Phospholipids in milk show promise in enhancing child development

Good nutrition plays a vital role in ensuring optimal growth and overall wellbeing in infants and toddlers. Complex lipids naturally occurring in milk, such as phospholipids, show promise in enhancing brain development and intestinal health.

Breast milk is rich in these vital components and is the best food for babies*. When breastfeeding is not an option, cow’s milk provides another natural source of complex lipids. A growing number of food manufacturers are looking to harness the effects of phospholipids when creating dietary products for infants.

We Valio experts have years of experience studying the health benefits of different dietary fats. In this blog, I break down in detail why phospholipids are so important in early childhood.

What are phospholipids?

  • Phospholipids are the building blocks of all cell membranes. They are critical to the functioning of cells and are also essential to brain development.
  • The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat and phospholipids account for about 20-25 per cent of the dry weight of the brain.
  • The brain grows rapidly during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life — optimal nutrition is critical during this period.
  • Studies have shown that dietary phospholipids are absorbed efficiently in humans and also cross the blood-brain barrier.

Milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) has been the focus of intensive research during the last decade

While the importance of phospholipids has been known since the 1900s, scientific evidence of their benefits during the early years of life has been growing steadily. Research has revealed that infants fed on breast milk, which naturally contains phospholipids, have better cognitive function than formula-fed infants.

We at Valio are working towards bringing formula milk one step closer to breast milk — by increasing the phospholipid content in infant formula.

The milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) in cow’s milk is a good natural source of complex lipids. In fact, the phospholipid composition of cow’s milk MFGM is closer to that of breast milk when compared to plant sources of phospholipids such as soy.

MFGM has been the focus of intensive research during the last decade. Apart from phospholipids, MFGM also contains other complex lipids such as gangliosides and sphingomyelins as well as bioactive proteins. All of these may play an important role in infant development.

What’s new in milk fat and infant nutrition?

After watching our webinar, you’ll be able to harness the latest research findings on MFGM and natural OPO for developing optimal food products for infants.

Get your recording here

MFGM has been shown to have multiple health benefits in children

Studies with MFGM as a source of complex lipids and bioactive proteins have reported a wide range of benefits in infants.

  1. Enhanced cognitive development. Research has indicated that infants who were supplemented with an MFGM-rich formula until six months of age, had similar cognitive development as breastfed infants at 12 months. Both groups differed significantly from the group that received standard formula.
  2. Immune support: Studies have shown that MFGM supplementation in infants and children can offer immune function benefits that include lower prevalence of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, fewer days of fever, less use of antipyretics and fewer instances of acute otitis media.
  3. Better behavioural regulation: There is evidence that MFGM may have benefits on a toddler’s behaviour. Parents of preschool children reported better behavioural and emotional regulation after a few months of MFGM supplementation, according to the results of a placebo-controlled, double-blind study.

Studies have also indicated that children who had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed signs of improved symptoms and short-term memory after phospholipid supplementation.

How to benefit from nutritional effects of phospholipids in baby food

In this whitepaper, Dr Anu Turpeinen explains the effects of phospholipids that are naturally found in dairy fat. Food products rich in phospholipids have effects related to physical activity and cognitive functions in all age groups.

Get your whitepaper here

Valio is committed to safe and high-quality infant nutrition

Milk is a treasure chest of bioactive compounds. The latest advances in research could throw light on more novel fat compounds in milk in the future.

We help baby food manufacturers meet existing regulations and local nutritional recommendations for infants with premium quality dairy ingredients. Our experts at Valio also offer solutions to produce balanced nutrition for infants and children by providing efficient and accurate recipe design and calculation.

*Using infant formulas is second to breastfeeding, a fact supported by WHO. Babies should be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, with continued breastfeeding after introduction of complementary food. A healthcare professional should be consulted before introducing infant formula or complementary food to a child’s diet.

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Interested in further information?

For more information, please contact our Food solution sales team with the contact form.

  • Sari Vahla - Sales Manager, Baby food, Special nutrition

    Sari Vahla

    Sales Manager
    Baby food, Special nutrition


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