The Best Organic Baby Formulas (2020 Guide)This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure.
This in-depth, parent-friendly guide will help you find and buy the best organic baby formulas. You will learn why you should consider organic formula, what ingredients to avoid in formula, and where you can reliably purchase the best organic baby formula. I update this post monthly to ensure that all of the information below is recent and accurate!Click here to see the 10 best organic baby formulas!
Why organic baby formula?
We’ve all heard the advice: “Breast is best.” For a few moms, that advice is easy to follow. Unfortunately for many moms, it’s not.
The truth is, breastfeeding is HARD.
Not hard as in “oh this is hard, I don’t feel like doing it,” but hard as in: My baby won’t latch; I have low milk supply; My nipples are sore/bleeding/blistered; I have no place to pump at work; I have mastitis; I’ve seen dozens of lactation consultants, and I’m still having problems.
If you love breastfeeding, great. But if you need to supplement or switch to formula, that’s okay! Many moms feel guilt over weaning early or not being able to breastfeed as much as they’d like. But honestly, the most important thing is the love you give to your baby, and that you and your baby are happy and healthy. Breast isn’t best; FED is best.
For me, nursing my daughter Layla was one of the most physically and emotionally challenging parts of new motherhood. Many of the early days ended in tears. When I weaned Layla after 6 months of emotionally taxing nursing and pumping, I needed to select a baby formula. I did a ton of research to find the best options on the market today. I read online, spoke with doctors, and asked fellow mothers to find the best formula.
What I learned is that most formulas, especially those produced in the US, are loaded with ingredients that aren’t very healthy for your baby.
Fortunately, there are a few high-quality, organic baby formulas available. Most of these formulas are produced in Europe, and there are reliable places that you can buy them online.
Below, I have summarized my research and listed the 10 best organic baby formulas available today. Later in the post, I cover what ingredients to avoid in baby formula, provide an analysis of each top formula, include a detailed chart that ranks all of the organic formulas available, and list a few reliable places to buy formulas online.
Some of the items below were given to me to review by the manufacturer or as part of an affiliate program. I may receive commissions if you make a purchase through the links provided. I only recommend products I’ve actually evaluated, I believe are the highest quality, and can do the most to help you and your family. By purchasing any of these products from the links below, you help keep this blog running, so thanks for your support!
The 10 best organic baby formulas
While there is no perfect formula, the baby formulas below are considerably better than the rest. Click on the formula name to go to the best online retailer of the formula.
Ingredients to avoid in organic baby formula
The US has a much larger range of standards for organic baby formula, which means that even the best organic baby formula options can have lower quality ingredients. Below are the ingredients that shouldn’t appear in organic formula—as outlined by the National Organic Standards Board—and are banned in the European Union, which has much higher standards:
- Processed Refined Sugars (Syrup, Syrup Solids): Corn syrup (glucose syrup solids), maltodextrin (a partially hydrolyzed starch derived from corn, rice, or potatoes), sugar, or brown rice syrup. Manufacturers use these because they are cheaper than lactose (which is what should be in formula).
- Oils extracted using hexane: Specific types of DHA and ARA – C. Cohnii oil (DHA) and M. Alpina oil (ARA) are processed using hexane (a neurotoxic petroleum-based solvent). There are other forms of DHA and ARA that can be added to formula that do not require hexane for extraction. While the hexane is removed from the formula after processing and is non-detectable in European Formulas (see my detailed section on hexane at the end of this post), it’s worth noting that DHA and ARA do not need hexane for extraction when derived from sources other than algae and fungus. It’s also worth noting that any oils that are listed as “organic” on EU formula labels cannot use hexane for extraction.
- Carrageenan: typically added as a stabilizer to ready-to-feed formula in the US; it is not allowed in the EU and has been linked to intestinal inflammation.
- Synthetic Nutrients: This includes lutein, lycopene, nucleotides, taurine, l-carnitine and l-methionine. None of these nutrients are required in infant formula by the FDA, but many US infant formulas include them. The main reason these are problematic are: 1) They have to be extracted using chemical solvents, which are removed after processing, and 2) These are banned in formulas in the EU, but are allowed in the US.
- Palm Oil: to mirror the levels of palmitic acid, which is found in breastmilk, some manufacturers add palm oil. The problem is that palm oil does not act the same way that palmitic acid does in the baby’s gut. Palm oil reacts with calcium, and causes the formation of “soaps” in the baby’s intestines (which can cause digestive issues). Palm oil is in most formulas (EU & US), but more manufacturers are now making formula without it.
