Understanding the fat in formula

by Lina Ristevska January 22, 2016

In the US, the infant formula industry standard is to replace animal fat with a vegetable oil blend in order to best match the complex fatty acid composition found in breast milk. Read on to learn more about fatty acids, KABRITA’s premium OPO fat blend and how it supports development.

By Dr. Annie Salsberg, N.D.

Fat is a critical macronutrient for babies and young children. It is essential for the rapid growth phase following birth, to help in the delivery of fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, D, E and K), and to support neurological development and brain function.

The building blocks of fat

Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat. They vary in length and are classified as short, medium, or long chain. Fatty acids are also characterized as saturated or unsaturated. Essential fatty acids are required by the body and must be obtained through diet.

Fatty acids in breast milk

It is estimated that breast milk delivers 40-50% of its energy as fat and is composed of a range of fatty acids. Although research has shown that the profile is relatively comparable across countries, it does show some variation – for example DHA levels are highest in Japan, where fish is a dietary staple for many. While the composition of breast milk is dynamic in many ways, the fat content tends to be quite stable overall.

Breast milk predominantly contains medium and long chain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The following chart shows some of the fatty acids found in breast milk, at 6 weeks and 6 months post partum: 

Matching the profile

Vegetable oils contain a range of fatty acids and no one oil matches the fatty acid composition of breast milk. The following chart shows the fatty acid composition of commonly-used vegetable oils in commercially made formula.

As no one vegetable oil has a comparable fatty acid profile to that of human milk, formulas contain a vegetable oil blend. KABRITA Goat Milk Formula uses an OPO fat blend, a vegetable oil blend with beta palmitate, designed to mimic the fats found in human milk. Fat blends with beta palmitate have been shown to increase both calcium and fatty acid absorption, improve stool consistency, fuel gut microflora, and decrease colic and gas.

Dr. Annie Salsberg is a board-certified naturopathic physician and Nutritional Sciences and Education Manager at KABRITA. 

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Lina Ristevska
Lina Ristevska