Below is an email I recently sent to a private client of mine. Since the number one question I receive is “What is the safest infant formula?,” I thought some of you might be interested in my analysis of the two safest brands of baby formula, HiPP and Holle (both from Europe). Note that whichever formula you choose, you should always use a water filter to remove chlorine (carcinogenic) and fluoride (linked with lowered IQ). (Here’s more on why you should get a filter and which ones I like.)
So the bottom line is I would recommend Holle formula as the best option, but it’s not without some problems, unfortunately (yet again it becomes clear that nothing can compare with breastmilk). HiPP is superior in a few ways, but I’ll explain why ultimately I would go with Holle below.
Here’s what I considered:
- Palm oil. Palm oil is an ingredient that a lot of people worry about (suspected to affect bone density), and both HiPP and Holle contain it. However, because they each contain a blend of other oils (like coconut and sunflower), I don’t think the amount is as concerning. They do both also contain rapeseed oil, otherwise known as canola oil, which is also somewhat controversial. It’s worth noting that Baby’s Only doesn’t contain palm oil–but it does contain soybean oil, which I don’t like, so not really a huge win.
- Aluminum issue. The HiPP ready-made formula is preferable to the HiPP powder because the latter has strangely high aluminum levels, although even the ready-man has borderline levels. (I can’t figure out why–possibly because it comes in aluminum pouches (within a cardboard box)). However, in general I actually DON’T like ready-made formulas because they contain soy lecithin (sometimes extracted with hexane…and soy is problematic anyway because of its estrogenic properties). On the other hand, the amount of lecithin is relatively small, and probably worth the trade-off. Note that the HiPP Growing Up milk in powder form actually has much lower levels of aluminum (but you can’t use that until after 12 months, and it does contain soy lecithin. Sigh). Bottom line here is go for ready-made or Growing Up milk if you do get HiPP, but with Holle you don’t have to worry about this.
- LCP oils. The addition of omega 3 and 6 oils in U.S. formulas is controversial because of the extraction methods (super complicated issue so I’ll spare you all the details). HiPP has these added oils, but I suspect the extraction methods are probably required to be cleaner in Europe. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to get to the bottom of this, so it’s a question mark and potentially another negative for HiPP. And studies show that the addition of the oils doesn’t improve the nutrition for babies anyway, so their absence isn’t really a negative for Holle.
- Organic practices. Both of these companies have been around for more than 50 years, and the dairy products from both come from grass-fed, organic cattle, certainly of a higher quality that anything you get here. Holle farms are certified organic and biodynamic–which I’ll simplify by saying is like organic-plus, with very strict standards from the processing all the way to the packaging. Another point in the Holle column.
- Sugars. All formula has a lot of sugar (breastmilk is naturally quite sweet), and HiPP wins in this category, as it uses lactose as a sweetener, which is the best option (and also the most expensive). Holle uses maltodextrin (a plant-based sweetener), although it seems to use less of it than most American formula brands. And here’s an update from July 2015: Lebenswert is a newish formula under the Holle umbrella. The Stage 1 Lebenswert formula contains lactose instead of maltodextrin, and Lebenswert is now available at Little World Organics!
- Prebiotics. This is another win for HiPP. Holle doesn’t contain these, and it’s one of the big things found in breastmilk but missing from formula.
Bottom line: Both HiPP and Holle are superior to American formulas, in my opinion. They lack many of the concerning ingredients found in most formula you get here, don’t have white sugar or corn syrup in them, and also skip some preservatives and the carrageenan found even in other organic formulas. If it were my baby, I would probably choose Holle because of the aluminum issues with HiPP–which to me is more concerning than the maltodextrin (the only major downside to Holle). The lecithin, biodynamic farming, and LCP oil issues further put Holle in the lead. And if you choose Stage 1 Lebenswert, you skip the maltodextrin as well.
In terms of where to by Holle (or HiPP): this is complicated since these formulas do not meet FDA approval. There are many online vendors (including Ebay sellers), but until I can vet that one (or several) are legit, I cannot make a recommendation on where you should purchase European formula. I hope to have this information available soon.
MAY 2015 UPDATE: Gimme the Good Stuff recommends Little World Organics for European formulas, if you are trying to purchase in the US; if Little World Organics has reached their order limit for the day, you may also consider Organic Munchkin. Read more about the vetting process.
Standard disclaimer: The advice and opinions presented here by Gimme the Good Stuff are based on our own research process as well as current scientific evidence. For medical advice, you should see a licensed medical professional. Statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness. Manufacturers change the ingredients in their products frequently; always read labels or call companies to verify.
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