by Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN
Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN is renowned for helping people of all ages embrace a healthier lifestyle through nutrition and fitness counseling. As a Licensed Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer, her smart and sensible approach to pediatrics, weight loss, sports nutrition, allergies, cardiovascular health, pre/post natal, and other areas of clinical and lifestyle nutrition has resonated with hundreds of people across the United States. Robin received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Cornell and Columbia Universities.
My Search for the Healthiest Baby Formula
A Personal Note from this Pediatric Registered Dietitian and Mom
When I began working as a Registered Dietitian in Pediatric Nutrition over 15 years ago, we, of course, were taught, and shared with patients, that breast milk was the best, healthiest option for feeding babies. When that wasn’t possible, sufficient, or babies were being weaned, I knew that there were a variety of infant and toddler formulas available. We could recommend:
- Pre-term infant formula: higher calories and minerals for infants born early
- Standard term infant formula: intact milk protein
- Gentle/sensitive formulas: whey protein in milk partially broken down
- Soy-based formulas: for those with milk intolerance, noting that over 50% of infants who don’t tolerate dairy, also do not tolerate soy protein
- Hydrolyzed formulas: proteins are mostly, but not completely broken down
- Elemental formulas: proteins completely broken down for severe milk allergies
At this point in my career, I did not study the ingredients of each, but rather selected the best option available to best aid in tolerance, intake and growth for the child. There always seemed to be one that worked well…..at least well enough. The biggest problem with the hydrolyzed and elemental formulas was that they smelled and tasted terrible, and babies often refused to drink them.
Over 8 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first baby, I began to examine the healthiest baby formula options more in depth. I discovered that not much had changed in this industry, except that there were a couple of organic options. After discussing with a colleague, I decided on a formula. When my son was less than a week old, this product was recalled due to high arsenic levels. Plus, it seemed to upset his stomach. When my baby nurse suggested a non-organic, but “gentle” formula, I (reluctantly) agreed. I disliked that it had corn syrup (processed inflammatory sugar) as one of the main ingredients, but I was a new mom, overwhelmed, and figured she had so much experience and knew what she was talking about. Plus, my pediatrician agreed as well. A few weeks later, I just went back to the only other organic option on the market, and my son seemed to tolerate it well enough. It was the best I could find at that time.
When it came time to find the healthiest baby formula for my second child, almost 2.5 years later, I become aware that there were some European products that had better ingredients. However, it was pretty difficult and expensive to get these in the U.S. back then. I took comfort in the fact that my baby would be able to get great nutrition in the form of real food within about 4-5 months, and wean off formula totally at 1 year. But all I could think was that I would love to create a new healthy baby formula myself. Why hadn’t someone come up with a better alternative yet? Aren’t the infant and toddler stages the most important as they are developing and growing so rapidly? Why wouldn’t everyone want offer the best possible nutrients to this group, if/when/after breast milk was not an option?
My children are now in elementary school and the infant/toddler formula industry is still, in my opinion extremely limited. I was thrilled to hear about Else Nutrition, and flattered to consult on their timely products. Formulation of plant-based products is way overdue. In the wake of a huge movement towards plant-based and plant-forward diets, due to increased research and interest, Else is a wonderful product to support infant and toddler Nutrition. Read on to learn about all of its positive attributes.
Benefits of Else Plant-Based Formula Alternative
Choose Else Nutrition because it is:
- Organic: This means that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has determined that the ingredients in this healthy baby formula are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides. Organic practices result in enhanced soil and water quality and, in general, more overall sustainable farming (1). Translation: Organic foods are beneficial for our environment. Research has shown that organic produce is more nutritious: It has higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of toxic metals (such as Cadmium). Increased exposure to pesticides has been shown to increase risk for ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and some cancers (2). The effects of chemicals used in conventional farming may be more detrimental to the small developing brains and bodies of babies/children than to those of adults.
- Glyphosate-free: Yes, the USDA Organic Label is important, however, it may not be enough today. It ensures that crops are GMO-free, but this doesn’t mean a product is 100% free of pesticides. Glyphosate is an herbicide (pesticide) that is carcinogenic (can cause cancer). Final organic food products are often NOT tested. The USDA does not check for glyphosate residue. The buckwheat and almond sources in Else formulas are glyphosate-free.
- Made from clean ingredients: Else formulas are simple and pure. Almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca make up about 92% of the product. The ingredient list is short and easy to understand. There are no added unhealthy oils, inflammatory sugar/corn syrups, artificial sweeteners, or gums/stabilizers/fillers than can upset small bellies. For moms looking to supplement breast milk or wean their children after 1 year of age, it may seem that there are many dairy-free milk substitutes and products on the market today; however, none are quite right for little developing brains and bodies. They are not nearly as nutritionally dense as breast milk (or full-fat dairy milk). They may be low-fat, low in protein, and other nutrients, and often contain added sugars and fillers as mentioned above. They are simply NOT appropriate, and in fact, unhealthy as a foundation for a toddler’s diet. This is especially true for vegans and/or those who truly cannot tolerate dairy protein.
- Pleasantly mild in flavor: When babies are weaned off breast milk and/or need a supplement or substitute for human or cow’s milk, they are more likely to accept a drink/formula that tastes great (they are indeed little humans). Other formulas may not be as mild. In fact, the hydrolyzed/elemental formulas have a reputation of smelling bad and tasting worse. Such formulas may be indicated for little ones with dairy allergies and intolerances, and digested well; however, if the child will not drink due to the smell/taste, this can be an issue.
- Vegan/Plant-based: In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a huge buzz surrounding “plant-based” and “plant-forward” nutrition. This is not new news to us health professionals. We have always known that a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fiber, and healthy fats were integral for good health. The research is finally catching up. We now know that our microbiome (the collection of microorganisms-bacteria, fungi, viruses-that live in/on the human body) can benefit our health, especially immunity, aging, digestion, metabolism, mood and mental health. We can best benefit our microbiome by consuming a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods. Why not start our little ones on such a diet with a plant-based formula?! Research shows that children on a predominantly plant-based diet have increased microbial biodiversity and richness (3).
- Dairy-Free and Soy-free: Infants and toddlers with food allergies, intolerances, and/or sensitivities simply cannot tolerate many formulas on the market today. The incidence of food allergies is on the rise in children and adults. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.”(4) Cow’s milk is the most allergenic food for in children in the U.S. (followed by peanuts, eggs and soy). Most of the formulas on the market are based on cow’s milk.
Else’s products can be tolerated by children with dairy and soy allergies and sensitivities. Anaphylaxis due to almond or buckwheat allergy is very rare (<1% and 1% of anaphylaxis cases in children respectively) with numbers well below egg, wheat, fish, goat/sheep’s milk, lentils, cashew, and peanut.
Also, just as an update and reminder about almonds: recent research demonstrates that delaying introduction of potential allergenic foods (wheat, dairy, eggs, fish and nuts) may actually increase the risk of food allergies and/ or eczema. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI) now recommends they be introduced without delay, and not wait up to 1-3 years of age, as advised in the past (5).
- Nutrient composition matches breast milk: We all know that breast milk is the gold standard for feeding infants. However, if and when it is not possible, and/or a child requires supplementation or is being weaned, Else Nutrition provides a formula with nutrients that match that of breast milk. The macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are the same in Else formula-even though Else is a vegan product. Moms and caregivers can be confident that their babies are being nourished while they slowly learn how to eat solids.
- Created and supported by the best team: These formulas were created by leaders in the infant and toddler nutrition industry. Their formulation and ingredients have been tested, approved, and supported by pediatricians, gastroenterologists, registered dietitians, and MOMS and DADS!
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.