By Markita Lewis, MS, RD
Markita is a clinical dietitian with a passion for the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating. She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition.
While the baby formula industry has been around for over a century, and has significantly evolved in that time, there are still a limited number of options for what ingredients are used to make formula. The majority of formulas on the market are cow’s milk-based, with soy-based formulas coming in second, followed by partially digested and other specialized formulas also milk based or not? All of these options come with pros and cons, but if you are a plant-based, vegan family your options are even more limited. Even if you are not vegan, there may be many reasons why you might choose a vegan baby formula.
What is a vegan baby formula?
A vegan baby formula is one that has been made using no animal-derived products or byproducts. This means there will be no dairy-based ingredients, such as milk or the milk proteins casein and whey, no eggs, and obviously no meat or fish used to make it. Instead, a vegan baby formula is made from plant-derived ingredients.
Do vegan baby formulas exist?
You might be wondering, is there vegan baby formula available? Currently, vegan baby formulas are hard to come by across the globe. While there are a handful of true vegan options, they have not been found in the United States, leading many parents to order them online internationally. This makes it challenging for vegan families who want to provide a fully vegan-option for their child. Else Nutrition is looking to change that, making vegan baby formulas more accessible.
However, there are many plant-based options that are soy-based or otherwise dairy-free baby formulas widely available in the United States and worldwide. These typically cannot label themselves as being 100% vegan baby formulas because they are fortified with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), a version of vitamin D that is derived from sheep’s wool (lanolin) using ultraviolet irradiation. Vitamin D is a critical nutrient for bone development and immunity in infants and the vegan form (D2) is not as well absorbed. Therefore, the inclusion of D3, although critical, makes it not truly vegan.
Some parents still may consider these plant-based options for their babies, since there really is no easily accessible alternative on the US market.
Reasons to consider a vegan baby formula
Many parents really would prefer a fully vegan formula. Here are some of the biggest reasons many parents choose a vegan baby formula for their child and why finding the best vegan baby formula may be worth considering for your family as well.
A vegan baby formula offers a dairy-free option for families.
For families with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, a vegan baby formula can offer a worry-free option. Seeing as at least 65% of people worldwide eventually develop some degree of lactose intolerance, some parents may prefer starting their baby out on a non-dairy formula just to avoid potential issues, especially if there’s a family history of trouble digesting milk.
Healthwise, dairy consumption may increase the risk for developing prostate, lung, breast, and ovarian cancers later in life. Many studies have also found a linear relationship between dairy intake throughout early life and more bone fractures in adulthood. Furthermore, decades of research have identified an association between consuming saturated fat - found in dairy products - and an increased risk for heart disease.
Choosing a dairy-free, vegan formula may provide some parents with peace of mind when considering how food and lifestyle choices may impact a child’s long-term health, starting in infancy.
A vegan baby formula may better align with your personal ethics.
Many parents are beginning to wonder if there are ways to feed their families - including infants - in ways that better reflect their values and ethics.
For some families, this may mean seeking out an organic milk-based formula that provides information regarding ingredient sourcing and animal welfare that is satisfying to their questions and concerns. For others, this may mean choosing a vegan formula for babies, which can offer a more eco-conscious and ethical option, leaving no questions around animal welfare. The important thing is to choose a product that aligns with a family’s beliefs and unfortunately, options are limited at this time.
A vegan baby formula offers a more environmentally-friendly formula option.
The environmental footprint of baby formulas can vary substantially depending on what ingredients they use. However, a vegan baby formula made from whole plant foods utilizes significantly fewer natural resources than a cow’s milk-based one. For comparison, it is estimated that almonds, found in Else formulas, have a carbon footprint 10 times smaller than that of the dairy milk industry.
What’s more, the dairy industry is responsible for enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes to soil degradation and pollution of air, land, and waterways. A vegan baby formula may offer parents an option they’re more comfortable with,
A vegan baby formula offers an innovative and healthy alternative to parents demanding change in the baby formula industry.
Even if parents don’t follow a vegan lifestyle at home, they may still be looking for ways to demand positive changes in the expansion of the baby formula industry. Or they may not be satisfied with the current formula ingredients available on the market. One way to do this is to purchase products that align with what you would like to see more of in the consumer marketplace, such as supporting vegan options.
Else Nutrition believes in the power of informed choice. When you’re faced with the decision of how to nourish your baby best, you should have options to choose from that align with your needs and values. Else formulas offer an ideal choice for parents looking for a clean label, organic, non-GMO, nutritionally-adequate vegan baby formula, of which 92% is composed of three main ingredients: almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.