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By Johannes Gumprecht October 04, 2022 8 min read
Reviewed by Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS
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The science of infant nutrition is continuously improving and updating, allowing for more alternative baby foods and formulas to make their way to the homes of families and into the tummies of babies all over the world. As science continues to evolve, so does the range of nutritionally complete products available that provide infants and toddlers with all of the vitamins and minerals that they need.
In recent years, many new types of formula have been introduced from goat's milk formula to soy-based formulas and more. One of the latest alternative additions to the formula market is vegan infant formula, commonly made with hydrolyzed rice protein.
Keep reading to learn more about the science behind vegan baby formula, the composition of baby formulas, and an introduction to a new product that we think you will love!
You have likely heard the term veganism circulating throughout the last few years, as many people are choosing to make lifestyle and dietary changes that limit the use and consumption of animal products.
To put it simply, those who are vegan do not eat or use animal products or animal-derived ingredients in their life as much as possible. In terms of diet, animal products can consist of milk, eggs, cheese, meat, seafood, etc... Therefore, a vegan baby formula would be just that, a formula made without the use of ingredients that come from animals.
To take it a step further, many people who take on the vegan label will make a conscious effort to avoid purchasing or using items that are tested on animals. When it comes to an organic baby formula, it would make sense to support companies that prioritize sustainability and environmental welfare, as the desire to protect our planet is a driving force for many practicing vegans.
When possible, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months. However, if this is not possible for whatever reason, you do have many formula-feeding options available that can provide complete nutrition to your little one.
When deciding if a vegan formula is a good choice for your baby, there are a few factors that we have to look at, such as the current regulations surrounding vegan baby formula and your infant's unique dietary needs.
Let's begin by looking at some of the regulations set by the European Union. In the EU there are four main protein sources allowed in infant formula. These protein sources are cow’s milk proteins, goat’s milk proteins, soy protein isolates, and hydrolyzed proteins.
In special circumstances where these proteins aren't an option due to medical reasons such as a cow's milk protein allergy, then other types of formulas may be recommended under the “foods for special medical purposes” (FSMP) category. These products may only be used under medical supervision and in cases where a change in the normal, recommended diet is not a viable option.
One of the foods in the FSMP category is hydrolyzed rice protein. This does not mean that hydrolyzed rice formulas are bad for your baby, they are just new to the market and made with more recent food technologies that need time to be studied to the extent that other infant formula ingredients have been studied.
So far studies are looking very promising, with rice protein formulas appearing to be a safe and healthy alternative formula option. Although at this time, hydrolyzed rice formulas are only being recommended as an alternative to infants with dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy.
Soy-based formulas have been the most common plant-based baby formula and vegan baby formula on the baby formula market thus far. Although keep an eye out for "plant based" or "dairy-free" labels as not all soy formulas are 100% vegan due to how certain vitamins are sourced. There have been some concerns linked to this type of formula that we will cover below.
Soy and soy formula contain Isoflavones, a compound chemically similar to estrogen. Goitrogens are soybean compounds that interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland. Cooking and heat do not disable the effect of the goitrogens.
Soy contains high levels of phytates, too. These bind with minerals like zinc, calcium, iron, and magnesium, causing the body to eliminate them without ever being absorbed.
For these reasons, soy formulas are quite controversial and still need to be studied further to determine whether these factors could have long-term health effects.
Dairy-free products are different from vegan in the way that they do not limit all animal products, only milk or milk products, like cheese or yogurt for example. This would apply to milk or milk products from any animal, whether it be cow, goat, etc... Therefore, a dairy-free baby formula would not contain milk products but may contain other animal products.
There are many similarities between the terms plant-based and vegan. Plant-based tends to focus more on a person's diet, which, in this case, would be a diet consisting of mostly or entirely plant foods, and thus would not contain ingredients from animals. Many people choose to be plant-based for dietary and health reasons.
The term vegan takes it a step further by encompassing lifestyle alongside diet. This means that to be vegan, means to avoid using animal products in all aspects of your life, from diet, to clothing, skin care products and more. Often these choices are made with the intent to avoid harming animals while reducing environmental impact.
You're probably wondering how hydrolyzed rice protein formulas can provide your little one with the nutrients that their little bodies need to function and grow. Let's start by looking at the proteins.
