Another Warning on Baby Formula

With my wife and me trying to conceive, my ears perk up anytime I hear advice about raising children.

And as a food writer and entrepreneur, they perk up doubly when this advice pertains to food.

Similac

Is it only baby formula that falls short? Or all our heavily processed foods?

So a new study quickly caught my attention: infant formula not only produces more free fatty acids–known to damage cell membranes–when digested, but those free fatty acids kill of the cells that line the intestines and blood vessels, along with white blood cells that control inflammation caused by cell trauma.  In the same study, breast milk wreaked far less havoc.

Lest you’re worried, the study wasn’t conducted on babies, but on cells in a laboratory.

What this study means in practice is uncertain.  For some time, doctors have extolled the benefits of breast milk and warned parents who are able to breastfeed that it’s better to stay away from formula.  Formula’s been tied to a number of developmental ills, most recently a correlation to adulthood obesity.  But it’s not entirely clear what this study adds to our bank of knowledge, except that breast milk seems to be far kinder to our bodies than formula.

Still, the study’s findings are disconcerting.  If what goes on in the lab goes on in our bodies, then formula does some damage inside a baby’s body, at a very vulnerable time in its physical development.

Yet the study really doesn’t speak only to baby formula.  The lesson here may be far broader, and applicable to all of us, at any age.  Our bodies are designed to handle natural foods, and not foods we cook up through heavy manufacturing.  While there’s wide scientific and, increasingly, societal, consensus that the lab-made formula we’ve tried to piece together to match a mother’s natural milk doesn’t match the original product nature has provided us, there’s less of a recognition that the same dynamic plays out in all of our food.

All these lab-designed foods that come out touting added nutrients and minerals, tons of x or y beneficial ingredient, sound great.  Sure, potassium is necessary for our bodies, and we should be getting some in our diet.  But does this mean we should buy a processed food that has added potassium?

Not necessarily.  Because we’ve played this game already, and lost.  We’ve done our best to fill up baby formula with all the components it needs – all the nutritional components found in mother’s milk.  And yet it just doesn’t work the same.  Because no matter what nutrients we’ve identified to date, we simply aren’t at a stage where we can completely duplicate natural materials, and create manufactured foods that offer the same nutritional balance that natural foods provide us.

Maybe some day we’ll know enough to make this work.  But if it doesn’t work today for baby formula, after decades of trying, what makes us think all those processed foods in the grocery aisle are working for us, regardless of their fabulous nutritional claims?

Let’s take a lesson from our babies and do what we ask of them–eat what nature already provides, and what our bodies are already supremely suited to thrive off.

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2 Responses to Another Warning on Baby Formula

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