Hide the Fishiness of Omega-3s

Encapsulation is a means to hide the fishiness of omega-3s and to protect other nutrients from processing and digestion.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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If you've ever had your cholesterol checked, you've had some experience with encapsulation. It's right there in the LDL and HDL cholesterol numbers, the so-called bad and good cholesterol.

The terms "bad" and "good" refer not to the cholesterol itself but to its location. LDLs (low density lipoproteins) are large spheres that encapsulate cholesterol and fats (triglycerides) and carry them to tissues via the blood. HDLs are smaller spheres that transport cholesterol away from the tissues to the liver for conversion to bile acids and eventual elimination - providing you've been eating your fiber.

Related Encapsulation Content

Encapsulation is nature's way of integrating seemingly incompatible materials. By capturing one substance, such as fat, within a sphere that can move freely through a very different material, like blood (and water), nature can perform tasks that otherwise would be impossible.

We've enjoyed a form of encapsulation for as long as most of us can remember. Vinegar and oil readily separate; but add egg yolk, beat thoroughly, and presto: mayonnaise. How? The phospholipids (lecithin) in the egg yolk pull a circle-the-wagons trick and surround little droplets of oil, all so we can slather our favorite spread on our favorite bread.

Recent advances in encapsulation technology have freed food processors to be much more creative, resulting in a greater variety of healthy choices for the consumer.

"Fishy" pizza and OJ

"Pizza has long been a family food and a fun food. What better way to deliver nutrition?" asks Clarence Scott, president/CEO AC LaRocco Pizza Co. (www.aclarocco.com), Spokane Wash. The company has been giving pizza a nutritional punch since 1997, but recently upped the ante with the inclusion of inulin and omega-3 fatty acids.

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With more stickers than a NASCAR, A.C. LaRocco's pizza gets its omega-3s (Meg-3 from Ocean Nutrition) from encapsulated fish oils.

"We started with the development of a tender organic whole grain crust topped with IQF vegetables and fused the balance of flavors with an organic tomato sauce. In 2003, while searching for value-added nutrients, we identified two important ingredients we could use in our pizzas that would provide important nutritional benefits: naturally occurring inulin fiber derived from chicory root and omega-3," says Scott.

The inulin added fiber and served as a prebiotic boost to the natural flora. In 2006, AC LaRocco introduced the first pizza with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil. Fish oils are rich in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA).

"Originally, we planned to use flax seed, however, we discovered 1g of flax seed contains 350mg of flax seed oil, which provides 200mg of alpha-linolenic acid, of which the body can only convert into 19.6mg of the much-needed DHA and EPA," says Scott. "Ocean Nutrition had a product called Meg-3 (encapsulated fish oil) that provided an efficient delivery of EPA and DHA to the body without any fish oil taste.

"Working with their team of specialists, we developed crust formulations for testing," continues Scott. "We found the encapsulated fish oil did not break down under numerous testing situations. We also found that 1g of Meg-3 contained 150mg of EPA/DHA. After one year, we have only experienced positive results in both product performance and customer response." And you thought making pizza was simple.

Omega-3 fatty acids have garnered an enormous amount of attention among consumers as more and more research indicates the modern-day shift away from this class of essential fatty acids has negative consequences.

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Microencapsulation provides taste masking and heat stability for sensitive nutrients, as well as the ability to reduce overages and prevent cross-interaction of minerals. It enables the delivery of lycopene via foods other than ketchup, as in this cereal application from Lycored.

"Orange juice is the perfect food to make it easier for people to consume more omega-3s in the diet," says Mark Andon, director of nutrition for the Chicago-based Tropicana Products unit (www.tropicana.com) of Pepsico. Tropicana Healthy Heart with Omega-3s includes a high quality, double encapsulated, marine-based source of EPA and DHA fatty acids to offer consumers heart-healthy benefits for breakfast.

How do you discreetly get fish oil into orange juice? With encapsulation technology, it's easy.

"The main problem for incorporating fatty acids in foods is they are unstable around oxygen, and when they oxidize the food will have the taste affected," says Ian Lucas, executive vice president-global marketing for Ocean Nutrition (www.ocean-nutrition.com). Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. "We have developed and patented a unique form of microencapsulation we have branded Powder-loc."

What's unique is an agglomeration of micro shells of oil with an outer shell so it has a unique double-shell protection for the oil, with virtually no free oil on the outside. It's all locked together with a process called complex coacervation.

"It creates a dry free flowing powder with a 60 percent payload of oil," says Lucas. "Interestingly, it loves heat and moisture and a wide variety of pH ranges. We have successfully commercialized 15 different food applications in the past year."

A similar product is developed by Martek Biosciences (www.martek.com), Columbia, Md. "Martek oils are made into small particles surrounded by a coating or shell. The shell materials can be starch, lactose, milk proteins and/or fat," says Cassandra France-Kelly, spokesperson. "The shell provides protection from oxygen, water and light and some food manufacturing processes. Also, powders are often more-operations friendly and can be more readily incorporated into various foods."

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