- Soy Oil: Soy protein (and soy based formulas) are problematic for infants because of their phytoestrogen content (check out this study about soy). Soy oil and soy lecithin contain minimal or trace amounts of phytoestrogens (source1, source2).
Unfortunately, nearly all baby formulas sold in the US have one or more of these ingredients to avoid.
So what’s a mom to do?
Stick to the high-quality European formulas. The EU has stricter standards for infant formula, and HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert, all produce formulas with wonderful ingredient lists. The EU and USDA are aligned when it comes to what gets the official “Organic” label: European formulas can only be considered organic if 95% or more of the ingredients are organic.
Below, you can find details on the 10 best formulas available on the market today, and a list of places where you can buy these formulas online. This list includes both European and US formulas. If you are looking for help finding the best baby formula made in the US only, go to this post.
The 10 best organic baby formulas
Why I love it: Of all the formulas, this is the best organic baby formula. It has a whey-to-casein ratio that mimics breast milk, uses vegetable oils for fat, contains prebiotics and probiotics, and contains DHA/ARA. It’s also free of GMO ingredients, added sugars, starch, soy, and synthetic nutrients and preservatives. It also comes in an easy-to-dispense, airtight container!
Keep in mind: If you are concerned about hexane extraction, HiPP uses this method to retrieve the DHA and ARA in their formula. They claim, however, that 100% of the hexane is removed after extraction and is not detectable in their formulas. Given that this European brand follows guidelines that are much more stringent than those in the US, I’m inclined to believe them.
Why I love it: HiPP Germany is a nutritionally complete formula that contains ingredients very similar to HiPP Dutch.
Keep in mind: The only reason I have listed this as second best is the fact that its container is harder to dispense from than HiPP Dutch’s is (foil bags vs. an airtight can).
Why I love it: Loulouka is one of the few formulas that has DHA and prebiotics, but doesn’t contain soy oil or palm oil (it uses coconut oil instead!) Full of healthy fats, organic, from grass fed cows – it’s a great option for your little one, especially if you are looking for a formula free of DHA, ARA, pre and probiotics.
Keep in mind: Like Lebenswert (which appears just a few spots down), this formula has no ARA or probiotics, so you will have to supplement if you choose this for your baby.
Why I love it: Kendamil is the only formula that uses whole milk instead of skimmed milk, and also does not contain soy oil or palm oil. Kendamil’s cows graze on pasture and are grass fed, they use coconut oil as one of their main fatty acids, and their formula contains non-hexane extracted DHA, ARA and Prebiotics.
Keep in mind: This formula does not contain probiotics, so you may have to supplement if you choose this for your baby.
Why I love it: HiPP UK is also quite similar to HiPP Dutch. At $0.048/gram, it is the best value organic infant formula option available.
Keep in mind: The main difference between HiPP UK and HiPP Dutch (besides the price) is that it contains no probiotics, only prebiotics. Like HiPP Germany, it also has a container that’s harder to dispense from (foil bags vs. an airtight can).
Why I love it: Lebenswert provides a great option for parents who want a simple list of clean, organic ingredients and who want to supplement with pre/probiotics and ARA separately. If hexane-extracted DHA and ARA concern you, Lebenswert may be just the thing you’re looking for. Lebenswert has DHA added from a non-hexane extracted source (organic fish oil). Lebenswert also has a proper whey-to-casein ratio and is free of added sugars, GMO ingredients, starch, soy, and synthetic nutrients and preservatives.
In addition to a top-notch ingredients list, Lebenswert also boasts a Bioland certification, which is even more thorough than EU organic certification.
Keep in mind: Personally, I prefer pre/probiotics and DHA/ARA added to formula – both for convenience, and also because there is no prebiotic supplement sold separately for babies (there are only probiotic supplements available).
Why I love it: Holle PRE is very comparable to Lebenswert in ingredients, and is also a great option for parents who don’t want pre/probiotics or ARA added to their formula and want to supplement with that separately.
Holle baby formulas are Demeter biodynamic certified, which has even more stringent and careful regulations than Bioland. This ensures the purest, non-GMO ingredients, the highest standards for animal welfare, and a commitment to biodiversity and sustainability.
