This entry has been edited for correctness and updated with additional information in red.
Q: How do we choose the Healthiest follow up milk?
A common starter would be to choose from the dazzling array of followup formula milk in our supermarket.
(I previously shared about whether follow up milk beyond 12 months is necessary. Read here to find out more).
Q: What do they have in common?
I looked at the ingredient list of toddler follow up milk, and noticed that it has the following ingredients:
Cow’s milk formula:
Reconstituted milk + sugar + vegetable oil + fortifications + misc (e.g. artificial flavors)
Formula milk was first invented in the 18th century for emergency use. The Formula Milk Industry began aggressive advertising in the 1970s. Since then, it has evolved a long way, as researchers are try their best to make it as close to human milk as they can. Sometimes, simple is best though. Let’s study some ingredients using a sample label below.
Lactose (Milk sugar)
About 65% of the population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. While lactose intolerance is not dangerous, the symptoms can be distressing. Common reactions include flatulence, bloating, watery stools (Diarrhea).
Sugar (aka Maltodextrin/ lactose/ sucrose/ GOS/ FOS)
Sugar is one of the first few ingredients, often added to enhance the taste of milk powder. Sugar is okay if it is one of the last few ingredients, however, first few constituents means that it could be added in large amounts. Excessive sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, diabetic heart disease. With modern day diet, food is easily high in sugar. Our bread contains sugar. Outside food often has sugar as an added condiment. Baby food, which are made from concentrates are also a rich source of sugar.
We might be feeding our kids more sugar than we think…
If we use the sample below, neglecting milk sugar, the total sugar our kids take per serving is 14g, or easily 3.5 teaspoons.
How much milk do we give our kids daily?
This is also one of the first few ingredients that goes into formula milk. It is there to make up for the fat content in human milk. It is a likely cause of “heatiness“/ (leading to constipation) for some babies on formula milk. If you draw a parallel, we sometimes experience this too when we eat too much fried food 🙂
Contrary to popular beliefs, vegetable oils are high in calorific values and can be pro-inflammatory when consumed in excess. This is because many vegetable oils are imbalanced in Omega-6/ Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Our ideal Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio is 4:1 to 1:1, and too much of Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory. Hence, the type of vegetable oil we consume is also important.
In the above example, Safflower Oil has an Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio of 132.5:1! (Source: USDA Nutrient Database) Recent studies have linked inflammations to allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions such as Eczema, Irritable Bowel Syndrome etc.
In the label above, plant Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid): Omega 3 (Assuming it is Linolenic Acid) ratio is about 10.4:1. The rest of the fats, after accounting for long chain polyunsaturated fats, is presumably saturated fats from the other oils.
Formula Milk had been formulated based on the Omega components of the breast milk in US women. A study has indicated that the breastmilk Omega 6: Omega 3 of women living in non-industrialized countries is balanced at 4:1 ratio, which was closer to the recommended ideal ratio, compared to US women which had a Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio of 10:1. We should take note that a mom’s diet can profoundly impact her breast milk composition.
If our nutrition had been better, why are chronic inflammatory conditions getting more prevalent instead?
Perhaps it is high time the formula milk industry thoroughly review breast milk across non-industrialized nations and think about how they can make their products better.
Is it a coincidence that conditions such as Eczema are becoming more prevalent nowadays compared to the past?
Below are the Omega ratios of common vegetable oils.
Vitamins and Minerals
The extensive list of vitamins and minerals might look impressive, but let’s consider how these antioxidants are produced. These vitamins and Minerals are extracts, which mean that they could have been synthetically manufactured from scratch, or extracted and purified from a source. Either way, vitamins and nutrients do not exist as individual components in nature. For example, Folic Acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9, which exists in nature as folate in food such as Broccoli. Folate is converted into Folic Acid by the body.
Since these components are “fortifications” to enhance the formula milk quality, the concentration are man’s best guess of what a baby requires. I would have concerns about the purity (how they have been produced/ extracted) of these components. Since they are isolated, they will also lack the enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, and many other transporters that work together to enable this vitamin to be easily absorbed and utilized by the body.
Do you take multi-vitamins? Studies have shown that long term consumption of synthetic vitamins can increase the risk of certain conditions. E.g. Folic Acid to Colon Cancer. (Source: Folic Acid and Colon Cancer, American Cancer Society: Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?)
High Beta Carotene (that gives carrot its color) intakes have been linked to increase risk of lung cancer. If I overdose on carrots, I might turn yellow for a couple of days, but it is quickly reversible.
Why not get these antioxidants naturally from a nutrient rich and diverse diet instead?
Natural food has its own balance of nutrients and in natural food form, it can be easily absorbed by the body and converted when required.
Depending on the source, some people, e.g. vegetarians might not be able to take fish based DHA. If we think about it, the fish also
makes gets its own DHA from eating plants/ plankton in their diet 🙂
If a fish can do it, so can humans! Be it plant or fish based DHA (Fish based DHA also has its concerns pertaining to heavy metal impurities/ toxins), the best DHA for human use will always be human produced DHA, just like fish
produced assimilated DHA is best for the fish. Our body is capable of making our own DHA, if we follow a nutrient rich diet. It is better, because our body knows best how much we need. It is better, because it does not need further purification as opposed to it coming from animal organs such as the liver.
Artificial Flavor and color
Why is this even present in the first place?
Soy protein isolate
Often seen in soy formula, this is a substitute for cow’s milk, as shown below. As it is an extract, we are missing out on the all rounded nutrients that we can get from eating whole food, in this case whole soy. There are also concerns related to the extraction method and dosage on long term health.
Soy Milk Formula: Different base protein with similar fortifications
Soy protein isolate + sugar + vegetable oil + fortifications + misc (e.g. artificial flavors)
Q: A Healthier Alternative
Fresh is best! Get your nutrients from a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
However, sometimes it might not be that practical, we would need to look for alternatives that are as close to whole food as possible.
Consider the side by side comparison pertaining to soy, where one of which is:
- Soy protein isolate + extracts of vitamins & minerals vs
- whole soy bean + whole fruits and vegetables
For the same price, I would gladly go for #2.
I do not have a comparison for cow’s milk as I have not found a good alternative (free of enrichment) that is as close to nature as possible, other than possibly chilled fresh milk from grass fed cows. I also minimize the intake of animal based milk in favor of whole plant food.
In looking for a healthier formulated milk, remember: Less is more, unless your baby requires certain unique formula due to deficiency or medical condition.
In looking for the healthier choice, look out for ingredients that are as wholesome as possible. If we are able to re-create the formulation on our own (e.g. by gathering the said ingredients on the label from natural food in our market), this is as best an alternative as we can get!
Let me know your thoughts or if you have any recommendations.
We are what we eat.
Cheers to a larger life!