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Essential Nutrients

Posted on Aug. 17th, 2011 at 10:45am

The first year of life is a time of rapid growth and development. While major nutrients in the form of protein, carbohydrates and fat, play a clear role in supporting an infant’s growth, intake of adequate amounts of all essential nutrients plays a critical role in optimal growth and supporting hundreds of functions in the body. At Mead Johnson, scientists are continually researching nutrients and pediatric requirements at each month and year of age to develop nutrition formulas and foods to provide all of the essential nutrients in the correct amounts to support growth and development at each stage of a child’s life.

What Are Essential Nutrients?

Essential nutrients are nutrients that are required for normal functioning of the body, but that cannot be made by the body at all or cannot be made in sufficient amounts for good health. Therefore, essential nutrients must be obtained from a dietary source. There are a number of categories of essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids.

Essential Vitamins

There are 13 essential vitamins that each support specific functions for the body. They are grouped by those that are water-soluble and those that are fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are folate (folic acid), biotin, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamins B6, B12 and C. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K. The water-soluble vitamins are used by the body right away, while the fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fat tissue. All Mead Johnson nutritional formulas provide the recommended, age-appropriate levels for essential vitamin intake.

A Closer Look at Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin acquired through sun exposure and food sources, such as fortified milk, fatty fish and egg yolks. Because most pediatricians agree that infants under 6 months old should avoid exposure to direct sunlight, the main sources of vitamin D for infants are breast milk, nutritional formula and/or a dietary supplement.

Meeting an infant’s vitamin D need is important for bone development and chronic disease prevention. Although breast milk is the gold standard of infant nutrition, it does not contain sufficient levels of vitamin D to meet an infant’s need. Therefore it’s recommended that all partially and totally breastfed infants be given a daily vitamin D supplement beginning soon after birth. [1][2]

While recommendations for vitamin D intake vary by age and by country, Mead Johnson’s nutritional formulas consistently provide the recommended level of vitamin D, based on the age-appropriate recommendations set forth by individual countries. For example, in the United States and Canada the recommended daily intake for infants is 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D, while in the United Kingdom, the recommended intake for vitamin D for infants is 7 micrograms per day. [1][2][iii] Mead Johnson’s infant formulas comply with the respective recommendations of each country in which the nutritional formula is sold.

Essential Minerals

Essential minerals are required for optimal functioning of the body. Essential minerals are divided into two classifications – macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Trace minerals include cobalt, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc.

Like vitamins, essential minerals play a variety of roles, including helping the body to digest food, produce energy and support the health of teeth, bones and connective tissue. Mead Johnson’s nutritional formulas provide infants with the appropriate, recommended amounts of essential minerals to support their growth and development.

Essential Fatty Acids

There are two essential fatty acids that the body needs, but cannot produce: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. On the other hand, two types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesized from ALA, but synthesis is insufficient under certain conditions or certain individuals.

EPA and DHA are key players in brain development and visual acuity, and therefore play a key role in an infant’s growth and development. Mead Johnson has been a leader in researching the health benefits of essential fatty acids, as well as in providing formulas and foods to meet the specific nutritional need at each stage of growth and development.

Essential Amino Acids

Protein, which is made up of amino acids, is an important building block for tissues and organs, and acts as enzymes for many processes in the body. Essential amino acids, those that the body cannot make or make in sufficient quantities on its own are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, lysine and histidine. Additionally, the amino acids cysteine, tyrosine and arginine are needed by infants and growing children.

Mead Johnson’s nutritional formulas are made from a balance of essential amino acids to support the growth and development of an infant. Mead Johnson produces a number of special formulas to meet the unique needs of infants.


[1] American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2008;122:1142–1152.

[2] Health Canada. Vitamin D supplementation for breastfed infants. 2004 Health Canada Recommendations. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/nutrition/vita_d_supp-eng.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2011.

[iii] Department of Health. Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy ( COMA) Report on Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom.HMSO, London 1991.