's a bit more affordable than the options at the organic grocers. There is also a low lactose version, called the Sensitivity Infant Formula. We put this down a bit on our list because parents don't like that there are added syrup solids (sugars), and that Earth's Best uses hexane for extracting DHA and ARA from lab-grown algae and fungus. Hexane is a solvent that is also used as a chemical degreaser and industrial cleaner and is a known neurotoxin. Some think there may be trace levels in baby formulas containing DHA and ARA extracted using hexane. We prefer to stay out of that debate given the lack of sound scientific data one way or the other. Interested? You can check out the Earth's Best baby formula here.
This baby formula is a great option, especially if you're planning on using formula from birth. It is organic, non-GMO, and contains no corn syrup solids or other sweeteners. Its ingredients include lactose, milk, several oils (including palm, soy, coconut, safflower, sunflower), whey protein concentrate, soy lecithin, prebiotics (FOS and GOS), essential fatty acids (DHA and ARA), and a ton of beneficial vitamins and minerals. These include iron, zinc, choline, vitamin D, and calcium. It is also kosher and the packaging and formula itself contain no BPA. There's nothing strange in this formula, and the dairy cows used to make the milk for this formula are only fed organic diets. About 100 calories, 2 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat per serving, this formula is very similar in composition to breast milk. It also doesn't taste much different from it, though some of our testers thought it's not quite as sweet. And while it does contain iron, it doesn't contain so much iron that it inevitably leads to constipation. So, overall this is an excellent addition to our best baby formula list for several reasons. Cons? Well, we did find it difficult to dissolve in water or breast milk. It definitely takes a lot of shaking and stirring to get it to fully dissolve and not leave any clumps. So that was a bit more work than we may have desired, at least relative to the Earth's Best and Baby's Only options. If your baby has any food-related sensitivities, this does contain soy (just FYI). Also, like the Plum Organics option, above, it contains palm oil, which is a bit controversial for use in baby formula due to its risk of causing mild gassiness. And it's expensive, coming in at well over $1 per ounce. Interested? You can check out the Happy Baby formula here.
This toddler milk (toddler formula for age 12-24 months) contains a lot of great non-GMO organic ingredients for healthy brain and eye development, including choline, DHA, and ARA. Note that the DHA is not sourced with Hexane, so that's definitely a plus. The first ingredient is milk, which we like, and the second and third ingredients are vegetable oils and glucose syrup solids. Note that "glucose syrup solids" is usually just a crafty way of saying corn syrup solids (the Vermont Organics product below does the same thing). The Happy Tot brand makes some seriously good baby and toddler foods, which can be seen here. So we were expecting a lot from this toddler milk. We weren't disappointed, but we also didn't think it lived up to the Happy Tot brand reputation for taste. In our testing, the taste wasn't quite on par with the Earth's Best or Baby's Only options, but that's really up to your baby to decide! This Happy Tot Toddler Milk comes in a bit less expensive than the others, around 80 cents per ounce.
Discontinued (formerly #4): Plum Organics Organic Infant Formula
Note that this Plum Organics infant formula is being discontinued as of 2020; if you've been using it successfully, then you might want to get your hands on some supplies before they're gone! This is the first year that the Plum Organics option is showing up on this list, and we're really excited to see another fantastic organic baby formula option on the market! The first thing to point out is that, like the Baby's Only options, there are no corn syrup solids in the Plum Organics formula. Instead, they used lactose from cow's milk to provide sweetness; lactose is the most abundant carb in human breastmilk, so this was a nice touch. It's kosher dairy, gluten-free, and contains no genetically modified ingredients. What it does include is a thoughtful blend of organic lactose, nonfat milk, oils (palm, coconut, soy, etc.), whey protein, and a ton of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, omegas, and antioxidants. Yes, it includes DHA (Omega-3) and ARA (Omega-6) to promote development. It also contains important levels of folic acid, choline, calcium, and vitamins D, E, and K. This is truly an infant formula, suggested for use from birth (not for premature babies, however), all the way up to about 1 year of age. The only downfall here is that they use palm oil as an ingredient, and there is some evidence that babies fed formula with palm oil show decreased bone density, presumably because it decreases calcium, palmitic acid, and fat absorption by the baby. A review of this research can be found here. Of course, nobody knows whether the bone density differences persist past the first year (when varied foods are introduced), and even if they do persist, whether they lead to any functional impact on development. Thus, if you're solely feeding with formula, you might want to consider a formula that has a different predominant oil (like the Baby's Own options). Overall, however, this is a very well tolerated baby formula that is worthy of its position on our list. Interested? You can check out the Plum Organics baby formula here.
