As soon as The Honest Company’s infant formula hit the market, we were flooded with emails asking, “Is this the Good Stuff?” After putting the Honest formula through our research and review process, our answer is…sort of.
Essentially, Honest’s formula is the same as the rest of the Jessica Alba product line: definitely well-intentioned, definitely better than most conventional stuff, not quite Sneaky Stuff, but not quite Good Stuff. When it comes to this formula, here’s what we discovered:
- It’s mostly milk. I like that Honest’s formula’s first ingredient is actual organic milk. The only other American-made formula I recommend to clients, Baby’s Only, has brown rice syrup (a sweetener) as its first ingredient, so this is a plus for Honest.
- It contains lactose. It’s also great that Honest formula contains lactose as a sweetener, which is most similar to breast milk, but which many companies have stopped using because it’s pricier than other forms of sugar. (Unfortunately, Honest also uses corn syrup to sweeten this formula—more on this below.)
- It skips some synthetics. The synthetic nutrients found in Honest’s formula are less in number than is the case for other organic formula brands. Some of these additives are not allowed in organic products in Europe, so it’s nice to see an American brand leaving them out.
- It doesn’t contain hexane residue. The biggest plus to Honest formula is that the DHA they use is actual fish oil rather than hexane-extracted oils from algae and fungus (as is the case with most formulas, even organic ones).
- It’s free of carrageenan. Honest’s formula is free of carrageenan (which is found in some organic formulas). Derived from seaweed, carrageenan helps stabilize formula, but numerous animal studies suggest that it leads to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors. The European Union has outlawed the use of carrageenan in all infant formula.
- Corn syrup. The biggest bummer about Honest’s formula is that it contains corn syrup (cleverly called “organic glucose syrup solids”). Honest uses mostly lactose to sweeten their formula, but I assume they blend with corn syrup because the latter is much less expensive.
- Palm oil. Honest’s formula also contains palm oil, which is not properly absorbed by infants, and may contribute to decreased bone density. Even the European formulas I recommend (HiPP and Holle) contain palm oil, but it should be noted that Baby’s Only formula does not.
- Soy. Honest formula also contains soy oil and soy lecithin. I’m not into soy for babies, since it is a source of phytoestrogens, which may have negative health implications. Worth noting: Baby’s Only also contains soy, as does HiPP. Holle is the only soy-free formula, which is part of the reason it’s our number one formula pick.
- Synthetic preservatives. Honest formula contains two synthetic preservatives that some experts say should not be allowed in organic products: beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate. Baby’s Only doesn’t contain these two, and nor do the European brands we recommend. I’m not convinced these are particularly harmful in the concentrations present in formula, but they aren’t natural and their effects are unknown.
Whichever Formula You Choose…Filter Your Water!
Tap water may be contaminated with chlorine byproducts, weed killers, insecticides, solvents, lead, BPA, phthalates…the list goes on. Fluoride is present in infant formula, and when combined with fluoridated tap water, infant exposure levels can exceed safe amounts. Invest in a good carbon water filter.
What Are the Best Infant Formulas?
After all the research I’ve done (I’ve written about formula here, here, and here), there are only four I would consider feeding my baby, and yes, Honest is among them. In order of preference, the best infant formulas, in my non-doctor opinion, are:
While difficult and expensive to obtain, the European formulas win out because they are both made with milk from grass-fed cattle, and have a simpler and more natural list of ingredients. I still consider Baby’s Only the best widely-available formula in this country, but Honest is a pretty close second, only losing out because of the corn syrup and palm oil it contains.
PS: June 2017 update:
I’ve vetted three places to purchase European formula, and am happy to have established affiliate relationships with the following sellers:
If it were my baby, I would purchase any European formula from Organic Start’s special wholesale site, which offers deep discounts on bulk orders. Note that Gimme the Good Stuff has an affiliate marketing relationship with this company