By Markita Lewis, MS, RD
Markita is a clinical dietitian with a passion for the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating. She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition.
If you are seeking a plant-based baby formula for your child, you will likely find a lot of soy-based baby formulas to choose from, but there are reasons you may choose to avoid soy formula as well. Thankfully, there are nutritiously dense, soy-free formulas available that can meet all the needs of your growing child. You just need to know what to look for to find the right one. So, is soy-free formula good for babies? Find out everything you need to know with our comprehensive guide below.
What Is Soy-Free Formula?
Soy is one of the most popular ingredients in non-dairy baby formula because it is a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Many parents choose soy baby formula because they want to feed their child a plant-based diet, or because their child has a milk protein allergy or are lactose intolerant. However, soy can have its own side-effects including allergies and exposure to GMOs. For these reasons and others, it is essential for families to have access to a soy-free powdered formula as well.
Soy-free formula is any formula free from both soy protein and soybean oil. Instead, it contains protein from other sources such as animal milk or plants. Soy-free powdered formula is good for babies. In fact, it can be much better for babies who can’t tolerate any kind of soy product, are premature, or are experiencing negative side-effects from consuming soy formula, which can be difficult to digest.
What Makes A Soy-Free Formula Good?
With any baby formula, soy-free or not, it is important to have high quality ingredients, sustainable and clean production processes, and adequate nutrients. To find a soy free formula that is safe for your child, consider these key components:
The Right Nutrients
In order to meet the gold-standard required of all baby formulas, a formula must contain the proper amount of macronutrients and micronutrients necessary for a child’s growth and development. To reach this threshold, formulas are often created with cow’s milk or soy protein and fortified with nutrients. However, protein, fat, and carbohydrates can come from other sources as well.
For instance, in Else’s formula, the necessary macronutrients are sourced from almonds, a great source of protein and fat, buckwheat, a high quality protein source, and tapioca, and easy-to-digest form of carbohydrates.
In order to adhere to the strict guidelines for levels of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that the FDA has placed on infant formula, many formulas include oils and additives that are highly processed or genetically modified. These ingredients, while they may provide the ample macronutrients and micronutrients for growth, can cause digestive issues.
Examples of unclean ingredients include corn maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, palm oil, DHA and ARA. Research has found all of these ingredients can negatively affect a baby’s development and health.
To simplify your search for a formula made with clean ingredients, look for a formula designated with “Clean Label”. Clean Label is a consumer-driven movement that focuses on food and ingredient transparency. A food is considered Clean Label if it contains only natural, familiar, and simple ingredients that are easy to recognize, understand, and pronounce. This means there are no artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals in the food.
In addition to being designated “clean label”, it is important to seek out a formula made with organic ingredients. When a product is USDA certified organic, it means it is grown and processed in a way that meets the federal guidelines for soil quality, treatment of animals, pest control, and the use of additives. Organic farmers and food producers use natural farming practices as well as no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
For multi-ingredient foods, such as baby formula, in addition to the organic certification of each ingredient, these foods must not contain artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, or GMOs in order to be labeled as USDA certified organic.
If you are concerned about the potential of pesticides and herbicides in your baby formula it is best to opt for an organic product.
In addition to what the formula is made of, how it is made is extremely important. Sustainable processes ensure that what you are feeding your child isn’t negatively affecting the world they’ll grow up in. The list of ingredients in a formula can help you determine whether or not it is sustainably made. For instance, formula made from cow’s milk relies on the dairy industry, which has a heavy carbon footprint.
Almonds, on the other hand, which are the primary ingredient in Else’s formulas for infants and toddlers come from almond trees, which require less water to grow than cows. It is estimated that almonds have a carbon footprint that is 10 times smaller than that of the dairy milk industry. Moreover, California almond farmers have reduced the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33% over the course of 20 years. By 2025, the California almond community has committed to reducing the amount of water to grow a pound of almonds by an additional 20%.
Why Go Soy-Free
We have discussed what makes a formula good, soy-free or not, but why choose a non soy baby formula in the first place? These are some of the most influential reasons many parents choose soy-free formulas for their children.
Most Soy Products are Genetically-Modified
Soybeans are one of the most commonly genetically modified crops. When a crop is genetically modified, its DNA is altered in a way that cannot occur naturally. This unnatural change in the crop can actually cause disruptions in many enzymes that perform basic bodily functions such as digestion when it is consumed. While much more research is needed surrounding GMOs, the potential harm may not be worth the risk. For this reason, many parents choose to avoid soy baby formula.
Most Soy Formulas Have High Sugar Content
To provide the necessary carbohydrates required of all infant formulas, soy-based formula is most often formulated with corn syrup solids and sucrose. For parents who are looking to avoid these ingredients as well as the high sugar content they contribute to, soy-based formula is not the best option.
Soy Formulas Contain A High Level of Aluminum
Compared to breast milk and cow's milk-based baby formulas, soy-protein formulas have relatively high levels of aluminum, a heavy metal. Exposure to aluminum can lead to reduced renal function and reduced bone mineralization in preterm babies. While exposure is not assumed to be a risk for full term babies, no traces of heavy metal are good.
A Soy-Free Formula You Can Trust
Avoid GMOs, traces of heavy metals, and high sugar content by opting for a soy-free formula. For an option you can trust is good for your child, look to Else. Else’s nutrition drink for toddlers is a completely safe and beneficial nutritional formula for your child. It features all the right nutrients sourced from whole, clean, and organic ingredients and is produced through a sustainable manufacturing process.
The Right Nutrients
Else was designed to provide complete nutrition, with nutrients and vitamins to support growth and development. Even as a plant based product, Else offers a full, essential amino acid profile typically only found in animal protein. It is also an excellent source of essential micronutrients such as the B vitamins, vitamins E and C, calcium, folate, magnesium, and zinc.
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, it is especially important for children to get calories from fat in the first two years of life for growth and brain development. This is why Else infant formula (for the first year of life) and Else toddler formula (for children over 12 months old) both are made with almonds, which are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. In addition to ample amounts of fat, though, Else formula contains all the right protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from buckwheat flour and tapioca maltodextrin.
Clean and Organic Ingredients
Else Nutrition formulas are all considered both Clean Label and USDA certified organic. At Else, this is a top priority, which is why only whole plants sourced from organic farms are used to develop Else’s toddler formula. Additionally, Else does not use any artificial or synthetic flavorings or colorings in its products. You can rest assured you’re getting the cleanest ingredients the industry has to offer.
In addition to clean ingredients, Else takes pride in clean manufacturing processes. Else formula is created through a unique, science-backed and sustainable process which transforms whole plants into digestible ingredients through the cleanest, natural process. Because it utilizes whole ingredients, the process is less taxing on the environment and requires now heavy chemicals to be completed.
If you are looking for a formula that is good for your child, look to Else. Nowhere else will you find a real alternative for your babies and toddlers that has minimal ingredients, maximum nutrition, and tastes good. It’s the soy-free, dairy-free option vegan, eco-conscious, and health-conscious parents are seeking.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.