Scientists are reporting development of a healthy “designer fat” that, when added to infant formula, provides a key nutrient that premature babies need in high quantities, but isn’t available in large enough amounts in their mothers’ milk. The new nutrient, based on hazelnut oil, also could boost nutrition for babies who are bottle-fed for other reasons. The report appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Casimir Akoh and colleagues explain that human milk is the “gold standard” for designing infant formulas. Mothers naturally provide the healthful omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and omega-6 fatty acid ARA (arachidonic acid) — important for brain development and the development of other organs — to infants during the last three months of pregnancy. These fatty acids (components of fats) are also in human milk. But premature infants don’t get full exposure to DHA and ARA in the uterus because they are born too soon. And their mothers’ milk doesn’t yet contain high enough levels when the infants are born. Some mothers, of course, do not nurse. That’s why infant formulas include proteins, sugars and fats to bring them closer to the standard of human milk.
Currently, DHA and ARA (in the form of triacylglycerols) from algae are added to many formulas, but concerns exist about the digestibility of these algae-derived fatty acids, which are not exactly identical to those in human milk. So, Akoh’s team set out to build a new designer fat from hazelnut oil that more closely mimics the DHA and ARA in human milk. The report describes development of fats from hazelnut oil that contain DHA and ARA at the same positions found on fats in human milk. The scientists extensively analyzed these human milk fat mimics and conclude that the new DHA and ARA source is suitable for the supplementation of infant formulas.