With the promotion by government and the increasing prevalence of baby care facilities, the breastfeeding rate in Hong Kong has been increasing over the past two decades. Knowing that breast milk as a source of a variety of nutrients plays a vital role in the healthy growth of infants, the Research Institute for Future Food (RiFood) investigated the correlation between dietary intake and nutrient levels of breast milk, especially carotenoid and polyphenol contents.


Researchers collected breast milk samples and a three-day dietary record from about 90 lactating women in Hong Kong and analysed the levels of carotenoid and polyphenol contents in their breast milk.


Findings revealed the fruit and vegetable intake of 96% of the women was below the level recommended by the Department of Health, as was the recommended intake of vitamin A according to the “Chinese Dietary Reference Intake” established by the Chinese Nutrition Society. Notably, the research also found the level of carotenoid and polyphenol contents in breast milk was lower in lactating women who had lower fruit and vegetable intake.


Prof. Wong Man-sau, Steering Committee Member of RiFood and Professor of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, said that phytonutrients such as carotenoids and polyphenols are important in the physical development of infants and can reduce levels of inflammation. “Lacking one or more nutrients may weaken an infant’s immune system and may also increase their risk of getting chronic diseases in the future,” she said.


Some carotenoids, the research team further explained, can be converted into vitamin A to promote the development of infants’ brain, vision and immunity, while polyphenol is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound which can help prevent cardiometabolic diseases and reduce the risk of bacterial infection. The team suggests lactating women should increase their intake of common dark green vegetables, including Chinese flowering cabbage, spinach, Chinese kale and Indian lettuce, which are rich in phytonutrients.


The team also announced the launch of their new project “Feeding mom feeding infants” which focuses on the relationship between the dietary habits of lactating women and the nutrients of breast milk, gut microbiota composition of infants and their growth.