To simplify comparisons between fat sources in infant milk formula (IMF) products, Valio will start using a new way to illustrate the differences.
Because breast milk is best for infants, IMF products aim to imitate it as closely as possible to give babies an optimal start. The various fat compounds in breast milk have positive effects on infant development, particularly brain and gut health. Comparing the benefits of fat sources in IMF is difficult, but there is now an easy way to do so with just one number: the fat similarity index.
The fat similarity index as a simple indicator
The fat similarity index simplifies comparisons by assigning a numerical value to the similarities between the sources of milk fats and vegetable oils and the fat compounds in breast milk. As breast milk equals one, the closer to one we get, the more similar the fat composition is to that of breast milk.
The index shows that milk fat-based IMFs are significantly more similar to breast milk than vegetable oil-based IMFs.
Comparison of selected lipids provides a comprehensive view
Four lipids were selected for the index because of their proven health benefits and because they are essential for infant growth and development:
The milk fat globule membrane, which surrounds fat globules in mammal milk, is rich in bioactive components, such as phospholipids. Some phospholipids, such as sphingomyelin, are needed for brain development and are present in breast milk fat and milk fat, but not in vegetable oil fats.
Short- and medium-chain fatty acids
Medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) content differentiates milk fat from most vegetable fats. Infants digest and absorb MCFAs easily and oxidise them to energy faster than long-chain fatty acids. Early-life MCFA consumption may also protect against obesity and metabolic disorders in adulthood.
Cholesterol is essential for growth and development. Low dietary intake of cholesterol during infancy up-regulates endogenous cholesterol synthesis, resulting in higher blood cholesterol levels in adolescence and adulthood.
Sn-2 fatty acids (including OPO)
Milk fat-based infant formulas also contain natural oleic-palmitic-oleic (OPO) fatty acids, which enhance the absorption of nutrients, gut wellbeing and healthy growth. In vegetable-oil-based formulas, this level is, by comparison, very low.
Visit Valio.com to watch a 13-minute video that explains the fat similarity index in greater detail.
The author of this article is Dr Anu Turpeinen, nutrition research manager at Valio.
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