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Is Baby Formula Without Palm Oil the Best Choice for Your Baby?

by Kabrita USA March 04, 2021

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm (Elaeis guineensi). Palm oil is found in many consumer goods including cosmetics, packaged foods, shampoos and even some doughnuts. It’s also used in animal feed and as a biofuel in many parts of the world.

Is palm oil bad?

Unregulated palm oil farming practices such as mass deforestation, clear cutting, burning, and planting of single monoculture species have endangered some of the world’s most biodiverse forests and threaten rare and endangered animal species. In addition, oil palm farming practices have been shown to contribute to air, soil and water pollution. As a consequence, there has been a large push to limit the use of palm oil in consumer goods.  

Why is palm oil in baby formula?

Palmitic acid represents about 20-25% of the major fatty acids found in breast milk.1 Palm oil is a good source of critical palmitic acid. Palm oil is commonly added to baby formula to model the natural fatty acid profile of breast milk and maintain similar palmitic acid levels.  

Can baby formula without palm oil model the fats in breast milk?

Other vegetable oils commonly found in formula such as safflower, sunflower, coconut or soy simply do not contribute as high concentrations of palmitic acid as does palm oil. One recent study found, for example, that palm-free formula resulted in lower levels of palmitic acid (7.7%) compared to formula with palm oil (26.3%). 2

So, why are some baby formulas palm-free?

Unfortunately, the presence of palm oil or palm olein in formula has been shown to lower calcium and fat absorption in infants. One recent study noted that “the inclusion of palm olein in infant formula at levels needed to provide a fatty acid profile similar to that of human milk leads to lower bone mineralization.”3 Palm oil has also been shown to contribute to harder stool and associated discomfort in some babies.4

In response to the negative environmental and social implications of oil palm farming, combined with these less than favorable scientific findings related to poor calcium absorption and harder stools, many formula companies have opted to go palm-free.

How is palmitic acid in vegetable oil different from palmitic acid in breast milk?

Breast milk is quite unique in that up to 86% of the palmitic acid in breast milk is esterified in the sn-2 position of the triglyceride molecule.5 Palmitic acid that is esterified in the sn-2 position is also known as beta-palmitate.

Vegetable oils, including palm oil, have greater concentrations of palmitic acid that are esterified in the sn-1,3 position.6 The difference in triglyceride structure changes how they are broken down in the digestive system.7

structural illustration of beta-palmitate vs sn 1,3 palmitic acid

To learn more about how the structure of palmitic acid affects digestion and nutrient absorption, please refer to our blog about beta-palmitate or read this study.

We believe the benefits of beta-palmitate are worth keeping

infographic of benefits of beta palmitate

Beta-palmitate in breast milk confers many benefits to babies.8 Studies have shown, for example, that higher concentrations of beta-palmitate:

  • benefit calcium metabolism 9
  • increase digestion and absorption of essential fats10
  • supports healthy creation of bone matrix 11,12
  • improves stool consistency 13,14
  • benefits intestinal microflora 15
  • may benefit sleep and decreased crying 16

In addition to the positive research findings listed above, palmitic acid is important for cell health and communication.17 Unfortunately, palm-free formula may not provide optimal amounts of palmitic acid little ones need.18

In an effort to better match the amount and functionality of beta-palmitate in breast milk, Kabrita has chosen a premium fat blend with beta-palmitate.

If palm oil is sourced for consumer use, what better place to use it than in supporting the healthy development of babies. Perhaps we can conserve more in instances where palm oil doesn’t provide the same value – like palm oil in our doughnuts.

 


 

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Kabrita Goat Milk Toddler Formula may be an option for little ones during feeding transitions, such as weaning and supplementing, or those with minor issues associated with cow milk sensitivity*. We encourage parents to consult with their little one's healthcare provider before making a feeding change. 

