Omega-3 oils have long maintained the status of "good" fats because of their noted anti-inflammatory properties and negative association with decreased cardiovascular disease risk. But recently they surged to even greater popularity because of two important advances: First, research is beginning to unravel the key role that omega-3 fatty acids play in brain development and function. Second, advances in micro-encapsulation allow potentially fishy tasting oils to appear in almost any food with nary a hint of the sea.
Omega-3 oils are essential nutrients. In brain, the most abundant fat is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Imbedded in the neural of membranes, DHA is critical to the growth and function of nervous tissue, the transmission of information from one brain cell to another and protection from oxidative stress. According to a recent article published in the Journal of Nutrition (Jan, 2007) reduced levels of DHA in brain are associated with impaired cognitive and behavioral performance.
The levels are DHA in brain increase during the growth and development stages of life (especially pre-partum, infancy and early childhood), then decrease with age. However, levels are influenced by type and amount of fatty acids in the diet.
Recently, EPAX (www.epax.com) Lysaker, Norway, a world leader in the production of highly concentrated, marine-based omega-3, supplied its 1050 TG oil for a clinical trial on Alzheimer's disease. The study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (June 2007) showed that in carriers of a specific gene common to Alzheimer's, sufferers who received the omega-3 had reduced agitation symptoms. Moreover, those without the gene showed an improvement in symptoms of depression.
We obtain DHA both directly, by eating food rich in DHA, and indirectly by eating foods containing omega-3 the body converts to DHA. The best-known direct source is fish oil. Until recently, the way to get DHA was to eat fish several times per week, or to ingest fishy tasting oil. That changed with advances in micro-encapsulation.
The creation of nano-sized particles allows DHA to be suspended in virtually any medium without imparting a fishy odor or taste to the food. Such DHA also is digested without fishy aftertaste. Today, virtually any food or beverage can be your favorite source of DHA.
"To help people get the omega-3 their bodies need, we team up with various companies worldwide to put fish oil into their products without changing the taste or smell of the food," says Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global sales and marketing at Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd. (www.ocean-nutrition.com), Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Ocean Nutrition supplies MEG-3 brand omega-3 EPA/DHA. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is a precursor of DHA.
Puresource Inc. (www.puresource.ca), Guelph, Ontario, is Canada's largest supplier of natural and organic functional foods. The company adds MEG-3 to its new Verve brand Beverage Buddy, a powdered beverage mix added to water, milk or juice. Available in Strawberry Smoothie and Panama Punch, Beverage Buddy, supplies omega-3, protein and prebiotic fiber. "We decided to add MEG-3 powder to our drink mix because it was so easy to use and gave our product the added benefit of fish, without the fish," says Randy Betts, Verve brand manager at Puresource.
Ocean Nutrition also supplies MEG-3 to Danone Canada Inc. (www.danone.ca), Boucherville, Québec, for Danino Drinkable yogurt, the third yogurt product Danone has launched containing MEG-3. "We're excited to expand the Danino brand from traditional yogurts to drinkable yogurts. Now kids have two delicious ways to contribute to their daily requirement of both dairy and DHA to help them reach there full potential," says Calvin Hwang, Director of Marketing with Danone Canada.
If smoothies and yogurt don't fill your omega-3 quest, there's always chocolate. Les Truffes au Chocolat Inc. (www.strategis.ic.gc.ca), Calgary, Alberta adds MEG-3 to its entire O Trois line of chocolate. Each 45 g chocolate contains 100 mg of EPA/DHA from fish oil, but you'd never know it. "Our chocolate bars and fingers have the same great taste but they also have something a little extra…the added health benefits of EPA and DHA from fish oil." says Ralph Buchmuller, President and Master Chocolatier at Les Truffes au Chocolat.
Other concerns are combining chocolate and omega, including Anit Ltd. (www.anlit.biz), Tel Aviv, Israel. The supplement company is using candies and chocolates to segue into from pills and droppers as delivery media for omega from fish. Flora Inc. (www.florahealth.com), Lynden, Wash., is incorporating its Udo's brand omega from flax into Bija brand chocolate truffles at a healthy dose of 13 g of an omega 3, 6, and 9 blend per serving.
Seeds and Sea
Another Canadian company, Pizzey's Milling (www.meadowpure.com), Angusville, Manitoba, is bridging the divide between flax-sourced and fish-sourced omegas with its Meadowpure Ultra 3. It's a combination of ALA, DHA and EPA that is stable enough to be incorporated into baked goods without imparting discernible taste or odor. The company was just purchased by Glanbia PLC (www.glanbia.com) Kilkenny, Ireland.
You can also get your omegas with a hint of cranberry through Carver, Mass.-based Decas Botanical Synergies' (www.decasbotanical.com) OmegaCran oil. Derived from cranberry seeds via a cold-press expeller process, and without solvents or chemicals. The omega-enhanced result is high in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It's also rich in omega-9 and tocotrienols (vitamin E).
Frutarom Industries Ltd. (www.frutarom.com), Haifa, Israel, brings to the omega-3 movement its unique salvia seed-derived oil, which contains more than 50 percent ALA. Salvia is a member of the sage genus. The oil is odorless, stable and well suited to any functional food applications.