Discontinued (formerly #6): Gerber Natura Organic Infant Formula
Note that this organic baby formula is being discontinued as of 2020, so if you've been using it successfully you might want to get your hands on any remaining supplies! Organic baby formulas have been popular for several years now, and Gerber needed to catch up to the market's demand and develop a high-quality organic product that would have a more reasonable price point than some of the more premium organic formulas on the market (like Holle and Baby's Own). This is Gerber's attempt at doing exactly that, and to be honest we are impressed with what they've developed here, especially given its relatively low price under $1.00 per ounce (the premium organic formulas go up to about twice that price). This Gerber formula is USDA organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and made from cows that are not treated with antibiotics or given artificial growth hormones. It contains iron, DHA, prebiotics to help digestion, and several vitamins (including A&E) and minerals. The prebiotics help counteract some of the constipation common with iron in formula, and there is evidence that the DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) helps with brain and eye development. The DHA (algal oil) is sourced from algea, and the AHA (mortierella alpina oil) is sourced from fungus. In a 5-ounce serving it has 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, which is pretty close to typical breast milk nutritional composition. It also contains lactose as its only sugar; we were happy that it doesn't use any other added sugars (like corn syrup solids etc), but not thrilled that adding lactose makes this less ideal for babies with a sensitive tummy. Other ingredients worth mentioning are soy oil (so it contains soy) and palm oil, which is a bit controversial as a baby formula ingredient due to a risk of causing some mild gassiness. When we tested it (we tested stage 1 and stage 2 formulas), we had very high acceptance rates for both breast-fed and formula-fed babies, which was nice to see. We also didn't have any major issues with constipation or reflux, and the formula was generally well-tolerated; of course, your experience may vary here, but that's what we found in our 3 test babies. Overall, we think we have stumbled upon something really good here, and a truly great option for parents looking for a relatively cheap organic baby formula that will give them a healthy conscious, healthy baby, and keep their bank account balance healthy as well! Only some relatively minor issues such as the sourcing of DHA and AHA, and the addition of lactose, soy, and palm oil. If those don't give you too much anxiety, then this could be a perfect option for your family. Interested?
Conclusions: Here's what we learned by putting together this formula guide: there are very few organic formulas on the market. Especially organic baby formulas that are suitable for newborn infants, those are especially rare. European baby formula companies (like Holle, Lebenswert, and HiPP) have been taking the market by storm, producing extremely high quality organic baby formulas that are suitable for use as infant baby formulas. Five years ago, it was difficult to get your hands on European baby formulas and they were very expensive to import to the US. More recently, companies such as Huggable have popped up to fill the US distribution gap, making it more affordable and efficient to purchase European baby formulas online.
The Similac organic formula was recalled a couple years ago, so that put a bad taste in people's mouths about large companies attempting to pull the fleece over people's eyes and claiming organic while being a bit careless in manufacturing processes. Some formulas labeled as organic contain some questionable, non-organic, ingredients such as petroleum-sourced vitamins and sulfates. Not certain how some companies are getting away with it, but likely because the organic food market is not yet well-regulated. Another more recent option for toddler formula is goat milk formulas, like the Kabrita Non-GMO Goat Milk Toddler Formula. We love that goat milk formula, but it's not a fully organic product so it's not eligible for inclusion on this list. With all that said, we have done our best to find the best organic baby formulas of the year! Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, or switching between the two, be sure to invest in one of the best nursing pillows to keep yourself comfortable and your baby well-positioned for digestion. If you have any questions or comments, we invite you to visit us on our Facebook page and send a message!
