The role of lipids in nutrition during the first months of life

M. Giovannini, C. Agostoni, P. C. Salari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most important functional components of dietary lipids (triglycerides, cholesterol esters and phospholipids) are fundamental to normal growth and development of infants. Fatty acids are classified according to their chain length and their degree of saturation. Each class of fatty acid is involved in specific metabolic reactions: short-chain fatty acids act as local growth factors in the colon; medium- and saturated long-chain fatty acids are a good source of energy; polysaturated long-chain fatty acids are involved in metabolic regulation; and very long-chain fatty acids are important structural components of membranes. The development of the central nervous system depends on the amount and the quality of the lipld supply in the last months of prenatal and the first months of postnatal life. Placental cord blood during foetal life and breast milk provide fatty acids in the correct amounts and ratios. Fats in breast milk provide half the infant's calorific needs and maternal dietary habits can influence the lipid composition of milk. The preparation of blends of fats for formulas is under investigation in order to improve the lipid quality and to make formulas more similar to breast milk. A major goal of current research is to define the nutritional and metabolic relationships between fatty acid groups and between fats and the other dietary sources of calories in order to improve the composition of infant formulas, in particular for premature babies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-362
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of International Medical Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1991


  • Breast milk
  • Dietary lipids
  • Fatty acids
  • Foetal nutrition
  • Infant formulas
  • Infant nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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