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."

"The encapsulation technology allows omega-3s to be added to orange juice without taking anything away from the great taste and appearance," adds Andon. In fact, many feel the omega-3 actually improves the taste. "[The double encapsulated EPA and DHA] does have a positive organoleptic effect on some products," says Lucas. "Notably, lowfat yogurt is more creamy tasting with Meg-3 powder in it."

Indeed, Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., claims to be the first baby yogurt to feature DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids, via encapsulation in its YoBaby Fruit & Cereal with DHA. Ditto for ZenSoy's new Soy on the Go line of soy milks.

Encapsulating everything

Micoencapsulation is not limited to omega-3 fatty acids. Many nutritious fat-soluble substances are more effectively added to foods via this new technology.

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Encapsulation delivers DHA, a derivative of omega-3s, in Stonyfield Farm's Yo-Baby yogurt.

P.L. Thomas & Co. (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J., developed a delivery system for food and beverage applications based on "nano-sized, self-assembled, structured lipids." In fact, the technology is not unlike the natural system of lipoproteins that transport various fats and fat-soluble vitamins in our bloodstream, with some important differences of course.

Capturing nutraceutical ingredients in nano-sized spheres that self assemble provides several important advantages, according to Roger Jonas, national business development manager for P.L. Thomas. It allows the creation of water-soluble concentrates from insoluble materials, which means nutraceuticals can be added to clear beverages. It improves the pH and thermal stability of products, thus preserving the activity of the added nutrient. And it increases absorption of active components because the nanosized particles have a greatly increased surface area.

P.L. Thomas' process, appropriately named Nutralease, can deliver nano-sized concentrates of such important compounds as vitamins E, D, A, K, coenzyme Q10, lutein, isoflavones, essential oils and phytosterols. For very large molecules like coenzyme Q10, bioavailability always has presented a challenge, as they are poorly absorbed and insoluble in water.

"We've integrated micro-encapsulated fish oil into a nutritious wellness bar that actually tastes great," says Gursh Bindra, CEO of Aristo Health Inc. (www.aristohealth.com), Morristown, N.J. "Ours is the first commercially available nutrition bar that combines ocean-derived omega-3s, which are more bioavailable than those from flaxseed, with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and high amounts of 'superfruit' antioxidants."

Phytosterols are plant counterparts of cholesterol. They are of similar shape, only much more poorly absorbed. When included in the diet, they tend to inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. The problem with using them is that they are virtually insoluble in an aqueous medium.

"Our technologies can be used to enhance bioavailability, improve stability, to protect color, enhance taste, deodorize and make ingredients that are normally insoluble in water not just dispersible but 100 percent soluble in cold water," says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president for Blue California (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. "Our new ingredient, introduced in 2007, is VitaSterols, containing 40 percent phytosterols completely soluble in cold water.

"A more bioavailable form of phytosterols offers a safe and efficacious way to control high cholesterol levels, the No. 2 concern for adult Americans," adds McCollum. Other products developed by Blue California with this new technology are CoQ10 (10 percent and 40 percent) and Biolut 5 percent WS - soluble lutein for beverages. "The potential for improving solubility, flavor color protection, enhancing stability and bioavailability for many products is significant. Blue California is currently working on many projects and working solutions for challenges in the food and dietary supplements," says McCullum.

DSM Nutritional Products Inc. (www.dsm.com), Parsippany, N.J., provides a unique solution for the poor absorption of molecules such as carotenoids. It is a beadlet technology called Actilease, based on microparticles of active ingredients as small as 0.2 micrometers in diameter, encapsulated and stabilized in a protective matrix, which is then coated in starch. This allows easy dispersal in water and improved bioavailability of such important molecules as lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10 and fat-soluble vitamins.

Note to Marketing

People from developed societies, particularly baby boomers, have a more heightened interest in healthy eating. This comes at the same time as important technological advances in the food industry, which will allow companies to provide consumers with healthy, tasty, nutritious foods conveniently, economically and efficiently.

Until recent developments, many people associated healthy eating with poor taste and lack of pleasure. But modern encapsulation technology is removing barriers to the enrichment and fortification of foods.

Incompatibility of materials may be a thing of the past. In fact, the technology could do much to rid the food world of "empty calories" and to take "nutrient density" to new heights.

If you believe your market demographic is sophisticated and not wary of "food technology," explain encapsulation to them on the package. Show how it efficaciously delivers nutrients that would have been incompatible, unpalatable or destroyed in the production process. And take credit for being a technologically advanced food processor delivering nutritionally improved delicious foods.

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