Role of Dietary Fats in Early Nutrition
Infants have an immense energy requirement — this need is partially met by milk fat, an important component of breast milk, as well as milk formulas. Milk fat is an important energy source, providing about 45-55% of the total energy requirements of an infant. Apart from this, milk fats also facilitate the delivery and absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as polyunsaturated acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), which are recognized to have a vital role in cognitive and visual development in infants.
What is Palmitic Acid?
Palmitic acid is one of the most common saturated fatty acids found in breast milk, and thus constitute an important energy source for a rapidly growing infant. In infant formula, the fat component mainly comes from vegetable oils; palm oil is typically used to increase the palmitic acid levels in formula milk closer to the high levels seen in breast milk.
Beneficial Effects of sn-2 Palmitate on Early Childhood Health
Studies have shown that infants fed with formula that was high in sn-2 palmitate had better fat absorption and higher bone mineral content than those who received standard formula. sn-2 palmitate in milk reduces calcium malabsorption and positively impacts bone development. This is particularly important during infancy when intensive growth and skeleton formation occurs.
The formation of calcium soaps can also lead to stool hardening, constipation and overall intestinal discomfort. Infants on high sn-2 palmitate formula were shown to have softer stools and less calcium
soaps in their stools compared with those on standard formula. Hard stools can be difficult to pass and infants may push or strain and may be fussier when having a bowel movement. High sn-2 palmitate formula can potentially alleviate these issues in formula-fed infants too.
Current evidence also suggests that formula with high sn-2 palmitate content may help reduce crying episodes in babies with colic, encourage the development of a healthy gut microflora7 and confer anti-inflammatory effects on the intestinal surface.
- Palmitic acid is a major saturated fatty acid in milk and is an important energy source for a growing infant.
- During digestion, palmitic acids that are bound at the sn-2 position do not create calcium soaps in the intestine, as they are readily absorbed, thereby reducing fat and calcium malabsorption.
- sn-2 palmitate also improves stool consistency and reduces crying time in infants with colic.
- Koletzko B, et al. Physiological aspects of human milk lipids and implications for infant feeding: a workshop report. Acta Paediatr. 2011;100(11):1405–1415.
- Miles EA, Calder PC. The influence of the position of palmitate in infant formula triacylglycerols on health outcomes. Nutr Res. 2017;44:1–8.
- Bronsky J, et al. Palm Oil and Beta-palmitate in Infant Formula: A Position Paper by the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2019;68(5):742– 760.
- Carnielli VP, et al. Structural position and amount of palmitic acid in formulas: effects on fat, fatty acid, and mineral balance. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1996;23:554–60.
- Kennedy K, et al. 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. 1999;70(5):920–927.
- Litmanovitz I, Bar-Yoseph F, Lifshitz Y, et al. Reduced crying in term infants fed high beta-palmitate formula: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. BMC Pediatr. 2014;14:152.
- Yaron S, et al. Effect of high β-palmitate content in infant formula on the intestinal microbiota of term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013;56:376–81.
- Lu P, et al. High beta-palmitate fat controls the intestinal inflammatory response and limits intestinal damage in mucin Muc2 deficient mice. PLoS One. 2013;8:e65878.