Organic vs. Regular Formula: What’s the Difference?

Deciding how you’re going to feed your little one is among the biggest decisions that new parents have to make, and it’s not always an easy one. If you’re going down the formula route, either exclusively or in combination with breast milk, the options can seem overwhelming. While it’s great that there are so many different formula types and brands to choose from, getting to grips with the various formula ingredients and figuring out what makes a truly high-quality formula can be quite a challenge.

Understandably, many parents want to give their baby an organic formula, in an effort to ensure that the formula contains the best possible ingredients. As a trip to the supermarket or an Amazon search will demonstrate, there are numerous formulas that are marketed as “organic.” But what does that really mean, and how can parents tell the difference between all of these products?

While many organic formulas are a great choice for your little one, there are significant differences among them, in terms of the type of ingredients they contain and the quality of those ingredients. In this post, we’ll look at what an “organic” label really means, and the key differences between the organic formulas made in the U.S. and those manufactured in Europe, so that you can make the best possible decision about which formula you’d like your little one to enjoy.    

What Does It Really Mean for a Formula to Be Organic?

“Organic” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but not always with much understanding of what it actually means. Essentially, organic formula is baby formula that is free from pesticide residue, growth hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic chemicals and preservatives, and potentially toxic substances. For a formula to be certified organic, at least 95% of  the ingredients need to be organic – this is true of both USDA organic requirements and EU organic requirements

If you’re shopping for baby formula in the U.S., look for products that carry the USDA Organic Seal, in order to ensure that the formula contains exclusively organic ingredients. Confusingly, some products advertise that they are made “with organic ingredients,” yet this doesn’t always mean that every single ingredient is organic.

What to Look for in an Organic Formula

It’s important to note that the “organic” label doesn’t necessarily mean that a formula contains only healthy, high-quality ingredients. Unfortunately, many U.S. baby formulas, including some that are organic, also contain questionable ingredients such as soy oil. Additionally, there’s nothing stopping manufacturers from using inexpensive sweeteners such as corn syrup or glucose syrup in organic formula, rather than a preferable carbohydrate source such as lactose, which is the main carbohydrate found in breast milk

Although organic formulas tend to be superior to “regular” (non-organic) formulas  -- mainly because they are free from pesticide residue, chemical fertilizers, and hormones -- there are other things to consider when choosing a formula, besides the organic label.

Here’s what to look for (and what to avoid) when choosing an organic formula:

  • A base of organic cow’s milk (or organic goat’s milk, used in formulas such as Holle Goat)
  • Lactose as the primary carbohydrate source, just like in breast milk
  • Added whey to help ensure that the milk protein composition is as close to breast milk as possible
  • Organic vegetable oils to create a fatty acid profile similar to that of breast milk
  • Prebiotics (ie. galacto-oligosaccharides) and probiotics (ie. lactic acid cultures) are a plus as they build up the microbiome and mimic the immunity-boosting properties of breast milk
  • Naturally-derived omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids such as ARA and DHA to promote healthy eye, brain, and nervous system development
  • A wide range of essential vitamins and minerals
  • No synthetic preservatives
  • No highly processed sweeteners such as corn syrup, glucose syrup, or brown rice syrup

Organic Formulas in the United States and Europe 

There are some key differences between the organic baby formulas manufactured in the United States, and those produced in Europe. Overall, European standards for organic agriculture, as laid out by the European Commission, tend to be stricter than the FDA’s standards for organic produce in the United States.

All of Little Bundle’s formulas, with the exception of specialty formulas HiPP HA Hypoallergenic, HiPP Comfort (which contain hydrolyzed proteins not available in organic form), and HiPP AR Anti-Reflux, carry the European Union’s organic seal. 

All European formulas, regardless of whether they are organic or not, must be free from detectable levels of pesticide residue. There is also a longer list of prohibited ingredients in European formulas, such as guar gum, pectins, fructans, and carrageenan.

