Breastfeeding mothers who eat a diet high in trans fat significantly increase the likelihood that their infants will have high levels of body fat, the results of a new study indicate.
Trans fats are fats that are artificially produced through a process known as hydrogenation, which turns liquid vegetable oil into solid fat. They are found in thousands of processed foods, such as fast food and ready meals.
US researchers found that infants whose mothers consumed more than 4.5g of trans fats per day while breastfeeding were twice as likely to have high percentages of body fat (adiposity) than infants whose mothers consumed less than 4.5g.
The team looked at different types of fat, but determined trans fats to be the most important contributor to excess body fat.
"Trans fats stuck out as a predictor to increased adiposity in both mothers and their babies," said study co-author, assistant professor Alex Anderson, of the University of Georgia.
He pointed out that while breast milk is optimal for an infant's health, it could also contain high levels of trans fats, depending on the mother's diet.
He also pointed out that it is important to measure body fat in addition to weight, since being overweight does not always mean having a high percent of body fat and vice versa.
"It's not just the weight, but the amount of body fat in the person that affects their health. That is why adiposity is such an important measure of cardiovascular risk," he explained.
In order to determine the effect of the intake of trans fats by the child through breast milk, the researchers studied three different groups - mothers who only breastfed their infants, those who only used formula milk and those who used a combination of breast milk and formula.
Aside from their infants' body fat levels, the study also found that mothers who consumed more than 4.5g of trans fats per day increased their own risk of excessive fat accumulation almost six-fold. These results stood irrespective of the women's pre-pregnancy weight.
"This data suggests that trans fats intake could have a more significant weight-gain effect on breastfeeding mothers than it does at other times in their lives," Prof Anderson said.
Details of these findings are published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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