Expert Q&A: Dietary fats and infant health

Expert Q&A on Dietary fats

If you have ever spoken with the team here at Kendamil you will know that our passion lies in using quality ingredients, sourced in Britain to create a truly inclusive infant milk formula. You’ll know we love to talk about whole milk fat, and the benefits it can bring as a fat source in infant formula.

But what makes it so special, and why does the source of fat in milk formula matter? We caught up with Registered Dietician Amy Powderham to discuss the role of fat in children’s diets, and to find out why not all fats are created equal.

Q. What role does fat play in our diets?

A. Fat is a good source of energy for children and adults, providing 9 kilocalories per gram verses protein and carbohydrate which provide 4 kilocalories per gram. As well as providing a good source of energy, fats are also needed for other key processes such as absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, formation of cell membranes and provision of the essential fats omega 3 and 6, which the body cannot synthesise and which contribute to brain and nervous system health.

Q. Why is fat especially important in the diets of babies and children?

A. Babies and children grow at a rapid rate, but they also have relatively small stomachs which means they need food that provides lots of energy in small amounts. Fat contains over twice the amount of energy, or calories, than carbohydrates and protein making it an important addition to the diet. Children need to eat little and often to meet their energy requirements for optimum growth and development.

Alongside their energy density, fats are important to children’s diets for a number of other roles including transport of key fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and provision of essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6).

Q. How much fat does infant milk formula contain?

A. Legislation on infant milk formula composition means it is typically made up of 40-50% energy from fat and, although difficult to assess, it is thought fat intake of breastfed infants under 6 months is approximately 50-55%. Legislation also dictates that infant formula must contain the essential fatty acids linoleic acid, alpha linolenic acid and docosahexaenoic acid.

Whilst the amount of fat in infant milk formula is regulated, the source of fat varies amongst manufacturers with all formula products in the UK, with the exception of Kendamil, using exclusively vegetable oils as their source of fat.

Although widely acknowledged that it is difficult to simulate the chemical composition of breastmilk, infant formula companies are continually trying to better their product in this vein. By looking to bovine milk fats (such as whole cow’s milk) to make up a significant portion of the required fat content, Kendamil is providing an option that recent evidence suggests may positively influence factors such as night-time discomfort, stool consistency(1) and cognitive development(2).

Q. What is the difference between milk fat and vegetable fat?

A. A key difference between cow’s milk fat and vegetable fat is the saturated fatty acid profile. Cow’s milk fat has a more similar saturated fat profile to human milk. For example, the palmitic acid found in human milk and cow’s milk fats is largely esterified in the sn-2 position rather than the sn-1 & sn-3 positions, as it is in vegetable fats. It is the composition found in vegetable fats that may interfere with calcium absorption in the intestine(3). These differences may have an impact on the health attributes of infant milk formulas made up with bovine milk rather than vegetable fats.

Download our 3-part dietary fats series here 👇🏼

Part One | Structure and digestion

Part Two | Heart health

Part Three | Importance of fat in infant and child health

Important notice: Breastfeeding is best for babies. Kendamil should be used on the advice of a doctor, dietitian, pharmacist, or other professional responsible for maternal and child care. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of breast milk.


1. Sheng X et al. Reduced crying and favourable stool characteristics in Chinese infants fed milk fat-based formula. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2020;29(1):144–51.
2. Timby N, Domellöf E, Hernell O, Lönnerdal B, Domellöf M. Neurodevelopment, nutrition, and growth until 12 mo of age in infants fed a low-energy, low-proteinformula supplemented with bovine milk fat globule membranes: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(4):860–8.
3. Nelson SE, Frantz JA, Ziegler EE. Absorption of fat and calcium by infants fed a milk-based formula containing palm olein. J Am Coll Nutr. 1998 Aug;17(4):327-32. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1998.10718770. PMID: 9710840.

The content of this article is for healthcare professional use only.


Expert Q&A: Dietary fats and infant health

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