Holle’s New 2020 Goat Formulas: Bigger Differences Than Just DHA
The new EU Infant Formula Directive that went into effect on February 22, 2020 had wide ranging implications for European baby formula manufacturers, especially Holle baby food AG, the Swiss/German maker of the Holle and Lebenswert organic baby formula brands.
While Holle’s infant and follow-on formulas, both cow and goat milk, were largely already in line with the new EU nutritional guidelines (see Annexes I, II, III), Holle had not historically added DHA to its formulas. Now all European producers of baby formula, including Holle, are required to add at least 20mg (and not more than 50mg) of DHA per 100 calories of baby formula, for both infant formulas (aka stages PRE and 1) and follow-on formulas (aka stages 2 and 3).
In response to the new EU baby formula directive that has now gone into effect, Holle has modified its packaging and formulations across the board. The most significant changes, however, are found in its new 2020 goat milk formula line. Not only has Holle added DHA to Holle Goat stages 1, 2 and 3, but Holle also removed palm oil from its fat composition and, critically important, Holle also changed its mixing proportions of water and powder (only for goat formulas). Holle also recalibrated the vitamin and mineral content as well, making a fairly significant change to iron content.
As a part of this article, I had a chance to interview Blake of Bottles & Burps, the company from which my husband and I have been purchasing Holle formula over the past year. Bottles & Burps also kindly provided the professional German-to-English translations of ingredients and nutritional content used in my analysis, which a German friend of mine at TU Berlin spot-checked for accuracy (he found no errors and was “impressed with the accuracy”). Blake, the representative from Bottles & Burps, commented, “Overall, we are excited about the added DHA and the removal of the palm oil [in Holle Goat]. We were, however, surprised to see changes to the mixing proportions. We were concerned enough about this change that we are deploying a post-purchase SMS and email reminder about this change to help ensure correct formula preparation.” I also agree that the change in mixing proportions should be particularly highlighted for American parents using Holle Goat formulas and I am glad to see that Bottles & Burps is so responsible.
SUMMARY OF KEY CHANGES TO THE NEW VERSION OF HOLLE GOAT
1. ADDITION OF DHA
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a key structural component of the human cerebral cortex, brain, skin, and eyes. Previously Holle did not add DHA to any of its formulas. There are two key commercial sources of DHA: (1) fish oil (in Europe, often derived from fatty fish such as sardines, anchovies and salmon) or (2) oil extracted from certain types of marine algae (aka “algal oil”), which is vegan. The new EU baby formula directive requires a minimum of 20 mg and a maximum of 50 mg for each 100 calories of formula, both infant and follow-on. To meet these requirements, Holle has added between 20 and 21 mg of DHA derived from algal oil per 100 calories¹ to all three stages of Holle Goat. Interestingly, Holle decided to use fish oil as the DHA source for its new versions of Holle cow formulas.
2. CHANGE OF MIXING PROPORTIONS
For the first time, Holle has modified its mixing and preparation instructions for its goat formulas. Historically, the preparation was based on 30ml (1.0 US fl oz) of water per scoop of formula powder. Now, with the new DHA versions of Holle Goat formula, the mixing proportions are 32.5–34.29ml (1.10–1.16 US fl oz) of water per scoop of powder. This represents a significant change of over 10%. If parents do not follow the new mixing instructions they could end up making the formula too thick, potentially “over-nourishing” their infant or contributing to constipation. To ensure accurate and correct preparation, this I believe that it is best, especially for American parents, to prepare bottles based on the total milliliters (ml) of water given the inherent difficulties in measuring fractions. For the sake of clarity, see the below table for Holle Goat Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3. As an example, for Holle Goat 1, a “6 scoop bottle” now requires 200ml of water instead of 180ml (11% more water).
3. REMOVAL OF PALM OIL
Palm oil is used as source of fat in the majority of infant formulas throughout the world, both organic and otherwise, in order to achieve palmitic acid levels similar to those found in breast milk. Some clinical studies, however, have suggested that when palm oil is used as a primary fat source in infant formulas, it could contribute to poor absorption of calcium and fat, potentially resulting in lower bone density. While there is still insufficient evidence to conclude that palm oil is “good” or “bad,” Holle has actually removed palm oil from its new 2020 goat milk formulas. Because palm oil is richer in saturated fat, as compared with sunflower and rapeseed oil, the saturated fat content in Holle’s new goat milk formulas has declined somewhat, while polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat levels have increased. In spite of this, the overall fat content in the new Holle goat formulas is almost identical to the overall fat content in the old formulations².
Previously, Holle maintained approximately 1.0 mg of iron per 100 calories of formula across all three stages of Holle Goat formula. The new “DHA versions” of Holle Goat 2 and 3 actually contain close to 50% more iron than before. The “DHA version” of Holle Goat 1 has approximately 1mg of iron per 100 calories, which is the same level as found in the old version of Holle Goat 1. The increase in iron in stages 2 an 3 is consistent with the generally accepted scientific view that infants require more iron from 6 to 12 months of age as compared with 0 to 6 months of age. Infants are born with an inherent store of iron which is depleted over the first 6 months of life. As such, infants begin to require more iron from external sources starting at about six months. Too much iron in the first months of life, though, is also not good. As shown in the below chart, the EU directive requires 50–100% more iron in follow-on formulas (6–12 months) as compared with infant formulas intended for 0–6 months³. The US FDA nutritional regulations do not differentiate the requirements for iron (or any other nutritional components) by age and instead provide a range of 0.15mg to 3.0mg of iron per 100 calories. Based on my review of the applicable research into iron, I would argue that many US baby formulas provide too much iron in the first 4–6 months of life because there is only “one stage” for US baby formula. As such, US manufacturers calibrate iron content based on the requirements of older infants, who can experience serious problems as a result of iron deficiencies.
¹The new version of Holle Goat 1, per the German-language labels, contains 13.9 mg of algal DHA per 100 ml of formula (per 100 calories this would be 20.4 mg). Holle Goat 2, per German-language labels, contains 14.1 mg of algal DHA per 100 ml of formula (per 100 calories this would be 20.7 mg). Holle Goat 3, per the German-language labels, contains 13.9 mg of algal DHA per 100 ml of formula (per 100 calories this would be 21.1 mg).
²Per 100 calories, the old goat formulations contained 4.9 to 5.2 g of fat, while the new goat formulations contain 5.0 to 5.3 g of fat. Refer to above nutritional chart for exact values.
³ The new EU directive requires infant formulas have between 0.3 mg and 1.3 mg of iron per 100 calories, while follow-on formulas are required to have between 0.6 mg and 2.0 mg of iron per 100 calories, thus “50% to 100% more.”
German-language labels found on the corporate website of Holle baby food AG (http://www.holle.ch) as of April 2, 2020
Professionally translated labels, ingredients and nutritional data from Bottles & Burps, Inc. (https://www.bottlesandburps.com) as of April 2, 2020
Applicable EU Regulations: Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127
Applicable FDA Regulations: US Title 21: Subchapter B: Part 107: Subpart D