What does “Nutritionally Complete” Mean?

Posted 3.11.10 | Christine Graham-Garo

I often get asked whether our Neocate® formulas have all the vitamins and minerals a child would need to thrive for all stages throughout their lives. The general answer is "Yes" - with caveats - but I thought I should explain further what the term “nutritionally complete” really means.

"Nutritionally Complete" is Undefined

First, "nutritionally complete" is not a regulated term. That's a fancy way of saying that the federal government hasn't set a formal definition for the term. You also won't find "nutritionally complete" in the dictionary! So, that gets us off to a tough start in answering this question.

The term "nutritionally complete" is often used by healthcare professionals, and is often used to describe nutritional formulas. So, let's assume that the experts in food and nutrition - Registered Dietitians - would be best positioned to answer this question.
Dietitians interpret "nutritionally complete" to have the following meanings: 
  1.  It can be used as a sole source of nutrition to provide approximately 100% of recommended levels for essential nutrients when used to meet energy needs (all carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals a child needs to grow and thrive)

  2. to indicate that a product contains some of every essential nutrient, though not necessarily at 100% of recommended levels for all nutrients (this may be better as a supplement, and may not necessarily be suitable as a sole source of nutrition).
Despite these two possible interpretations, most healthcare professionals assume that "nutritionally complete" means the first thing: that you can survive and thrive on this formula, and nothing else.

Products Labeled "Nutritionally Complete"

A nutritional product or formula that has "nutritionally complete" on its product label should ideally be age-appropriate and provide all the nutrients a child would need for that specific age. For example, infant formulas are designed specifically to meet the nutritional needs of infants. Infants have different nutritional needs than toddlers and older children, so age-specific nutritionally complete products are needed to ensure all the nutrient needs of the target population are met. (Note: every person is different, so it's important that healthcare teams check the needs of every patient to see if they have unique needs and make sure they're all met by the diet, formula, and supplements, if needed.)

Having complete nutrition is important for children who are on very restrictive diets due to conditions such as food allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and short bowel syndrome (SBS). When children cannot eat a wide variety of foods, it is common for them to have nutrient deficiencies as a consequence. One study (1) found that in children with food allergies, many were not receiving enough vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin E and zinc. This is a serious problem because inadequate nutrition in children could have long-lasting implications such as poor growth, delayed development, and failure to thrive.

One of the best ways to avoid nutrient deficiencies is by having a registered dietitian involved in your child’s care – they can assess your child’s nutritional status, assess the diet, and give recommendations on what options may work for you and your family. Your chosen nutritionist can also help you to properly read food labels and really understand what is being put into your child’s food. Just as important, finding a nutritional formula that has adequate (and even higher) amounts of important nutrients (such as calcium, iron, vitamin D, phosphorus and zinc) can help you ensure your little one is receiving proper age-specific nutrition to grow and thrive.

Neocate Formulas are Nutritionally Complete

As I mentioned, all of the formulas in the Neocate family are nutritionally complete. Neocate Syneo and Neocate Infant DHA/ARA are designed to meet the nutritional needs of infants. For toddlers, older children and teenagers, Neocate Junior and Neocate Splash are designed to be nutritionally complete.

If you are also using Neocate Nutra - our semi-solid amino-acid based medical food - don’t forget that it is meant to supplement formula or breast milk, and not replace it. Neocate Nutra contains lots of important nutrients like protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin D, but just not enough to be the only source of nutrition.

Are there any vitamins and/or minerals you are worried your little one may not be getting enough of due to a restricted diet? Let us hear about it!

Christine & Rob

1. Salman et al, Dietary intakes of children with food allergies: comparison of the food guide pyramid and the recommended dietary allowances, J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002.

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About Us

Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.