Just as every new mother has been told by every medical professional (or stranger in the street): It is still generally agreed upon that during the first 4 to 6 months of life, breast milk is best for growing babies. But as those mothers also know all too well, sometimes breastfeeding is not an option. This reality is true for about 50 percent of mothers for varying reasons, and as such, commercial infant formula has been a saving grace.
The choice to use formula also brings with it its own slew of additional health considerations. When it comes to your baby, there is no doubt that nutrition is of the utmost importance. But as soon as you walk down the baby-needs aisle, it’s easy to lose sight of the standards that are in place to keep only good products on the shelves.
Just who exactly knows what’s best for my baby, anyway?
Infant formula in America is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which requires all manufacturers to include the same 29 specific nutrients in their product per serving. While brands may vary regarding price and ingredients, know that none of them—whether you go the cow’s-milk-based, soy-based, hypoallergenic or specialized formula route—will shortchange you on required nutritional value. The complication lies in the debate over what happens during production.
Carrageenan is often included in infant formula ingredient lists as a suspension aid, ensuring that the correct balance of these required nutrients remains uniformly suspended throughout the liquid. For some, this is the difference between simply using a product off the shelf instead of needing to remember to shake a bottle thoroughly—but for other parents, this key addition is the only necessary thickening agent their baby can consume.
Basically: Rules and regulations means the government has done its research.
Within the past few years, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), a scientific review panel that evaluates the safety of food additives, completed an in-depth review of the research on carrageenan safety, finding it completely safe for use in infant formula, including formula for special medical purposes.
JECFA reports are used to guide food-additive regulatory approvals around the world. As it stands now, both Earth’s Best and Similac Organic ready-to-feed formula, the only organic liquid formulas currently on the market, contain carrageenan.
In 2014, the FDA set standards for manufacturers of infant formula, requiring that their products be tested for this basic required nutrient content at all levels of the process: in the final product stage, before entering the market, and at the end of the product’s shelf life. As such, oftentimes the concern for various ingredients in formula is not whether a product will harm the child, but more of a nuanced question of whether consumers can trust a company’s organic certification, supply chain or dedication to nonsynthetic ingredients, just like any other food.