Palm Oil in Baby Formula
As you’ve probably noticed when looking on the back of formulas at the ingredient list, there is usually palm oil listed. If you were to rummage through your kitchen, you’ll find many items that contain palm oil; it is a key ingredient in a lot of household plants. However, it may have made you pause and consider for a moment, given with widely known discussion in the press about palm oil and its somewhat negative effects. So, you may be wondering if it’s safe for your baby to consume.
Fat in Breast Milk and Formula
Infant formula aims to simulate the nutritional content of breast milk and be as close as possible to it. So, it relies on ingredients that can provide a similar composition of fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins, and minerals. One of the most important components in breast milk is fat, and so fatty acids are relied upon heavily - 50% of calories in breast milk and formula derive from fats alone because it is essential as an energy source and it helps with absorbing minerals and vitamins.
The primary source of these fatty acids in infant formulas tends to derive from vegetable oils. The vegetable oils commonly used in formulas are palm, sunflower, safflower, and rapeseed oil, though soy and coconut are also used. With breast milk, the composition of fatty acids changes and is dependent on the mother’s diet.
Why does infant formula have palm oil in it?
Also known as palm olein oil, palm oil is a fantastic source of palmitic acid, which makes up 25% of breast milk fatty acid. While it is a dietary source of palmitic, linoleic, and oleic acids, it is also a great source of vitamins A and E. HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert, some of the top organic baby formula brands, use palm oil and so do more around the world.
The difference in palmitic acid from breast milk vs palm oil
Both palm oil and breast milk contain palmitic acid, palm oil triglycerides (these are fats consisting of three fatty acid molecules), and breast milk triglycerides are broken down by an infant’s digestive system. However, the palmitic acid in palm oil isn’t as easily absorbed as it is from breast milk. It may end up floating in their intestines which is where it bings with calcium molecules, forming calcium soaps as a result. While most babies can digest a wide variety of fatty acids, those with a sensitive digestive system have a harder time; the calcium soaps could cause harder stools or constipation. This is why HiPP Comfort and other easily digestible formulas exist.
Is palm oil safe and healthy?
It is both healthy and safe for babies, which is why it is used as a key ingredient in a lot of the healthiest organic formulas. The one potential negative result is that it could cause a decrease in absorbing calcium. This is compensated by increasing the calcium in the formula so babies get the right amount that they need.
Furthermore, multiple studies have shown prebiotics and probiotics are both beneficial for the uptake of calcium which is why prebiotics are a key ingredient n all HiPP formulas, as well as probiotics except for HiPP UK.
Making, sure enough, calcium is absorbed is especially important for premature babies since they missed the last few weeks of gestation - a key time for the growth of bone density. It may be worth looking for formulas that have other fatty sources too so you aren’t relying on palm oil too much. Other fatty sources would include rapeseed and sunflower oil. Formulas like the HiPP Comfort would be perfect as there’s easily absorbable beta-palmitate.
However, it is best to remember that if your baby’s formulas have it listed as the primary fat source and they are still thriving, you do not need to change the formula. Extensive research has shown that having palm oil in your baby's food doesn't affect bone mineralization.
Is palm oil in every formula?
While it is a very common ingredient used in many formulas, there are formulas out there that don’t use it. Holle, as an example, has removed palm oil from their formulas with goat milk so all three of their stages use organic rapeseed oil and organic sunflower oil instead, as well as full cream organic goat milk powder.
The only formula containing cow’s milk that doesn’t have palm oil is the Kendamil organic formula; the company pasteurizes milk in their factory using only renewable energy; after they wet blend it with essential vitamins and minerals, and spray dry it into a golden particulate powder. Most brands buy milk powder to add to their formulas, but not Kendamil; they turn the EU-certified organic raw milk they have into the powder themselves - thus cutting out the heat-treatment step that some consider unnecessary because that can denature the milk proteins.
Kendamil uses GOS, a prebiotic, and it is known as the first European organic formula to contain HMOs (human milk oligosaccharides) as part of the prebiotic source. In breast milk, HMOs have a vital role in developing a healthy gut microbiome which has been scientifically proven that reduces the risk of infection and allergies while supporting brain development.
They use the full cream of milk that contains MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) which has been shown to improve cognitive development; it is an important part of breast milk also. Those who use it have said it tastes amazing so it is the perfect formula for picky eaters. Furthermore, it doesn’t contain palm oil, soy oil, or fish oil - algal oil is used instead, making it veggie-friendly.
Sustainability and palm oil
While there are huge concerns regarding the health effects of palm oil, there are also growing concerns about the impact on the environment too. Most palm oil is produced with agricultural methods that are harmful to ecosystems and biodiversity. HiPP and Holle use palm oil that is sustainably sourced but with Kendamil, they use algal oil instead of fish oil, which helps to conserve natural sea life, and it is made in a factory that is powered by renewable energy.
If you have any more questions about the use of palm oil, our infant nutrition technicians are happy to help and support you in choosing the best formula for your little one.