On this side of the border, Nardone Bros. Baking Inc. (www.nardonebros.com), Wilkes-Barre, PA teamed up with Nu-Mega Ingredients (www.nu-mega.com), Chicago, to develop a line of pizzas for children. Nu-Mega Ingredients produces microencapsulated omega-3 DHA from dolphin-safe tuna. Nu-Mega ensures low residual levels of pesticides and other harmful contaminants.
For those want eco-health with their physical health, Sanmark LLC. (www.sanmarkltd.com), Greensboro, N.C., promotes its PureMega line of oils cold-pressed from non-GMO seeds, without the use of solvents. The company uses a production system designed to prevent contact of the freshly pressed oil with light and oxygen to avoid oxidation of the fragile seed oils," said David Chance, sales and marketing manager for Sanmark. "In addition to the PureMega quality system, all of our manufacturing and refining processes are kosher and certified by Ecocert and OCIA as meeting organic standards of the EU and USDA/NOP."
The Wright Group, (www.thewrightgroup.net), Crowley, La., which supplies custom premixes, demonstrates its expertise in the application of functional ingredients. Probiotic Soy Yogurt Smoothies, enhanced with DHA, vitamins and minerals, and an omega-3 whole grain school lunch pizza are examples that showcase Wright's high-quality microencapsulated ingredients.
VitaDHA is a deodorized, water-soluble form of DHA offered by Blue California (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The nano-encapsulated oil is derived from fish, and is available in both powder and liquid form. It's ideally suited to all food and beverage applications.
Cognis (www.cognis.com), Cincinnati, a worldwide supplier of innovative specialty chemicals and nutritional ingredients, has added Omevital omega-3 fatty acids to its ingredient family. "With scientifically proven health benefits, these ingredient brands focus on major aspects of human health and deliver attributes that can be vitally important for the successful marketing of functional foods and supplements," says Albert Strube, Ph.D., director global growth product lines at Cognis Nutrition & Health. "They add both value and consumer appeal to customers' products."
Coromega (www.coromega.com), Vista, Calif., provides a unique omega-oil emulsion with the EPA and DHA protected and stabilized with vitamins C and E. The patented formulation process ensures the stability of the fish oil and the potency of the ingredients.
All essential omegas (omega-3 and omega-6 classes) are derived from plants. Fish derive omega oil from seaweeds and algae or from the creatures that feed off them. Some nuts and seeds contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which can be metabolized to both EPA and DHA, though not very efficiently in humans. The major dietary sources of ALA are soy and canola oils, flax seed, and walnuts.
Olive oil already has a reputation for tasting great and potentially reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Italica Imports (www.italicaoliveoil.com), Scarsdale, N.Y., one of the leading producers and distributors of Spanish olive in the U.S., provides extra virgin olive oil enriched with omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s from hake, salmon and codfish are incorporated into the oil during the bottling process.
Researchers at Martek Biosciences Corp (www.martek.com), Columbia, Md., identified a strain of algae naturally rich in DHA. The result is Life'sDHA a clear, amber-colored oil rich in DHA. Life'sDHA is used in functional foods and beverages, infant formula (more than 90 percent of all U.S. infant formulas use Life'sDHA) and supplements. The algae can also be dried prior to DHA extraction for use in animal feed, an effective way to enrich foods such as meat, eggs and milk.
Suitable for use in traditionally vegetarian foods and beverages, Life'sDHA is certified both kosher and halal, and is used in an array food products. Unilever's Breyers Yogurt (www.breyersyogurt.com), Boulder, Co., encourages consumers to "boost your brain" by eating its Smart! brand yogurt enhanced with Life'sDHA.
One of the more unusual new ways for consumers to get their omega comes from Natural and Organic Food Group Inc. (www.naturalorganic.ca), Charlottesville, Prince Edward Island. The company recently obtained USDA approval for a full line of omega 3 deli products. The hot dogs, sliced and bulk Ham,kielbasa, bologna and bacon are marketed under the company's PEI PORK brand. In addition to having a high omega 3 content, the products claim a perfectly balanced amount of omega 6 as well.
Speaking of pork-related omega, Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp., through its Health Technology and Specialty Products divisions (www.hormelingredients.com), entered the omega ingredient business with the Eterna brand of pure, tasteless and odorless Omega-3 fish oils. The company has shown Eterna's efficacy not only in meat applications but products such as cookies and beverages, too.
Another new entry into the omega field is ingredient giant Cargill (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis. Its new omega ingredient is designed for higher concentrations and "promises to be an innovative alternative to existing omega 3 products in the area of flavor." According to company literature, preliminary development studies show that incorporation of up to 150 mg of Cargill's omega 3 per serving can be added to products with no discernible change in flavor or shelf life.
Overall, omega-3 products are projected to top $7 billion in the next five years. Consumers are the driving force, having a long familiarity with omega from the numerous fish oil studies. Surveys by the Nutrition Business Journal, indicate 60 percent of the U.S. population is "aware of Omega 3s." As science plumbs deeper into the health benefits of omega oils, technology such as microencapsulation makes it easier for processors to take advantage of those benefits. Clearly, one doesn't have to fish very deep waters to haul in a net of omega-3 products.