What’s in your baby’s formula? Part I: Macronutrients
3 ingredients to know
By Risa Schulman, PhD You scoop, you pour, you shake. But what’s actually in that nutrient-packed white powder? For some parents who combo feed or formula feed exclusively, infant formula is an important first food. It is mostly made of ingredients you recognize including cow's milk and plant-based oils. It is also supplemented with a whole host of nutrients mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure baby grows well. This 2-part series will help demystify what’s in baby’s formula. In this first part of the series, we will take a peek at the major components – that’s the majority of ingredients in infant formula, called macronutrients, that fuel baby’s amazing healthy growth and development in the first year of life. In part 2, we’ll look at the micronutrients – all those minerals and vitamins, plus additional components like DHA - that make up the less than 1% of ingredients section you see on the product label. Infant formula is carefully designed after human breast milk Breast milk is entirely unique and highly specialized. It’s nature’s first perfect food that is specifically tailored to baby’s needs. And while nothing can be entirely identical to nature’s wonder formula, infant formulas are carefully modeled after the nutrients in breast milk to ensure baby grows well. Because babies’ brains and bodies are growing so quickly in the first year, they require high levels of carbohydrates and fats, and to a lesser extent, protein. These three components form the critical foundation of all infant formulas. Carbohydrates fuel your baby’s incredible growth Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the brain, which is growing leaps and bounds during that first year (and important for all those first milestones!) Carbs make up 40-45% of a baby’s total calories. In infant formula, carbohydrates can come in the form of cow’s milk lactose or corn-derived sugars like corn syrup solids, glucose syrup solids or maltodextrin. While all these types of carbohydrates provide baby with the fuel to grow, lactose is the main carbohydrate found in breast milk. This is why some formulas provide carbohydrates only in the form of lactose, which is also now available as an organic option. Fats are another powerful source of calories Baby’s need for calories is so great, it exceeds the capacity of their tiny stomachs! Enter fat, a much-needed calorie powerhouse for infants. It’s a super-concentrated source of energy for baby: a given amount of fat has more calories than the same amount of carbohydrate or protein. Breast milk contains about 50% fat. Formula provides these fats in the form of a plant-based oil blend which is a combination of palm oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, soy oil and coconut oil, adjusted to provide the ideal fat ratio to more closely mimic that of breast milk. Proteins provide the building blocks for growth Remember in biology class learning about amino acids as the building blocks of life? Well, protein provides those amino acids - the necessary building blocks for baby’s growth and development. Breast milk contains two protein sources: whey and casein. Whey is more abundant in breast milk, and is also more easily digested by babies. Formulas provide protein in the form of whey protein concentrate and/or cow’s milk. However, straight cow’s milk has more casein than whey and contains too much protein for babies under 12 months. Therefore the whey to casein ratio in the cow’s milk is rebalanced in infant formula so that it is easier on baby’s tummy. For babies with extra-sensitive digestion, special formulations are available. Now you know what makes up the majority of formula in your baby’s bottle: carbs, fats and protein! The remaining portion includes all those minerals, vitamins and other important nutrients like DHA that some formulas include. Find out why these are important for baby in Part 2! To learn more about the ingredients in Plum’s Organic Infant Formula, check out our formula ingredients page. About Risa Schulman, PhD:Drawing on 18 years of experience working in the functional food and dietary supplement space, Risa leads Tap~Root consulting where she is able to expertly combine the worlds of functional health and ingredients in order to advise on products for better health. She is a frequent contributor to the Nutrition Business Journal, New Hope IdeaXchange and Natural Products Insider among other publications. In addition, she is published in various scientific journals including Pediatric Research, Neurobiology of Disease and Journal of Urology.
1Infant Formula Guidance Documents and Regulatory Information. FDA.
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