Is there a more versatile food than nuts? Just start off with the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich and work your way through a nice plateful of Thai chicken with a peanutty satay sauce, and for dessert try the pecan pie, by all means. And there is so much more… The beauty of it is that nuts also can be very healthful in addition to tasting yummy. They can be low-fat, provide significant fiber and antioxidants and even give you valuable protein. This we already know.
And then along comes a study that shows us again how healthful nuts can be. This time it’s rather unusual and rather important: hazelnut-based fats as a special ingredient for infant formula for premature babies.
The problem is that premature babies need a certain kind of nutrient that is not found in large enough quantities in their mother’s milk, so scientists have developed a healthy “designer fat” based on hazelnut oil that manufacturers could add to infant formulas to provide the missing nutrient. The ingredient also could help other infants who are bottle-fed for other reasons.
Each year there are more than 500,000 premature births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pre-term birth is the number one cause of death in infants. Because their systems are under-developed, they need added nutrients in their diet.
Casimir Akoh and colleagues explain that mothers naturally provide healthful omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and omega-6 fatty acid ARA (arachidonic acid) to infants during the last three months of pregnancy and after birth in their milk. These fatty acids are critical for normal development of the brain and other organs. Premature infants don’t get full exposure to the fatty acids in the uterus because they are born too soon, and their mother’s milk doesn’t contain high enough levels of these beneficial fats when they are born.
The scientists reported in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that DHA and ARA from algae are already ingredients in numerous formulas, but concerns exist about the digestibility of these algae-based fatty acids since they don’t have precisely the same makeup as those found in mother’s milk. In the report, they explain how they built a new designer fat from hazelnut oil that more closely approximates healthful fatty acids naturally found in human milk. The scientists carefully analyzed the new fat and determined that it would be an effective supplement in infant formulas.