Keep in mind: Again, with Holle options, parents would need to supplement probiotics and ARA since it is not included in the formula (DHA is added in the new formulation). Holle PRE can be used until 6 months of age, but it’s specially formulated for babies 0-3 months. After 6 months you’ll have to move to a Stage 1 or 2 formula. As another note, Holle Bio PRE contains no added maltodextrin, but stages 1 and 2, which are still lactose-based, do contain added organic maltodextrin.
Why I love it: If you’re looking for the best goat milk formula, I’d recommend Kabrita USA. The ingredients are non-GMO, with added prebiotics and a whey-to-casein ratio that closely resembles that in breast milk. This option contains no glucose syrup solids, no maltodextrin, no taurine or l-carnitine, and no palm oil. For more details on why that’s my top choice, see my post on the best goat milk formulas here!
Keep in mind: Kabrita goat milk formula is only available in the US as a toddler formula, but it does meet the nutritional requirements for an infant formula. If you choose to use this for your infant, consult with your pediatrician first. As another note, although Kabrita formulas contain clean, non-GMO ingredients, they are not technically organic. Kabrita formula is produced in Europe where strict regulations already limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides, and govern animal welfare.
Why I love it: Baby’s Only with Whey is the best cow’s milk-based formula available in the US. It is made with organic skimmed cow’s milk, and organic whey. It has no added sugars, and is free of synthetic ingredients, and has naturally extracted DHA (from eggs).
Keep in mind: This is technically a toddler formula but similar to Kabrita, it meets the nutritional requirements for an infant formula. It also has no pre/probiotics so you would have to supplement with that separately. As with all formula, be sure to consult your pediatrician before using this for your baby.
Why I love it: This formula doesn’t have gluten or corn syrup. It’s Non-GMO, and is designed for easy digestion. It contains DHA, pre and probiotics. And it’s also the best organic infant formula available in the US (since Baby’s Only is technically a toddler formula).
Keep in mind: This formula does contain soy oil, which is less ideal. It also has a thinner consistency that not all babies might like.
Why I love it: Holle is very comparable to Lebenswert in ingredients, and is also a great option for parents who don’t want pre/probiotics or ARA added to their formula and want to supplement with that separately.
Holle baby formulas are Demeter biodynamic certified, which has even more stringent and careful regulations than Bioland. This ensures the purest, non-GMO ingredients, the highest standards for animal welfare, and a commitment to biodiversity and sustainability.
Keep in mind: Again, with Holle options, parents would need to supplement pre/probiotics and ARA since it is not included in the formula (DHA is included in the formula). Holle Stage 1 also has maltodextrin added.
Why I love it: Holle Goat is the only goat milk formulas that is organic. Holle’s goat formula is also suitable for infants. Some evidence suggests the protein ratios in goat milk more closely resemble that of breast milk. There is also research that suggests goat’s milk is more easily and completely digestible by infants than cow’s milk is. This means that goat’s milk formula may be perfect for a baby with sensitivities to cow’s milk formula.
Keep in mind: Unlike Kabrita, Holle goat milk formula does not contain added whey (so the whey:casein ratio in Holle might be constipating for some babies). Holle Goat also includes maltodextrin to balance the sweetness of the milk. It also contains no added pre/probiotics or ARA (DHA is included in the new formulation).
What about the best hypoallergenic formulas for babies?
If you’re looking for detailed information about the best hypoallergenic baby formulas, this post outlines the best options as well as what ingredients to look for to find the best fit for your baby. I have included a short summary of the top 3 hypoallergenic formulas below as well!
Why I love it: HiPP Hypoallergenic baby formula is free of casein and contains protein hydrolysates that break down proteins for infants who struggle to do so on their own. It also contains pre- and probiotics and DHA. Try this formula if your baby has a cow’s milk allergy or sensitivity and you haven’t tried another hypoallergenic option (or you’re trying to move away from the US hypoallergenic options because of concerns over ingredients). Has extensively hydrolyzed protein, (86-87% broken down), 100% whey (no casein), but with the same lactose content as a non-hypoallergenic baby formula.
Keep in mind: HiPP Hypoallergenic is not technically organic, because hydrolyzing the milk protein requires more processing. However, all other ingredients included are still organic.
Why I love it: This is an even more broken-down formula that is worth trying for babies who don’t do well on HiPP HA. It is the most similar to a US hypoallergenic formula. It contains extensively hydrolyzed protein, (86-87% broken down), 100% whey (no casein), reduced lactose content and modified fats. While technically, HiPP HA is a hypoallergenic formula and Comfort is not specifically a hypoallergenic formulation but rather indicated for gassiness, colic and constipation, we have found parents seeking a “hypoallergenic” formula have been successful with Comfort. But, their success may be due to the reduced lactose content in addition to the hydrolyzed protein.
