Infant formula is a popular choice for feeding infants, but the ingredients’ list can be somewhat unwieldy. Some ingredients like dehydrated milk and vegetable oil are straightforward enough, but what about all those unpronounceable ones? This article explains some of these baby formula ingredients.
There are a number of different brands and types of infant formula, but many of them have very similar ingredients. It is very common for parents to feed formula to their infants, as an alternative to breast feeding, in addition to occasional breast feeding, or after a few weeks or months of exclusive breast feeding. However, infant formula packages often have long lists of ingredients, many of which have complicated chemical names that a very few can clearly understand. Here is some useful information about these ingredients.
Galacto-oligosaccharide is an unwieldy word, but the compound it refers to is commonly found in baby formula. Some brands of formula explain that galacto-oligosaccharides are a type of prebiotic, but for many people this information isn’t very helpful. You may have heard of probiotics, like those in yogurt. The word ‘probiotic’ literally means “good life”, and probiotics are bacteria that have health benefits. Similarly, the word ‘prebiotic’ literally means “before life”. In other words, prebiotics help stimulate the growth of bacteria in the digestive system by creating conditions that are favorable to their growth. In case of galacto-oligosaccharides, this occurs because the compound is not digestible, and acts as a source of food for beneficial bacteria. Polydextrose falls into the prebiotic category, as well. Both prebiotic and probiotic compounds are commonly used in the formula.
Arachidonic acid is present in several popular infant formulas. What exactly is arachidonic acid, and why is it important for babies? In general, arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid. It is found in animal products like meat and eggs. In baby formula, it is usually derived from a type of fungus. Arachidonic acid is important for the development of brain and muscle tissues, and it is included in baby formulas to support this development. Most people obtain arachidonic acid from their diets, or it is synthesized from linoleic acid. Apart from omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3s are also used in infant formulas.
You must have heard of sodium chloride (table salt) or potassium chloride (a common salt substitute), but what is choline chloride? Sometimes known as lipotril or hepacholine, choline chloride is one of the most obscure ingredients in baby formula. This compound is commonly used as a growth stimulant in chicken feed, and is added to formula because choline is an essential nutrient for humans. It helps in liver function and cell formation. Human breast milk contains a high amount of choline, and choline chloride is a nutrient that is easy to add to the formula. Thus, choline chloride helps baby formula simulate the nutritional content of breast milk.
Ferrous sulfate is less obscure than some of the other ingredients mentioned here, but some people still may not know what it is. Basically, ferrous sulfate is a compound of iron and is easy to manufacture and use. The iron content of infant formula comes from ferrous sulfate, which is the same compound used to treat iron deficiencies in anemic patients. Although high doses of ferrous sulfate can cause constipation, it’s not a concern with infant formula as other formula ingredients, including prebiotics (explained above), act as anti-constipation agents. Additionally, most formulas contain only enough iron to keep the babies healthy.
Other Common Ingredients
Apart from the ingredients mentioned above, here are some more, which add to the nutritious value of the formula.
▶ Skimmed Cow’s Milk: Most of the infant formulas are milk-based. Cow milk is modified to match the composition of breast milk.
▶ Vegetable Oils: Vegetable oils with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are included in the formula. This helps in the eye and brain development of the baby.
▶ Whey Protein: Whey protein is one of the best and very high-quality proteins for infants. It is easy to digest and it provides nutrition.
▶ Nucleotides: Nucleotides are the basic units of nucleic acids. Infant formulas containing nucleotides help in boosting the growth and development of babies.
▶ Soy Protein: This is recommended for infants who cannot be given milk-based formula for health concerns like lactose intolerance or other reasons. It is advisable to consult a pediatrician before using it.
Is Baby Formula Safe?
Some people express concerns about the safety of baby formulas, claiming that they have artificial ingredients. The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding was published by WHO and UNICEF in 2003, which stated that processed food products when sold or distributed, should meet the standards set by Codex Alimentarius. In case of any concerns about the ingredients of an infant formula, it’s best to consult your pediatrician. However, the fact remains that breast feeding is the healthiest and the safest choice, and has long-term health benefits.