Furthermore, at least 30% of the carbohydrates in European formulas must come from lactose, which is not a requirement in the United States, even for organic formulas. Sucrose (table sugar) is not permitted in European formula, except in small quantities for babies with feeding conditions caused by premature birth or cow’s milk protein allergy

There are also several additional certifications for organic agriculture in Europe which go beyond the basic European Commission requirements. For example, the Demeter and Bioland certifications held by Holle Cow and Lebenswert formulas, respectively, guarantee that the formula ingredients come from biodynamic, non-GMO farms with the highest standards for animal welfare, ecosystem preservation, and sustainability.

Although many U.S. formulas are advertised as being “non-GMO,” there is currently no single accepted definition for genetic modification, meaning that manufacturers do not always disclose whether their product contains genetically-modified organisms. 

If you do choose a U.S. organic formula, look for one such as Happy Baby Organic or Earth’s Best, which are made with desirable ingredients such as lactose, whey, prebiotics, DHA, and ARA, without any artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives,

Why Little Bundle Specializes in Organic European Formula

Here at Little Bundle, we’ve done extensive research to find the world’s best organic formulas, and we can certainly say, European formula ingredients are simply better. The nutrient composition of European formulas is closer to breast milk and they exclude harmful ingredients, like corn syrup and guar gum. 

We have the utmost confidence in brands such as HiPP, Holle, Kendamil, and Lebenswert. We carry just a few brands so that we can ensure that every one of our formulas meets the highest standards for organic agriculture, processing, packaging, and storage, without having to worry about the inclusion of unhealthy ingredients.

Here are a few of our most popular formulas: 

  • We are excited to have recently added Kendamil Organic to our formula collection. Available in stages, Kendamil Organic is made with fantastic ingredients such as organic full cream milk from grass-fed cows in England’s Lake District, organic lactose, naturally-occurring milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), organic whey protein, organic coconut, rapeseed, and sunflower oils, prebiotics including human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids including plant-based DHA. Notably, Kendamil Organic is a fully vegetarian formula that is also free from palm oil, fish oil, soy, gluten, maltodextrin, and starch. 

  • Holle Goat is another formula we love, and it’s especially popular with babies (from newborns to toddlers) who have trouble tolerating cow’s milk. Some babies find that organic goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk, and Holle Goat is a complete source of nutrition, just like the best cow’s milk formulas. It’s palm oil-free and soy-oil free, and packed with vitamins and minerals, organic vegetable oils, organic lactose, organic maltodextrin, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Like Kendamil, it’s also made with plant-based DHA (algal oil), so it’s vegetarian-friendly!

  • HiPP UK is a tried-and-true favorite among Little Bundle customers, and it’s one of our best-value formulas. Countless babies have enjoyed HiPP UK, from Stage 1 to Stage 3, whether they’re being exclusively formula fed or enjoying HiPP UK in combination with breast milk. Babies love the taste of this formula, and parents love that it’s made with organic skim milk, organic lactose, organic vegetable oils, and organic whey protein. It has all of the necessary vitamins and minerals, plus prebiotics in the form of galacto-oligosaccharides, as well as DHA. And, of course, it doesn’t contain soy, starch, corn syrup, glucose syrup, or sucrose. 

 

As you can see, deciding to use European formula is the easy part – the hard part is selecting which one.

That’s where we come in! Check out our one-of-a-kind Best Organic Formula Buyer’s Guide or answer the questions in the “Choosing the Right Formula” blog post to see how your baby’s unique needs match up to the formulas in our collection.  

If you’re considering giving your little one an organic European formula, you can also have a look at our top formula recommendations for babies 0-6 months, and for babies 6-12 months. You’ll also find recommendations for specialty formulas for sensitive eaters and babies with feeding conditions such as reflux, constipation, gassiness, and milk protein intolerance. 

Still unsure of which formula to try? 

Have a chat with one of Little Bundle’s Infant Nutrition Technicians. Every member of Little Bundle’s customer success team has earned a certification in infant nutrition and will be happy to help you choose the organic formula that best meets your baby’s needs. Send a live chat or message, it’s their top priority to help you provide the best nutrition for your little one. 

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