When babies need processed foods

Published: 21/09/2022

As part of our #FoodFuture project we’re speaking to experts about how to best achieve more sustainable food systems. We spoke to Beat Späth from Specialised Nutrition Europe to understand how food processing provides a vital lifeline.

Many of us prefer simple, fresh foods that we cook ourselves, though sometimes we are too busy to spend much time preparing and cooking. Then we leave that to a restaurant or a food company. That’s our own choice.

But not every person has that luxury of choice: Did you know that about two to three in a hundred babies are allergic to cow’s milk protein? Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies and should not be confused with lactose intolerance: Babies with a cow’s milk allergy suffer very serious symptoms.

Breastfeeding is recommended because it is the best source of nutrients and the best way to ensure healthy growth and development of infants during the first months of life. But what if the mother is for some reason, for instance a medical one, unable to or chooses not to (continue to) breastfeed? Then the only suitable and safe alternative is a scientifically developed formula product.

Formulae for babies allergic to cow’s milk proteins are available in the form of special products which are part of the strictly regulated category ‘foods for special medical purposes’. These products are made of extensively hydrolysed cow’s milk proteins: this means that the cow’s milk proteins have been cut into small pieces through a process which is similar to digesting proteins. Around 90% of babies allergic to cow’s milk proteins tolerate these formulae. For those who don’t, formulae based on amino acids are used. Amino acids are the building blocks that form proteins. Another potential alternative is soy-based infant formula. The production of soy-based formula requires several food technology steps to deliver a product that can safely be used for the feeding of babies.

The special formula products mentioned above must be used under medical supervision – as must all foods for special medical purposes. Around 300,000 children in the EU will require foods for special medical purposes every year. There is a broad range of foods for special medical purposes available, specifically made for all age groups and a variety of medical conditions. Many of them are specifically processed for very good reasons linked to the patient’s specific disease.

So, while everyone is welcome to make their own choices, let’s not forget that food processing can be very useful and sometimes even life-saving.