Keep in mind: HiPP Comfort is not technically organic, because hydrolyzing the milk protein requires more processing. However, all other ingredients included are still organic. Also, while HiPP Comfort is the closest to a US hypoallergenic formula, it’s still not as broken down as Alimentum or Nutramigen (which is 93% hydrolyzed), so if your baby can’t tolerate Comfort you will have to move to a US hypoallergenic formula.
Why I love it: HiPP Anti-Reflux formula is EU certified organic, and it is a wonderful option for babies with sensitive tummies. This formula uses 100% whey (and no casein) to prevent reflux or spit up. It also contains prebiotics and probiotics, as well as DHA.
Keep in mind: HiPP Anti-Reflux contains organic maltodextrin (in addition to lactose). This is to help in easing digestion for little ones.
Where can you buy European baby formula in the US?
If you want to buy HiPP, Lebenswert, or Holle online, I have found seven online retailers who are either based in the US or ship to the US in a reliable and safe manner! I’m in personal contact with the owners of all 8 of these companies, I feel comfortable recommending all of them to you.
Organic Start has been one of the longest-standing distributors of European Baby Formula to the US and is highly reputable and reliable. In fact, I ordered my kids’ formula from Organic Start when they were infants! I have known Peter, the owner, for over 5 years, and can confidently say that he likely has the largest supply chain of European formula available today.
Peter founded Organic Start (formerly Organic Munchkin) after his triplets were born and he was looking for a better formula than what was available on grocery store shelves here in the US. He is also one of the creators of Loulouka, which is on my top 10 list of formulas above!
Organic Start has an extensive supply of: HiPP Dutch, HiPP UK, HiPP Germany, Holle, Lebenswert, and Loulouka. They also carry organic baby care products, eco-friendly/biodegradable/chlorine free diapers from Bambo Nature, and helpful products for moms!
They offer free, expedited shipping (most orders ship the same day from their Las Vegas warehouse), fair pricing, discounts on bulk orders, and guaranteed authentic products. They also have a wholesale site where you can save up to 40% on ALL European formulas including HiPP Dutch, HiPP UK, HiPP Germany, Holle, Lebenswert, Loulouka, HiPP HA, HiPP Comfort, and they even have HiPP Ready to Feed!
My Organic Company was founded in 2017 by two parents: Cecelia and Kevin who are dedicated to ensuring that organic European formulas are available to any parents who want them in the US! They have three different warehouses across the US to ensure safe, fast and reliable shipping. And their supply chain is so robust they virtually guarantee that they will be in stock of all formulas at all times!
They have all the standard European formulas like HiPP Dutch, HiPP UK, HiPP Germany, Holle, Lebenswert, Goat Milk formula, and the sensitive formulas (HiPP HA, HiPP Comfort, Anti-Reflux); but they even have Loulouka, Good Night Formula from HiPP, as well as Stage 3 and Stage 4 formula from HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert and Loulouka! They offer the largest most expansive set of European formulas available today.
My Organic Formula ships free on orders over $50, and you can receive an additional 5% off by using the code “THEPICKYEATER” at checkout.
Other things that make them great: they have a comprehensive mixing guide for every formula that’s easily accessible here, they have a subscribe and save option (save an additional 7%), and amazing customer service!
When it comes to affordability, Bottles & Burps is the lowest priced US retailer I have found that sells HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert and Kendamil. They can get all of these products to most US households in 1, 2, or 3 days from their US warehouses with their standard free shipping (shipping is always free).
If you’re looking to save even more, you can order bundles direct from their warehouse in Germany (with free, express 2-5 day shipping to the US). Express shipping from Europe is important because the alternatives can take upwards of 30 days and suffer additional customs delays.
I met with Courtney and Blake, the co-owners, and learned that they had the same experience as I did when trying to find healthy formula for their little one. They are committed to bringing high quality, European formula to parents in the US at an attractive price. Bottles & Burps is also offering a $10 discount code using the code PICKYEATER10 (just enter it manually in the checkout process!)
Little Bundle is the one of the most reliable, reputable, online retailers for buying healthy, organic European formulas. Huggable is based in the Bay Area and founded by a mom who (just like me) was looking for healthier baby formula options for her little one. Little Bundle is committed to making the first year of feeding your baby as easy and stress-free as possible.
