Canola is a form of rapeseed that is low in erucic acid and high in contains a high proportion of monounsaturated fatty-acids and low levels of saturated fats.
According to the authors of the new study from Germany, this nutritional profile “facilitates the manufacture of infant formula with a fatty acid profile more similar to human milk”.
In the US canola oil is not generally recognised as safe (GRAS) only in foods, edible fats and oils for non-infant consumption. This is because erucic acid has been associated with myocardial defects in some animal studies.
In Europe, however, there is no restriction on the use of canola oil in infant formula, the authors point out. In finished products, however, erucic acid may not make up more than 1 per cent of the total fat content.
However while canola-containing infant products have been used in studies to investigate the effects of the linoleic acid:alpha-linoleic acid ration on visual function, Peter Rzehak and colleagues from Germany found little published data to compare the safety of formulas containing canola with those that did not.
In order to assess the effects on growth, they re-analyzed data on infant weight and length from a prospective double-blind trial in full-term infants, known as the German Infant Nutritional Intervention (GINI) study. This involved some 2252 babies born in Munich between September 1995 and July 1996.
Data on the length and weight of babies that were fed canola formula and non-canola formula were compared in weeks 4-5, month 3-4, and month 6 to 7 after birth.
The team found that although infants fed canola tended to be longer and heavier in general, no differences were seen in terms of weight gain or growth in any of the three periods or across the whole period.
“We conclude that infant formulas containing part of the lipid source as canola oil have no adverse effects on infant growth, neither in weight nor in length compared to feeding a formula without canola oil,” they wrote in a report accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
One limitation of the study that was mentioned was that the stringent inclusion criteria meant that only 85 infants’ data could be included in the study. The babies had to be feeding on the respective formulas exclusively for the first 16 weeks of life.
What is more, the formulas in the canola and non-canola groups were not the same. The researchers pointed out that any compositional aspects with a detrimental effect on growth would have been detected in overall growth effects of the formula.
Clinical Nutrition (online ahead of print)
Growth of infants fed formula rich in canola oil (low erucic acid rapeseed oil)
Authors: Peter Rzehak, Sibylle Koletzko, Berthold Koletzko, Stefanie Sausenthaler, Dietrich Reinhardt, Armin Grübl, Carl Peter Bauer, Ursula Krämer, Christina Bollrath, Andrea von Berg,
Dietrich Berdel, H.-Erich Wichmann, Joachim Heinrich.