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Feeding Your Baby

Why Does Baby Formula Have Vegetable Oil?

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If you look at the ingredient list on your baby’s infant formula, you’ll see some combination of vegetable oils. You may wonder why vegetable oil is in your baby’s formula and if this oil is healthy for your baby. We’re breaking down why vegetable oil is a must-have for many baby formulas, what types of vegetable oils you may find, and what they mean for your baby’s health. 

Why Many Baby Formulas Contain Vegetable Oil

Formula helps your baby get all of the energy and nutrients they need to grow and thrive. A healthy baby needs around 40-60 kcal/kg/day just for basic body functions and growth.1

This means that a 10-pound infant would need a minimum of 180-270 calories per day. At 20 pounds, their needs increase to at least 360 to 550 calories per day.  As your baby grows, his or her appetite and energy needs also increase. 

Fats are more energy-dense than protein or carbohydrates, making this macronutrient essential for helping your baby meet their daily energy needs. With 9 calories per gram (compared to only 4 calories per gram in protein and carbohydrates), fats help provide up to 40-50% of your baby’s energy needs in a formula.1 They’re also needed for vitamin and mineral absorption, brain function, and baby’s neurological development.2

When breastfeeding, fat is naturally provided through breast milk, and the ratio of types of fat can change as your baby grows and based on the food that you eat. The largest percentage of fat in breastmilk comes from saturated fat, mostly palmitic acid, then monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.3

While some fat comes from milk sources, either dairy or goat’s milk, most of the fat in baby formula is sourced from vegetable oils. 

Types of Vegetable Oils Found in Baby Formula

  • Soy
  • Coconut
  • High Oleic Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Canola
  • Palm

All infant formulas,  whether plant based or milk based, will have fat blends of vegetable oils to provide essential fatty acids to your baby, much like human breastmilk.  Bobbie organic baby formula, for example, uses a blend of organic safflower, sunflower, coconut, and soy oil to meet your baby’s needs. See the chart below for vegetable oil blends found in other popular baby formulas. 

Is Vegetable Oil Safe for Babies?

Vegetable oil is safe for your baby. You may want to consider, however, which vegetable oil your formula includes and how the vegetable oil is sourced. 

Does Palm Oil in Baby Formula Cause Constipation?

One oil that has been the source of attention over the years is palm oil. Not only are there environmental concerns from sourcing this oil— like deforestation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity— but it may also not be the best choice for your baby’s digestion.4

Palm oil has a reputation for causing constipation in some babies. Researchers have found that babies who are given formula without palm oil have significantly softer bowel movements than those who drink formula with palm oil.

Palm oil may also reduce the amount of calcium your baby can absorb. Studies have shown reduced fat and calcium absorption in babies who drink formula with palm oil versus formula without palm oil.6  Studies have found that this can significantly decrease bone mineralization and bone density in infants fed formula with palm oil compared to those fed formula with other vegetable oils.7

Oxidation in Vegetable Oils

Another concern about vegetable oils is the risk of oxidation. When vegetable oils are exposed to heat, light, and oxygen, they can become oxidized, which produces harmful chemicals, leading to inflammation in the body.8 It’s important that the manufacturer and supplier of baby formula take care to process the oils appropriately. 

Using expeller-pressed methods and robust quality control is necessary to ensure the formula tastes great, stays safe, and has a long shelf life. 

Do All Baby Formulas Contain Vegetable Oil?

Yes. All baby formulas have some type of vegetable oil in them to meet the FDA’s fatty acid profile requirements. The difference between formulas is in the type of vegetable oil they use. While all of the vegetable oils used are approved as safe for infants, the types and combinations of oils used can slightly impact the amount of fat and calcium absorbed by your baby.9

FormulaPalm CanolaSunflowerSafflowerCoconutSoy
Bobbiexxxx
HiPP stage 1 & Holle Bio Stage 1 Milk Formulaxxx
Earth’s Best organic dairy infant formula with ironxxxxx
Similac Organic infant formula with ironxxx
Enfamil Simply Organic Infant Formulaxxxx
Vegetable Oils in Baby Formula

Are Canola Oil and Rapeseed Oil the Same?

Yes they are. Rapeseed is a more common term amongst European brands, American brands often say canola oil.

Conclusion About Vegetable Oil in Baby Formula

Your baby’s formula uses vegetable oil to help meet the fat and energy needs of your baby, closely mimicking the fatty acids found in breastmilk. While the common vegetable oils are all acceptable for use, they’re not all created equal. Learn which types of vegetable oils your baby’s formula includes so that you can feel confident that your little one’s nutrition needs are safely being met. 

While many formulas do use palm oil and non-organic oils, there are several that prioritize high-quality oils. Bobbie formula uses organic oils— sunflower/safflower, coconut, and soy oil— that’s been expeller-pressed to preserve quality and prevent oxidation for your baby’s safety.

Sources:

  1. Infant Nutrition Requirements and Options | National Library of Medicine 
  2. Fat and cholesterol in the diet of infants and young children: implications for growth, development, and long-term health | The Journal of Pediatrics 
  3. Lipid Quality in Infant Nutrition | Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 
  4. Palm Oil’s Environmental Impact: Can It Be Grown Sustainably? | Healthline
  5. Impact of palm olein in infant formulas on stool consistency and frequency: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials | Food and Nutrition Research 
  6. Absorption of fat and calcium by infants fed a milk-based formula containing palm olein | Journal of the American College of Nutrition 
  7. Reduced Bone Mineralization in Infants Fed Palm Olein-Containing Formula: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Prospective Trial | American Academy of Pediatrics 
  8. Cooking Oil and Oxidative Stability | All About Olive Oil 
  9. Palm olein in infant formula: absorption of fat and minerals by normal infants | American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Author Kelsey Lorencz

Kelsey Lorencz is a mom of two, registered dietitian, freelance writer, and nutrition consultant. You can find her work published in various national outlets including Healthline, Livestrong.com, and Eat This! and quoted as a nutrition expert in Women's Health, Verywell Health, Eating Well, and more.