Baby Formula Ingredients - the Good, Bad, and Ugly: In general, baby formulas need a source of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals. For protein, formulas usually include one or more of the following: nonfat milk, skim milk, reduced fat milk, whole milk (milks can generally be cow or goat), soy milk, amino acids, casein, whey powder, and whey protein powder. Breast milk, for reference, is about 60% whey protein, and 40% casein protein; casein protein is digested slower than whey protein. For fats, formulas usually contain a mix of vegetable oils, often palm oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, and others. For carbohydrates, formulas usually contain lactose (milk sugar), maltodextrin (plant-based sweetener and thickener), corn syrup solids, glucose syrup solids, brown rice syrup, or just plain sugar. For minerals and vitamins, formulas tend to contain at least iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Some infant formulas also add in fatty acids such as DHA and ARA, some add in bacterias, prebiotics, and/or probiotics to aid digestion. Baby formulas vary widely in which of these ingredients they use, and how much of each they use. They also vary widely in the extent to which they use ingredients that are generally safe but might be sourced using harch chemicals. These are all things to consider when picking a baby formula, and things we think about when doing our reviews.
When we review ingredients lists for infant formulas, we are looking for a few primary things that should be included, and some others that should not be included. We categorize these as the good ingredients, the bad ingredients, and the downright ugly ingredients.
Good Baby Formula Ingredients: In general, most of the staple ingredients are safe. These include the primary protein sources such as various milks (cow, goat, nonfat, skim, reduced fat, etc), whey, and protein powders (such as whey protein). Fats are a slightly different story, with certain oils being generally accepted as safe: palm oil, soy oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. None of these oils contain cholesterol (which breast milk has), or DHA, which is a fatty acid linked to proper brain development (which is why many formula brands add DHA). Of course, there are reports of some parents finding that certain oils upset their baby's tummy, with palm oil being one example. Also, if you are at all concerned about allergies, then you'll need to decide whether you want to risk coconut or soy oils. In terms of carbohydrates, lactose is generally the preferred source of sugar in formula.
Bad Baby Formula Ingredients: These ingredients fall somewhere between "OK" and "run away" and in general, at least one or two of them are included in most baby formulas. For protein sources, most agree that a soy-based formula is not ideal given controversy over hormonal effects of soy consumption, and its generally poor nutritional profile relative to cow or goat milk (i.e., there's no whey or casein). A primary whey protein ingredient is also not ideal for similar nutritional reasons. For fat sources, try to avoid formulas using palm olein (which is different from palm oil) because it's not absorbed very well, can cause reduced calcium absorption, and can cause constipation and gassiness. For carbohydrates, try to avoid formulas using processed sugars such as maltodextrine, corn syrup solids, glucose syrup solids, and sugar itself. For vitamins and minerals, we get a lot of inquiries from parents who are concerned about the manner in which these ingredients are sourced, which chemicals are used to extract them, and whether they might be harmful to their baby's health. In general, vitamins and minerals will be safe, but we find it more compelling when a baby formula manufacturer indicates how they sourced certain ingredients such as fatty acids, and prebiotics and probiotics. Another concern is some pesky artificial ingredients that still show up in organic products, such as sodium selenate, taurine, docosahexaenoic acid, arachidonic acid, calcium chloride, choline bitartrate, cyanocobalamin, L-carnitine, lutein, cholecalciferol, inositol, beta-carotene, and biotin. While likely not dangerous, it is concerning that these synthetic ingredients are present (in very low quantity) in many organic products. A good example of a baby formula that hits a lot of these negative spots is the Gerber Good Start formula, which is based on whey protein concentrate and contains palm olein, corn maltodextrin, choline bitartrate, and several other ingredients you should try to avoid.
The Worst Baby Formula Ingredients: Most of the really bad stuff is no longer present in baby formulas These include sucrose, dioxins, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, corn maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified soy, melamine. Recent news has also demonstrated that as much as 80% of baby formulas contain toxins and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and acrylamide, giving us some motivation for continuing to pursue organic baby formula options!