After extensive research and conversations, I feel confident in recommending Little Bundle as one of the best places to purchase European baby formulas, including HiPP, Lebenswert, Holle, and Holle Goat.
Little Bundle formulas ship free on orders over $50 and arrive at your doorstep in 1-5 business days! And, they truly care about the comfort and happiness of both mom and baby. They have a baby satisfaction guarantee, where if a formula isn’t right for your baby, they’ll send you a box of another to try, 100% FREE.
Little Bundle makes it easy for you to see the ingredients in each of the formulas you buy. For HiPP: You can see the ingredients here, For Lebenswert: you can see the ingredients here, and For Holle: you can see the ingredients here.
Little Bundle also supports single moms — they recently launched the The Supermom Scholarship, which awards $2,000 and a year of free baby formula to single mothers who are on their way to achieving degrees!
Organic’s Best is based in Germany, and is passionate about making organic baby formula and baby food available internationally (to any family who wants it!) They carry HiPP Dutch, HiPP Germany, HiPP UK (you can find all the stages of HiPP + Ready to Feed formula here) Holle (and all the Stages of Holle), Lebenswert (and all the stages of Lebenswert), and Loulouka Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3. They also carry HiPP HA, HiPP Comfort, and HiPP AR.
One thing that makes this company unique is that they ship internationally for free, and they will guarantee fast delivery between 1-4 business days. Additionally, every new customer also receives two free boxes of formula! They have low prices, and they include free shipping insurance for every order, and they guarantee availability of all formulas – so you never have to worry about your favorites being out of stock!
Organic Baby Food is a reputable, online retailer based in the EU who has fast shipping to the US! They sell HiPP, Lebenswert, and Holle, along with Hypoallergenic formula and Goat’s Milk formula. They have reasonable prices, reliable shipping (within 1-3 business days!), amazing customer support, and I have been in contact with the owner personally.
In addition to baby formula they also have a variety of organic cereals and snacks for babies from HiPP/Holle/Leb, as well as a line of baby care products (shampoo, lotion, calendula) that are gentle and free of any synthetic ingredients so they are perfect for babies!
A few other great things about this company: guaranteed delivery within 2 days, money back if your shipment is delayed, dedicated customer support (a few hours turnaround time for emails or direct phone support at 1-800-701-4303), and deep discounts up to 60% off sometimes! They are also giving readers of The Picky Eater a 10% off coupon code at checkout – just use the code: PICKY and you will get the discount!
DutchExpatShop is pretty awesome because they are the most affordable online retailer for HiPP Dutch! Many of you have struggled with HiPP Dutch being out of stock, and DutchExpatShop pretty much guarantees that they will always have HiPP Dutch at an affordable price to ship to the US.
They are based in the Netherlands, and they also have the widest selection of Baby Care products from the Netherlands that I’ve seen. The cool thing about their shop is that you can get any products from Holland and Belgium through their site (even stuff for mama like yummy snacks, fresh cheeses, beauty products, body care and more!)
Kabrita USA is one new option for Goat Milk that I recommend. Kabrita has a new formulation that is now available nationwide – in stores like Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods, and on their website! The new formulation has NO glucose syrup solids, no taurine or l-carnitine, AND has GOS (a prebiotic) added. The new formulation makes Kabrita the best Goat Milk formula out there – better than Holle Goat!
It’s cheaper than Holle, available in the US, European sourced, non-GMO, no Palm Oil (they use palmitic oil instead), no maltodextrin, easier to digest than Holle — Kabrita’s whey/casein ratio is very close to breastmilk, while Holle’s isn’t and I have heard that babies who struggle with constipation do better on Kabrita. Also, Kabrita is offering 10% off all ordes with the coupon code GENTLEKABRITA.
Best organic baby formulas, ranked from best to worst
Below is a detailed chart ranking all of the best organic baby formulas. At the top of the chart, I’ve included a hypothetical line for the “ideal” formula – so you have something to measure all of the other formulas against.
For anyone looking for a goat milk formula specifically, I have a separate chart in What’s the Best Goat Milk Formula for Your Baby?
Note: Regarding GrassFed and PureBliss – they are not part of my best organic baby formulas list (since they are not technically organic). But they are non GMO and antibiotic free, and their ingredients list is relatively clean, which is why I have added them at the bottom here as they are available in the US and are better than all of the non-organic formulas available in the US today. More details on how they can be non GMO and grass fed but NOT organic are below in the 4/6/17 Update!
What about the best Vitamin D, DHA and Probiotics Supplements for babies?
Recommendations on Supplementing: DHA, Vitamin D, Probiotics
I have gotten a lot of questions about what to supplement with if your baby is on a formula that doesn’t have DHA added, what probiotic to use, or what to do if your baby is getting some breastmilk along with their formula (in which case you need to add Vitamin D). Note: The EU just released new standards for DHA in baby formula which you can read about here. If you are looking for additional supplementation for DHA, Vitamin D and/or Probiotics, here are my top picks for baby supplements:
Vitamin D: I absolutely love these Baby Vitamin D Drops. There is literally nothing added to them (no flavors, colors, etc.). They are liquid and you only need one drop in your baby’s bottle per day. You can also just apply the drop on your baby’s pacifier, on your nipple (if you’re nursing), or on your finger and have your baby suck it off. Super easy, tasteless and pure.
DHA: The only Omega 3 supplement I’d recommend for kids is Nordic Naturals. They have an infant DHA supplement and a children’s DHA supplement – both of which are extremely pure, have no added preservatives or sugar, and are in liquid form so they can be added to just about anything!
Probiotics: I love Garden of Life’s line of probiotics – they are shipped cold and their infant/kids one can be added to your baby’s bottle (starting at 3 months of age), and can be used even when your child gets older (just add the powder to their milk). I also like Klaire Labs’ powdered probiotic. For infants 0-3 months of age, I recommend BioGaia’s probiotic. For older kids, Garden of Life also has a kids’ chewable probiotic if you need and option that doesn’t require refrigeration, and I take their adult capsule daily.
Baby Food: For those of you transitioning to solids and looking for homemade baby food recipes, I have a bunch of easy recipes you can try here! But in those instances when you’re on the go and looking for a healthy, organic, pre-made option, my list of the healthiest baby food pouches should help.
Not every baby likes every formula. Some formulas constipate or irritate some babies, yet keep other babies’ tummies perfectly happy. If you try the formulas I recommend and they don’t work for your baby – that is ok!
There is no perfect formula, but some are still much better than others. If you can afford it, the best organic baby formulas are HiPP, Lebenswert, and Holle – so I’d recommend shipping your formula from Europe whenever possible! Organic infant formulas are more expensive than regular formula, and not every parent has the financial means to buy organic formula for their little ones – and that’s ok, too! Just do the best you can for your baby. No judgments here.
Overall, I advocate a world of no judgments when it comes to breastfeeding or formula feeding. All you can do as a mom is your best. Whether you breastfeed for a year, or 6 months or 1 month, or 0 months doesn’t make you a better or worse mother. A happy healthy mom and happy healthy baby is all that matters.
Keep in mind that every person & situation is different, especially yours, so make sure to talk to your doctor and see how these guidelines and tips can help you. These tips are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice because of something you read here!
My recommendations are based on the manufacturer’s claims and ingredients list, and what I feel best giving to my own family. Your individual results may be different based on your overall diet, exercise, age, weight, family history, or pre-existing conditions.
Appendix A: More Info on Hexane Extracted DHA/ARA in Formula
I spoke with an expert who has her BS in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, who worked in an organic chemistry lab for 2 years and worked with many solvents used in extractions, compound purification, and analysis, and then went on to get an MS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is extremely knowledgable when it comes to hexane and extraction methods, so I asked her for her thoughts on how concerned we should be about hexane-extracted DHA/ARA in the best organic baby formulas on this list. Here is the summary:
- Hexane is often used as extraction solvent for extracting fats. This is because it has a low boiling point when compared to most fats, which makes it easy to get rid of post-extraction – leaving the fat behind.
- To get rid of Hexane, chemists use a large apparatus called a “rotary vap” that gets rid of the solvents and you end up with a pure powder substance (usually a chemical compound). The next step is to check the purity of the compound using a machine called an NMR or MS, which tells you whether you have any of your solvent left.
- This woman told me that she never, ever found an issue with having hexane still present after drying her sample.
- Since formulas are a powder, they are heated to the point of water removal, and therefore the hexane should be all gone. It is unlikely that hexane is left in properly treated formula, but you are placing trust in the formula and manufacturing industry that all formula is being properly prepared.
- Note: All oils that don’t have a cold-pressed process are extracted using hexane – this includes corn oil, soy oil, vegetable oil, etc. (unless otherwise specified on the bottle). Hexane is also used during the development process for drugs – many drugs are purified in a hexane solvent and then it is dried off. So if you are going to question hexane, you need to be aware of the other areas where it is used in our regular food and drug supply!
- When it comes to being concerned about hexane vs. other questionable ingredients in organic formulas – maltodextrin, soy oil, etc., I’d be more concerned about maltodextrin vs. hexane extracted DHA. This is because maltodextrin’s glycemic index is much higher than table sugar and I personally believe a lot of issues today come from sugar and inflammation, and even when hexane is used it should be gone by the time the formula is packaged.
- Unfortunately, there is no formula out there that doesn’t have at least one of the “offending” ingredients I have listed above! For me personally, I would choose hexane-extracted DHA over maltodextrin or soy oil for example. This is because soy oil is also extracted using hexane, and maltodextrin has an extremely high glycemic index. In addition, formulas that contain soy oil or maltodextrin are 100% guaranteed to contain these ingredients, versus hexane which is likely not traceable in a formula that has used it as a method to extract DHA/ARA before the formula has been prepared!
Appendix B: Detailed Updates by Date Below!
Update as of 8/1/2020: The EU has come out with new regulations that require DHA to be added to all infant formulas. Loulouka, Holle and Lebenswert’s new formulations now all include DHA. Also – many of the US formulas discussed below have been discontinued (e.g. Honest Co, Plum Organics, Vermont Organics, Whole Foods 365 Organic Formula) — see the updated chart in this post for the latest info on what’s available!
Update as of 1/24/19: Honest Co. has improved the ingredients in their formula!! Yay!! They no longer use glucose syrup solids or taurine, and have added prebiotics. Because of this they jumped a bunch of places on the list and are now comparable with Happy Baby!
Update as of 12/31/18: I have added a reputable retailer to my site who I have been able to communicate with and understand the ins and outs of their company! They are DutchExpatShop – the cheapest seller of HiPP Dutch that I’ve found. Also, if you’re looking for a Facebook group about baby formula, I’d recommend this particular Facebook group that’s meant as an unbiased discussion forum for baby formula in a supportive, non-judgmental manner.
Update as of 3/15/15: The Honest Company just came out with an Organic Baby Formula – that, in my opinion, is now the best option for an Organic formula made in the US. The first two ingredients in the formula are similar to HiPP (Organic Non Fat Milk, Organic Lactose) — but then the third ingredient is “Organic Glucose Syrup Solids,” which is not great but still better than Baby’s Only (which has “brown rice syrup” as the first ingredient). The Honest Co. formula is still not better than Holle or HiPP, but is better than all of the other US formulas out there.
Update as of 5/25/15: Baby’s Only just came out with a Whey Protein Formula that now is probably the best option for an Organic formula in the US. Nutritionally, it seems much better than the original Baby’s Only formula with brown rice syrup. Some things to note: 1) It looks like the nucleotides in this formula aren’t added synthetically – that Baby’s Only just discloses that all milk proteins have naturally occurring nucleotides – in which case that seems ok. 2) They do have organic soybean oil and soy lecithin in their formula 3) They don’t have palm oil (like HiPP does) in the formula or glucose syrup solids (like the Honest Company’s formula) which is great. This makes Baby’s Only with Whey a pretty great option – and might be the best option in the US since it doesn’t have glucose syrup solids like the Honest Company’s formula does. Between HiPP, Holle and Baby’s Only with Whey, it’s a bit of a toss up between whether you’d rather have soybean oil or palm oil in your baby’s formula. I might still go with Hipp or Holle first, and then Baby’s Only with Whey Protein, and then the Honest Company’s formula in the US. Note: Holle also has a new formula called Lebenswert – which doesn’t have maltodextrin (for stage 1; it does for stage 2/3).
Update as of 3/31/16: Plum Organics just released a formula which is a great option for Organic formula in the US! It doesn’t have any syrup solids (yay!) and it has a combination of 4 oils (coconut and high oleic sunflower – which are great; and palm/soybean oil – not as great). Between Plum Organics and Baby’s Only with Whey – I think they are both great options for a formula you can purchase in the US. Baby’s Only with Whey might be slightly better because they don’t have palm oil, but honestly I’d say they are pretty comparable.
Update as of 4/30/16: Honest Co. is being sued because their formula contains Taurine and other ingredients that really shouldn’t be in organic formula. The problem is, those ingredients are considered OK by the FDA and the same ingredients are in many of the organic formulas available in the US (like Earth’s Best and Baby’s Only with Brown Rice Syrup)! That’s why I recommend the European formulas over any formula in the US – the EU formulas have the cleanest list of ingredients by far. I hope the FDA changes their standards on what ingredients are considered acceptable for organic formulas – depending on how the suit turns out I’ll update this list accordingly!
Update as of 6/21/16: I just found out about a German formula available in the US called “BabyLove“. The ingredients look great, are really in line with HiPP and Holle – and are a great option for your baby! The only ingredient on their list that I’m not sure about is “sweet whey powder” – I’m not sure if that is lactose, or if that’s added sugars. The company claims that their formula has no added sugars, but I haven’t found any more information than that. Either way, the rest of the ingredients look pretty comparable to HiPP or Holle so I’m adding it as a #3 option for your little one!
Update as of 7/23/16: HiPP UK has changed its ingredients for its Stage 2 formulas (they now include soy). BUT – the Dutch version of HiPP still has high quality ingredients and no soy. Also, a new formula called Topfer just came out, and their ingredients are very comparable to HiPP or Holle Leb! I’d definitely recommend their formula!
Update as of 11/4/16: Earth’s Best has recently changed the ingredients in their formula — they no longer use syrup solids as the sugar! Now they use lactose. That’s definitely an improvement! They have FOS (which is a prebiotic sourced from sucrose – so it’s not bad), and they still have palm oil, taurine, etc. on their ingredients list but getting rid of the syrup solids is a big plus.
Update as of 1/10/17: Regarding hexane extracted DHA in formula – this is what I’ve found to be true: Baby’s Only with Whey Protein has confirmed that the DHA in their formula is NOT extracted using hexane. As for the DHA in HiPP, their company statement says: “HiPP Infant milks use natural sources of DHA and ARA, derived from fish oils.”
Update as of 4/6/17: There are a few new formulas coming out (or that have just come out!) Happy Baby in the US, PureBliss by Similac, and GrassFed by Munchkin. HappyBaby is a decent option in the US – I’d rank it after Regular Holle (the chart above is updated!). GrassFed and PureBliss both have decent ingredients (the only “offending” ingredients are Soy Oil and Taurine) but they are not certified organic. Both say that their formulas are made with 100% Grass Fed Cow Milk, have no antibiotics and are non GMO – but they are not organic. This is likely because in some capacity, >5% of their ingredients by mass were not sourced-organic. Also, you can feed cows grass that has been sprayed with non-organic pesticides and it’s still considered “grass fed” but it wouldn’t be considered organic. They mention that the cows are GMO, rBGH and antibiotic free, but do not address the grass itself, so that might be another reason why it’s not organic. I have kept them on the list at the bottom because their ingredients are pretty good (you can read about GrassFed’s ingredients here), and are better than some of the other formulas in the US that are on the market today, but they can’t be considered “organic formulas.”
Update as of 7/1/17: Many of you have asked me questions about the FDA’s recent crackdown on US-based sellers of European formula. This is happening because the FDA does not allow sellers to buy formula in Europe and sell it here in the US under a US business name. The formula has to come directly from Europe. It is 100% legal to order formula from Europe for personal use. If your order is less than $800, you will not be charged duty. It’s important to use reputable sites who know international shipping declarations so that your package of formula doesn’t encounter problems when arriving in the US! That’s why I highly recommend Organic Baby Food, because they are familiar with these declarations and will get your formula to you without any delays or issues.
Update as of 4/1/18: There is a new Goat Milk formula that has recently come out – from Kabrita USA. Their Goat Milk formula has lactose and whey as the primary ingredients, palmitic oil instead of palm oil, and no glucose syrup solids in the newest formulation! I have also heard that it’s better than Holle Goat for babies who struggle with constipation. Currently their formula is labeled as a “toddler formula,” but their formula does meet the FDA’s nutrient requirements for an infant formula and I’ve heard that infants do well on it. Kabrita USA is moving through the required steps (laid out by the FDA) to be marketed and sold explicitly in the US as infant formula as well!
Update as of 4/10/18: Many of you have mentioned that HiPP Dutch can be out of stock from time to time and have asked for the next best thing. If you don’t want to use Lebenswert or Holle PRE, another great option is HiPP PRE! It’s basically identical in ingredients to HiPP Dutch, so it’s the perfect replacement when needed.