*Not suitable for children with confirmed cow milk protein allergy

 

 

[1] Havlicekova, Z., Jesenak, M., Banovcin, P. et al. Beta-palmitate – a natural component of human milk in supplemental milk formulas. Nutr J 15, 28 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0145-1 

[2] Gallier, S., Tolenaars, L., & Prosser, C. (2020). Whole Goat Milk as a Source of Fat and Milk Fat Globule Membrane in Infant Formula. Nutrients12(11), 3486. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12113486

[3] Koo, W. W., Hammami, M., Margeson, D. P., Nwaesei, C., Montalto, M. B., & Lasekan, J. B. (2003). Reduced bone mineralization in infants fed palm olein-containing formula: a randomized, double-blinded, prospective trial. Pediatrics111(5 Pt 1), 1017–1023. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.111.5.1017

[4] Kennedy K, Fewtrell MS, Morley R, Abbott R, Quinlan PT, Wells JCK, Bindels JG. Double-blind, randomized trial of a synthetic triacylglycerol in formula-fed term infants: effects on stool biochemistry, stool characteristics, and bone mineralization. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;70:920–7.

[5] Havlicekova, Z., Jesenak, M., Banovcin, P. et al. Beta-palmitate – a natural component of human milk in supplemental milk formulas. Nutr J 15, 28 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0145-1

[6] Havlicekova, Z., Jesenak, M., Banovcin, P. et al. Beta-palmitate – a natural component of human milk in supplemental milk formulas. Nutr J 15, 28 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0145-1

[7] Havlicekova, Z., Jesenak, M., Banovcin, P. et al. Beta-palmitate – a natural component of human milk in supplemental milk formulas. Nutr J 15, 28 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0145-1

[8] Havlicekova, Z., Jesenak, M., Banovcin, P. et al. Beta-palmitate – a natural component of human milk in supplemental milk formulas. Nutr J 15, 28 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0145-1

[9] Lee YS, Kang EY, Park MN, Choi YY, Jeon JW, Yun SS. Effectsof sn-2 palmitic acid-fortified vegetable oil and fructooligosaccharide on calcium metabolism in growing rats fed casein based diet. Nutr Res Pract. 2008;2:3–7.

[10] Innis SM, Dyer RA, Lien EL. Formula containing randomized fats with palmitic acid (16:0) in the 2-position increases 16:0 in the 2-position of plasma and chylomicron triacylglycerols, but reduce phospholipid arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids, and alter cholesteryl ester metabolism in formula-Fed piglets. J Nutr. 1997;127:1362–70.

[11] Kennedy K, Fewtrell MS, Morley R, Abbott R, Quinlan PT, Wells JCK, Bindels JG. Double-blind, randomized trial of a synthetic triacylglycerol in formula-fed term infants: effects on stool biochemistry, stool characteristics, and bone mineralization. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;70:920–7. 

[12] Litmanovitz I, Davidson K, Eliakim A, Regev RH, Dolfin T, Arnon S, Bar-Yoseph F, Goren F, Goren A, Lifshitz Y, Nemet D. High-beta-palmitate formula and bone strength in term infants: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Calcif Tissue Int. 2013;92:35–41. 

[13] Quinlan PT, Lockton S, Irwin J, Lucas AL. The relationship between stool hardness and stool composition in breast- and formula-fed infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1995;20:81–90.

[14] Nowacki J, Lee HC, Lien R, Cheng SW, Li ST, Yao M, Northington R, Jan I, Mutungi G. Stool fatty acid soaps, stool consistency and gastrointestinal tolerance in term infants fed infant formulas containing high sn-2 palmitate with or without oligofructose: a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Nutr J. 2014;13:105. 

[15] Yaron S, Shachar D, Abramas L, Riskin A, Bader D, Litmanovitz I, Bar-Yoseph F, Cohen T, Levi L, Lifshitz Y, Shamir R. Shaoul. Effect of high β-palmitate content in infant formula on the intestinal microbiota of term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013;56:376–81.

[16] Litmanovitz I, Bar-Yoseph F, Lifshitz Y, Davidson K, Eliakim A, Regev RH, Nemet D. Reduced crying in term infants fed high beta-palmitate formula: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. BMC Pediatr. 2014;14:152.

[17] Innis, S.M. Palmitic acid in early human development. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr.2015, 56, 1952–1959.

[18] Innis, S.M. Palmitic acid in early human development. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr.2015, 56, 1952–1959.

 

Kabrita USA
Kabrita USA