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To the question of is organic formula better than regular formula?  It may be said that the answer is not clear cut. Now, it may seem as if this is a ‘getaway’ answer, saying something without saying anything but it’s not. In actuality, saying there is no clear cut answer is the truth. 

Organic is in and more and more it may seem that companies are finding reasons to add ‘organic’ to their label. Although with good reasoning. However, the result of this then, is that some consumers don’t even bother to read the list ingredients. 

As a consumer, you should feel empowered to actually read the list of ingredients in your baby’s formula. You shouldn’t shy away from going a bit more in-depth.  

To support this, this article will break down exactly why the answer isn’t clear cut when it comes to answering the popular question ‘Is Organic Formula better than regular formula’. In doing this, we will explain what organic means. We will also get into the nutrient profile of baby formula and see if there are any differences across formulas.  

What does organic mean? 

According to the USDA Certified, Organic foods mean that the ingredients used are grown and processed in line with the federal guidelines. These guidelines speak to the quality of soil, animal rearing practices, use of additives, practices, and products used to control weeds and pests. Organic means natural without-bio or mechanical farming.  Organic labels may differ. There are a few classes of organic. According to the USDA some of them are: 

‘100 percent organic’ -Products that bear this label must be 100 percent organic ingredients with the exception of natural substances such as water and salt. Can use USDA organic seal.

‘Organic’- Products that bear this label must contain 95 percent organic ingredients with the exception of water and salt. The ‘5%’ must only be used if organic products are not available. Can use USDA organic seal.

‘Made with organic ___’- Products that bear that label must contain 70 % organic ingredients. Cannot use USDA organic seal. 

As you can see, a label bearing organic does not directly relate to the nutrient profile of your formula. What it does, however, is it shows that the product was produced in a way that reduces your baby’s possible exposure to harmful chemicals and the like. It means that companies limit the use of or do not use certain conventional pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. 

Organic practices are more attuned with natural and well-living, in hopes of eradicating the use of harmful substances that may cause harm in the long run. If this is your stance as well, then an organic formula may be right for you. However, don’t stop at the label, let’s continue on to the ingredients and nutrient profile. 

Formula Nutrients

Regardless of organic or non-organic, brand name or generic what we know for sure is that every infant formula that is marketed for distribution with the US must meet the specific nutrient regulations as provided by the FDA. These regulations provide a minimum amount of specified nutrients that do not exceed the maximum. 

The FDA states that “these nutrient specifications include minimum amounts for 29 nutrients and maximum amounts for 9 of those nutrients.” 

This is also supported by the NIH who states that “adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is essential to ensure the growth, health, and development of children to their full potential”. And, that is what’s most important. The most important thing is ensuring that your baby is getting all the nutrients they need. 

Possible Nutrients to look out for: 

Vitamins: 

  • Vitamin A: This helps to support the immune system and vision. 
  • B vitamins: This helps to change food into energy.  
  • Vitamin C: This supports growth and helps to repair body tissues, it also helps to protect the baby’s cells from damage. 
  • Vitamin D: This helps the baby to absorb calcium and supports strong bones. 
  • Vitamin E: This helps to support the immune system and blood flow.
  • Vitamin K: This helps with the building of strong bones and muscles. 

Minerals: 

  • Calcium: This is important for growing strong bones and teeth.
  • Zinc: This helps the baby to develop a sense of taste and smell as well as it helps with growth and development. 
  • Iron- Iron is a very important part of baby formula and this is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most infant formulas must meet the minimum requirements for iron unless they are within the exempt category. It is important to check product levels to verify this,  a formula low in iron will not be beneficial to your baby. 

Other: DHA and ARA 

Some may say that your baby formula must contain the fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid). According to the FDA, these fatty acids can be found in some algae and fungi, eggs, fish oil, and in human breast milk. Many manufacturers make supplements of these fatty acids and some brands include this in their infant formula. 

As for the effects of this fatty acid, the FDA states that some studies cite that “fatty acids in infant formulas may have positive effects on visual function and neural development over the short term. Other studies in infants do not confirm these benefits.” 

There is also evidence citing that breast-fed babies display higher levels of DHA and ARA than infants who use formulas that do not contain those fatty acids. Some studies have also confirmed that the addition of these fatty acids often results in a positive outcome. However, the source that these fatty acids are extracted from may be questionable (algae and fungi). 

Based on the research available the need for this is your personal preference of the evidence available or belief. Being that the results of the research appear to be evenly mixed. Ultimately this decision is yours to make once the research satisfies you. 

Ingredients you may want to Watch Out for 

Corn Syrup – is a type of sweetener made up of glucose that is used in many products including baby formula. Corn syrup or corn syrup solids should not be confused with high fructose corn syrup as they are different. 

Besides being used as sweetener, many companies who produce infant formula use corn syrup because it is said to be more easily digestible than other forms of carbohydrates such as sucrose and lactose. As well as, glucose is an important energy source.

Lactose is the carbohydrate found in breast milk, cow’s milk, and other natural sources. Whereas sucrose (table sugar) is good, however, it typically gets broken down into glucose and mostly fructose (sugar from fruits such as honey) which is often too sweet. 

The issue with corn syrup is that it is artificial and processed. It is not a natural source of sugar like that found naturally in cow’s milk or breast milk (lactose) and so for that reason, you can beware of this product if you aim to reduce processed unnatural food items.  

High Fructose Corn Syrup is corn syrup that has been processed until the glucose turns into fructose, which again is too sweet and commonly used for sweet soft drinks. 

It may seem as if all baby formulas contain some form of corn syrup but if you look a bit harder you will be able to find one that doesn’t. 

Organic but Not Grass-fed Cow’s Milk 

When it comes to cow’s milk you will typically see their main kinds: Conventional, Organic, and Grass-fed. And, the differences between them actually matter more than you think. 

Grass-fed Cows Milk comes from cows who eat a grass-based diet. These cows graze the pastures until the winter months. During the winter, the cows are kept in a barn and are fed cut grass. Grass-fed cows milk has been said to have more omega-3 fat content than conventional milk. 

Organic Cow’s Milk usually comes from cows who feed on grass in a pasture 20-30% of the time. But, eat a mostly grain-diet that consists of organically produced grains. That is a feed free from artificial pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the like. 

Conventionally produced Cow’s milk comes from cows that feed on a mostly grain-diet and graze the grass rarely. These feeds typically consist of grains, corn, and soy. According to the research cows that produce conventional milk are typically barn-raised. 

Soy Infant Formulas 

Soy Infant Formulas are often sold in organic and non-organic forms as well. This type of formula is typically used in cases of allergy to cow’s milk or vegan and other dietary preferences. 

Because soy is a crop, you may want to choose an organic soy formula, as conventional crops are typically sprayed with artificial pesticides. 

The takeaway

When it really comes down to ‘Is Organic Formula better than regular formula?’ The research points us to this answer – An Organic infant formula may be the best choice for you if you can afford the possibly higher price point and the product contains ingredients that you are comfortable with. 

As you can see there are clear differences between organic cow’s milk and conventional cow’s milk but grass-fed is also a class above both. 

Along similar lines, if you cannot afford an organic formula or perhaps you are not comfortable with the ingredients in an organic formula then choose a non-organic formula that has the ingredients and price point that works for you. The most important thing is that you do not cause yourself too much stress. 

What really matters is the nutrients (which the FDA strictly regulates)  that your baby is getting and your peace of mind.

Bridget Reed
Author

Bridget Reed is an experienced writer, editor, and SEO content manager. She graduated with her bachelor’s in business management and organizational leadership and is a proud mom of three.

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