Are There Any Infant Formulas Without Vegetable Oil? (Importance Of Fat In Baby Formula & The Fuss About Palm Oil)

There’s hardly any infant formula milk that does not contain vegetable oil in it. Plant-based vegetable oils are routinely added as a source of fatty acids. It helps babies meet their energy needs and dietary requirements. It also enables formula milk to achieve a composition similar to human breastmilk. Breastmilk has a variety of lipid components and complex essential nutrients that remains unparalleled by any infant formula. As a fat source, vegetable oil provides a simpler composition of the lipids in breastmilk.

The fat globules in vegetable oil are smaller and lack a phospholipid membrane. It makes breastmilk superior in many ways and the best type of milk that babies can get.

It is also an almost miraculous food source that changes its composition in every lactation stage tailored to the baby’s needs.

Key ingredients in infant formula

An isle at the grocery store is completely stored on all shelves with baby formula

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies, there are cases when it is not feasible.

Working moms, low milk supply, health conditions unconducive for breastfeeding, and other reasons make moms rely heavily on infant formula. But what goes in every bottle of milk that you feed your baby?

Ingredients in infant formula are thoroughly and carefully selected to mimic the breastmilk composition. They also need to be able to deliver the nutritional needs that will optimize the baby’s health, growth, and development.

The formulation is standard and cannot be altered by regulatory agencies without prior approval for the modification, addition, or processing.

According to Codex Alimentarius International Food Standards, the primary component of infant formula is protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

These are the primary building blocks that help babies grow and develop.

Along these are other added nutritional ingredients like vitamins and minerals as supplements and nutritional requirements.

Importance of fats in infant formula

When we hear fats, we often think that it’s bad. But, it is untrue at some point.

In baby’s milk, fat is one of the essential components that provide the needed calories. It is the source of almost 50% of calories in human milk, which is replicated in infant formula.

Fat is also essential in the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals. Formula milk is often prepared using skimmed milk, meaning its fats are initially removed.

The lipids sourced from plants are then added back to replicate the fatty acids found in breastmilk.

Sources of fats

In breastmilk, the fatty acids change according to the mother’s diet. Thus, the composition may change from day to day.

Interestingly, babies can digest and tolerate a wide variety of these fatty acids.

The most common fatty acids found in breast milk are oleic acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, and stearic acid.

According to a published journal, the primary fatty acids in infant formula are oleic acid, linoleic acid, and linolenic acid.

These are sourced from vegetable oils, and the main plant oils or blends used are:

  • Coconut
  • Corn
  • Soybean
  • Safflower
  • Rapeseed
  • Sunflower
  • Palm

The fuss about palm oil

If you have come across infant formula labeled as palm oil-free, you would naturally question the risks of palm. Palm oil is one of the most commonly used vegetable oils in formula milk. But are they bad?

Palm oil and palm olein (PO) are not at all bad for babies. These are used in most infant formula because their fat blends almost match the fatty acid profile of breastmilk.

However, at high levels, palm oil can decrease calcium absorption in the body. Eventually, it may put the baby at insignificant risk of lower bone mineralization.

The palmitic acid in infant formula is also not as digestible as the palmitic acid in breastmilk. As a result, it is considered the culprit in some babies’ gas, colic, and constipation problems.

Aside from bone and stool issues, palm oil faces controversy regarding its production and sustainability issues. Its demand has propelled deforestation and the destruction of the rainforests. It can be as bad for the environment as it is for your baby’s tummy.

Is palm oil safe for babies?

A sleepy baby is drinking formula milk from a bottle

A long generation of babies have relied on infant formula with palm oil and grew up fine and strong. And most manufacturers today have compensated for the calcium requirement by increasing the amount in the formula.

While it has some drawbacks, palm oil-based formula is still safe for your little one. However, babies with a sensitive digestive system may not take too well on palm oil.

If you think it is the culprit in his gastro problems, try switching formulas back and forth. It may help you identify the potential ingredient that causes his upset tummy.


Does organic infant formula contain vegetable oil?

Yes. Organic infant formula has the same composition as the regular formula, except its ingredients are not genetically modified.

Does the formula milk ingredient differ in every brand?

No, not necessarily. Most regular infant formula has the same nutritional and safety standards as other brands.

There can be a slight difference in added ingredients, but they are all produced to meet babies’ age and nutrition requirements.


Vegetable oils are an integral part of any infant formula because they are the primary fatty acid source.

A blend of plant oils is added to replicate the quality and creaminess of breastmilk. Thus, a true vegetable oil-free infant formula does not exist.

The only thing free of plant fat is breastmilk. If there is no reason to ditch breastmilk feeding, breastmilk is the best natural formula you can offer for your baby.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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