By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She specializes in writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics.
While it has been ingrained in mothers everywhere that breast is best, breastfeeding isn’t an available option or a sustainable one for everyone. As a mother, you should never feel any shame or guilt if you decide what is best for you and your baby is formula. There are wonderful baby formulas available that are designed to mimic the nutritional density of breastmilk as closely as possible. However, there are also plenty of formulas that contain synthetic, genetically modified, or just low quality ingredients that are anything but wonderful to feed your growing child.
While the additional ingredients and nutritional components vary, most baby formulas are based with either an animal’s milk protein or soy protein. If you are familiar with the reasons to avoid soy-based baby formula, you may be interested in non-soy formula options. We have put together a list of what to look for in any baby formula and answer the question “is soy-free formula good for babies?” to help you understand what ingredients you want and others you don’t.
Non-Soy Baby Formula Options
When it comes to non-soy baby formula options there are a few. The majority of non-soy baby formula is made from cow’s milk protein, however, there are also goat’s milk formulas and protein hydrolysate formulas. In addition to these major categories, there are a few other plant-based formulas available on the market. Read on to discover if choosing one of these soy-free formula options is right for your baby.
Cow’s Milk Formula
Cow’s milk based formula is the most abundant kind on the market. However, a cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common allergies in infants. Infants can also have a lactose intolerance, which may cause complications when consuming cow milk protein. While it only affects 2-3% of all babies, the symptoms can be serious. If your child doesn’t suffer from a cow’s milk allergy, and you’re not averse to animal products, this type of infant formula may be right for your child.
Goat’s Milk Formula
Goat’s milk more closely resembles breast milk than cow’s milk so many families who choose to avoid traditional dairy products because of the hormones and antibiotics often consumed by cows opt for goat’s milk formula. However, goat’s milk contains only slightly less lactose than cow’s milk and many of the same proteins that can cause allergic reactions. For babies with a severe sensitivity to lactose or a cow’s milk allergy, goat’s milk can still trigger unpleasant symptoms.
Protein Hydrolysate Formula
Protein hydrolysate formulas were created specifically for babies with milk and soy allergies who couldn’t stomach the traditional formulas. They are made from protein that has been broken down into smaller parts so it is able to be digested by babies who are allergic to regular cow’s milk or soy-based formulas. These formulas can be very expensive and have a strong odor.
Plant-Based Toddler Formula
For parents who want a vegan or plant-based option for their child that isn’t made from soybeans, there are other options available. Plant-based formulas are newer to the market, but can provide a cleaner, dairy-free, and soy-free alternative. One example is Else, a complete nutrition drink for toddlers made from almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca.
What To Look For in a Baby Formula
If you walk the baby formula aisle at any grocery store, you will see most of these baby formula options. The multitude of formulas and the clever marketing tactics of the companies that sell them make it difficult to determine what one is right for your child. This is why we have put together a list of everything that is important in a soy free formula.
Every mother’s fear when switching from breastmilk to formula is that their child won’t receive the nutrients they need. The first year of your child’s life is a time of rapid growth and development, so it’s crucial that the formula you feed them provides the right nutrition to support this growth. Your child will require high levels of carbohydrates and fats, and some protein during their first year of life. These three macronutrients form the foundation of all infant formulas, whether they’re derived from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or plants.
Thankfully, baby formula is highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure it provides the right nutrition. The FDA has set specific ranges for the necessary macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrate and minimum requirement concentrations of 29 essential nutrients for baby formula.
Whole Food Ingredients
Adequate amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates can be derived from a variety of sources, not all of which are good for your child. The best for any baby is more whole food ingredients. When whole foods are the primary source of macronutrients in a formula, instead of isolated parts, artificial processing methods and harsh chemicals can be avoided. Additionally, vitamins and minerals are more abundant and demonstrate increased health benefits when consumed as part of a whole food, rather than from its isolated components. While the baby formulas you’re looking at may boast complicated and lengthy ingredient labels, dissecting them is important if you want to provide the purest nutrition to your child. When possible, choose the option with the most whole food ingredients and avoid any synthetic ingredients.
Many typical baby formulas are made with synthetic and/or genetically modified ingredients. When you choose an organic formula, you can largely eliminate the risk of both synthetic ingredients and GMOs. However, just because an ingredient is organic, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. While paying attention to the “certified organic” label will help you hone in on the better baby formulas out there, you still have to pay close attention to the ingredient labels to ensure those organic ingredients are safe for you child.
Vitamins A & D
Certain vitamins are particularly important for infants to obtain in their first year of life. These include vitamins A and D, which support bone and immune health, growth, and nervous system development. As you look for these essential vitamins on the list of ingredients, be sure to avoid formulas that are 'enriched' with Vitamin A (or DHA) as these formulas often include synthetic forms of the vitamins.
What To Avoid in a Baby Formula
Knowing what to look for in a baby formula to ensure it is safe is only half the battle. Next, consider what to avoid. Sometimes it's easier to look for red flags on ingredient labels than to determine what whole foods and vitamins are present and if ingredients are organic. These are the big no-nos in non-soy baby formulas.
While the effects of genetically modified ingredients are unknown, the potential of harm may not be worth the risk for your infant. Any ingredients that are genetically modified have altered chemistry that could disrupt your child’s sensitive systems and cause digestive issues, altered immune function, poor neurological development, and more. Thankfully, any products including baby formula that contain GMOs must say so right on the product packaging, so you can easily separate formulas that contain genetically modified ingredients from those that don’t.
Baby formula will typically contain a blend of several vegetable oils because these blends mimic the fatty acids found in breast milk. However some of these oils should be avoided as they are unhealthy for anyone, especially infants, to consume. These red flag oils include high oleic safflower oil, soybean oil, and palm oil. Many are highly processed with contaminants, come from GMO sources, and can’t be properly digested.
Unfortunately, many popular baby formulas have been found to contain toxic amounts of aluminum. Heavy metals such as aluminum can increase the risk of neurological diseases and lead to reduced renal function and reduced bone mineralization in preterm babies. Unfortunately, the only way to know if a formula contains aluminum is to research whether or not it has been tested and found free from heavy metals.
A Safe Plant-Based Non-Soy Baby Formula
For a safe, plant-based non-soy formula, look to Else. Else products are different from other non-soy formulas on the market in several ways. While most infant formulas are either dairy or soy-based, Else is vegan, non-dairy, and soy-free. It is 100% organic, free of hormones, antibiotics, artificial colorings and flavors, and GMOs.
Else baby formula meets the complete nutritional requirements of your child for proper growth and development, is organic, and made from whole ingredients. All of the protein, fat, and carbohydrates found in Else formula are obtained directly from the whole plants of almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca, and there are no harmful oils or synthetic ingredients.
For parents looking to feed their toddler a nutritiously rich, plant-based formula that meets all their needs after the first year of life, Else’s Toddler Formula is a safe, soy-free option.
For every formula you consider, understanding the ingredients and the brand’s philosophy will require a bit of research but will ensure you can feed your child your formula of choice with confidence.
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.