Hydrolyzed rice formulas are developed through a process that makes the proteins soluble in water and digestible. This process is called enzymatic hydrolysis.
In addition, to meet the requirements, rice formulas are supplemented with additional amino acids to make up for the limited amount found naturally in rice compared to breast milk.
When looking at the fat content of hydrolyzed rice protein, the composition of lipids and fats is comparable to conventional formulas. Since these formulas are vegan, the fat content typically comes from vegetable oils.
Finally, since hydrolyzed rice protein are lactose-free, the carbohydrates must come from other sources. These carb sources are usually corn starch or dextrin–maltose.
A typical concern that comes with rice-based formulas is the concentration of arsenic that of often found in rice. This is why the APP recommends feeding your baby a healthy variety of grains as part of a well-balanced diet to limit their exposure to arsenic.
As you will see below, the amount of arsenic in formula may be less of a concern than initially thought.
There are a few formula ingredients that should be avoided in general, in order to ensure that your little one is getting the best nutrition available to them. These ingredients include
Additionally, there have been some concerns made by the FDA and EFSA linked to arsenic in rice formula. Although, it has been concluded by recent studies that the arsenic content in hydrolyzed rice formula is comparable to the amounts found in other conventional formula types.
Currently, there are not many vegan baby formulas currently available on the market and that's why we are happy to announce that we now offer Bebe M formula. If you have been looking to buy a 100 % plant-based infant formula, now is the time!
Bebe M is a French brand that makes 100% plant-based organic baby formula that comes in 3 stages. The stages are:
Their formula range was developed in 2013 and is made without milk, soy, palm-oil or glutento accommodate a wide range of dietary needs. The base of this formula is rice protein, which after hydrolysis has a higher bioavailability compared to standard animal or plant-based protein.
The superb quality of this plant based infant formula starts at the very beginning during the production process. To make Bebe M formula, the production process operates under controlled temperatures which is beneficial as it protects and preserves the nutrients within the formula. All aspects of Bebe M formula comply with European infant formula regulations.
Bebe M baby formula goes above and beyond by prioritizing not only the health of babies, but they also pride themselves on being a sustainable company that works to reduce social, economic, societal and environmental issues.
Here are a few more reasons to love Bebe M's 100% plant-based formula:
They are the 1st organic plant-based alternative formulated without milk, soy, or palm oil
Free from common allergens like milk, gluten, soy and nuts
Free from unwanted flavouring or colouring agents
Made with cold-pressed virgin oils that bring in balanced essential fatty acids
Certified organic by AB France
As mentioned above, hydrolyzed rice formulas are only being recommend as an alternative to infants with a dietary restriction such as lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy. Always consult your pediatrition before making any changes to your baby's diet.
You may have seen recipes circulating the web for homemade vegan formulas, and if so, are probably wondering if these are suitable alternatives to conventional formulas available on the market.
The answer is no, homemade vegan formulas are not a safe alternative for your baby...let's talk about why.
Vegan baby formulas available on the market have gone through extensive testing to ensure that they are nutritionally complete and safe for babies. That is not the case with homemade vegan formulas, which cannot be tested to ensure they are free from harmful ingredients and have the correct micronutrient and macronutrient ratios that a growing baby needs.
Feeding your baby with homemade formula can be very dangerous and cause severe complications such as vitamin D deficiencies and Hypocalcemia.
Hopefully, this cleared up some of the questions you may have had about plant-based, dairy-free or vegan baby formula. It is always best to follow the guidelines and recommendations on infant formula that are backed by the latest science.
While trends circulate the internet and misinformation is spread, it is important to be mindful and careful about what you are putting into your little ones growing body to ensure their health and wellbeing.
Bebe M formula is a great plant-based alternative for babies with digestive issues or allergies. The latest science on hydrolyzed rice formulas deems them a healthy and safe formula choice to treat cow's milk allergy.
All of the formulas we offer comply with European infant formula regulations, including Bebe M. Regardless of how you feed your baby or what products you use, all that matters is that they are healthy and safe, so make sure to make informed dietary choices.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends evidenced in babies, it is in no way medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula, and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician prior to making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Disclaimer: Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby, because what's found in breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for the baby's growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding
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Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel