Soy in Baby Formula: What You Need to Know
If you’re into soy-based products as an adult, you may be wondering what’s up with soy in baby
formula. It’s been at the center of debate for several reasons that we’re going to get into.
As a parent, it’s important to be in the know about what’s in your baby’s formula so that you can
make informed decisions about what’s going into their little bodies. So, let’s take a closer look at
soy, why it’s even added to baby formula, and about its potential dangers.
What is Soy?
When people talk about soy-based products, you may just nod and smile, but do you really
know what it is? Soy is any food that is made from soybeans. Soybeans are legumes and can
be an excellent source of high-quality protein that many other legumes don’t have.
Soy products can include:
● Soy milk
● Soy sauce
● Soy oil
Soy can also provide vital nutrients and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc,
niacin, copper, and more.
Why is Soy Added to Baby Formula?
Soy-based formulas are created for babies who can’t safely have breast milk or milk-based
formula or for those whose families choose a vegan diet. While many babies can break down
proteins from milk sources, some just can’t.
Babies who have galactosemia are often recommended to have a soy-based formula.
Galactosemia is a metabolic condition that does not allow the body to metabolize a certain type
of sugar (galactose), that is primarily found in breast milk and cow’s milk. When galactose can’t
be digested and broken down, it builds up in the tissues and blood in large amounts.
Galactosemia can be life-threatening when it’s not treated right away.
Soy formulas have the same amount of calories and important nutrients as other types of baby
formulas so they can meet a baby’s growth and developmental needs. According to the
American Academy of Pediatrics, “isolated soy protein-based formulas are considered to be
safe and effective alternatives to provide appropriate nutrition for normal growth and development in term infants whose nutritional needs are not being met from maternal breast
milk or cow’s milk-based formulas.”
But, soy formula is only typically recommended for babies with galactosemia or hereditary
lactase deficiency. It can also be recommended for vegan families, but parents should talk to
their pediatricians to determine if it is the best option.
What are the Concerns about Soy in Baby Formula?
There’s been a lot of buzz around soy-based baby formula because it contains a class of
compounds known as isoflavones. These are naturally occurring compounds that are primarily
found in beans and other legumes.
The primary isoflavones that are found in soy products, including soy formula, are:
These isoflavones are referred to as phytoestrogens because they are found in plants and act
like estrogen in the body.
While there have been no health problems directly linked to infants having soy formula, infants
go through developmental stages that are estrogen-sensitive. Therefore, infants can be
vulnerable to the estrogen-like effects of the phytoestrogens in soy. This can include the early
onset of puberty in girls and alternations in the development of breast tissue. Some studies
suggest that girls who are given soy-based formula may have longer and heavier periods when
they get older.
Other potential concerns include higher aluminum and phytate levels. Soy-based formulas tend
to have higher levels of aluminum than breast milk or cow milk-based formulas. This may affect
a baby’s brain and bone mass development. These are the reasons why some question the use
of soy in baby formula.
Are There Any Health Benefits to Soy-Based Baby Formula?
Some parents may lean towards soy formula because of studies linking soy-rich diets to lower
risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in adults. But, there is currently no sufficient evidence
to show that babies who use soy formula have a lower risk of developing these diseases when
they get older. Also, there is no strong evidence to show that soy formula reduces colic or
protects kids from allergies.
What About Soy Oil and Soy Lecithin?
In your search for all things soy, you may have come across soy lecithin and soy oil. Soy lecithin
can be used as an emulsifier in infant formulas and processed foods. This means it helps to
keep things together. Without it, many substances would separate or would never come
Soy oil can help to provide essential fatty acids to make infant formula as close as possible to
breast milk. The use of soy oil is widespread. For a long time, it was the only approved source
of essential fats for formulas.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to soy in baby formula, you have the final say on soy. If you’re considering it,
you should talk to your pediatrician to decide if it’s the right move. Soy formulas are often
recommended for full-term babies who have galactosemia or hereditary lactase deficiency.
There have been concerns about the phytoestrogens in soy. This can include the early onset of
puberty in girls and alternations in the development of breast tissue. While some parents may
lean towards soy because of studies linking soy-rich diets to a lower risk of diabetes and other
diseases, there is not enough evidence to prove that babies who have soy formulas will have
that same effect.
The more you educate yourself about the different ingredients in baby formula, the better
decision you can make about the type of formula to feed your baby.