In a recent IFIC Foundation survey, fielded in November 2005, 43% of Americans state they are trying to consume more fish oils and 44% are trying to ingest more omega-3 fatty acids, whereas 61% are trying to eat less animal fat.
"The body needs essential fatty acids (EFAs) just like it needs other essential vitamins and minerals," says Manny Sabares, marketing manager for an essential fatty acid supplier. Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, are not produced naturally in the body and must be obtained through food and nutritional supplements. They are required by the body to control a large number of cellular processes.
Catch of the Day
The sources of omega-3 are principally fish (cold-water, fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) that eat algae, since omega-3 is inherent in algae. Walnuts, almonds, flaxseed and canola oil also are high in omega-3 fatty acids; however, fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA), the two most important omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
Omega-3s from vegetable oils, such as flax oil, benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and preventing development of atherosclerosis. Flax oil also provides immune support by aiding against infections and encouraging the healing of wounds, says Sabares.
Borage and evening primrose oil is a source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid that promotes skin and joint health and relief for conditions with inflammatory components, like cardiovascular function and diabetic health.
Results from another IFIC survey, fielded in May 2005, show that 78% of consumers are aware of a relationship between omega-3s and reduced risk of heart disease, while 73% are aware of a relationship between reduced risk of heart disease and monounsaturated fats in olive oil and nuts.
In response to the open-ended question, "What foods are good for you?"? fish, fish oil and seafood were ranked third by consumers on their top 10 healthful ingredients list, but specifically, omega-3 fatty acids ranked much lower. Of four trending surveys conducted by IFIC (1998, 2000, 2002 and 2005), consumers mentioned omega-3 by name as the answer to this question only in the 2005 survey, with 1% of 1,000 giving this response.
Some evidence shows EPA and DHA also contribute positively to increased cognitive function while being crucial for fetal brain development. Oh Mama! Bars, launched by Vincent Foods in August 2005, come in chocolate peanut butter, frosted white raspberry and yogurt honey flavors. They are intended to complement the diet of expectant (and breastfeeding) mothers by providing the gestating baby essential oils like DHA, shown in studies to enhance the development of the brain, eye and central nervous system.
Robert Reeves, president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, commented that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), rice bran oil, cholesterol-lowering lipids such as sterols and stanols, and some of the newer oils that have trait-modified fatty acid composition are only some of the nutritional lipids recently available or on the horizon, but they are not well known in America for their health benefits. In recent years, many manufacturers have made note of oil seed varieties like high-oleic canola oil, low-linolenic or moderate-oleic soybean oils and the high-oleic safflower oil, states Reeves.
High-oleic safflower oil is a stable oil that will not degrade and does not require hydrogenation. It also is a good source of alpha linolenic acid or omega-3 fatty acid. "The safflower growing industry has rapidly gone to that variety as their seed," says Reeves.
Linolenic acid is a relatively unstable fatty acid. However, low-linolenic acid is more stable and can be used as an alternative to trans fat.
According to the Canola Council of Canada, canola oil is lower in saturated fats than most other cooking oils including corn, soybean and olive oil. It is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) with 58% oleic acid, and has an intermediate amount (36%) of PUFAs.
Not only does a 40g serving of Bisquick's Heart Smart All-Purpose Baking Mix contain 0.5g of PUFA and 1.5g of MUFA, it is low-fat, contains 0g trans fat, is naturally cholesterol-free and a good source of calcium. Marketed as a "delicious way to be good to your heart,"? the baking mix, launched in November 2005, contains canola oil and is approved to bear the American Heart Association logo.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are converted into energy but "unlike their fatty siblings" they contribute a slightly lower calorie count and do not raise blood lipid or cholesterol levels. MCTs are popular in foods formulated for athletes, infants and diabetics.
California-based ChampBev's Mighty Milk, a nutritional drink for active kids, lists canola oil, sunflower oil and MCTs as "lean lipids."? CLA is also said to assist with weight loss. "The science on CLA is incomplete," states Reeves. "It reduces fat deposition in the body, but the mechanism is unknown. There is more evidence of weight loss in animal models rather than human models."
"Rice bran oil is an emerging oil which, in recent years, has been found to contain cholesterol-lowering properties,"? he says. One major study indicates total cholesterol fell by 14% and LDL dipped by about 20% with rice bran oil consumption (T.R. Watkins, et al., Environ. Nutr. Interact., 1990).
Fats and oils are triglycerides or tri-esters. Sterols are esters of fatty acids or a form of fatty acids from plant sources. "Plant sterols/stanols are the most popular in terms of cholesterol reduction,"? extols Reeves. They act similar to bran in that they are cholesterol blockers. They are used a lot in supplements, spreads and other foods of significant fat content.
Based on data from scores of trials conducted on the use of plant sterols in the diet, a daily intake of at least 1.3g of plant sterol esters (or 0.8g of free plant sterols) as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol is recommended to provide significant cholesterol-lowering benefits.
When unaided, not one participant mentions stanols or sterols as a healthful ingredient, reports Kapsak. "They can't wrap their heads around [such] ingredients," she adds.
"This lets manufacturers know that consumers are grounded in food as the source of healthful fat," explains Kapsak.
For example, Kapsak suggests that manufacturers can use phrases similar to "heart-healthy,"? which is done with products such as Healthy Heart Chewy Granola Bars. The General Mills-owned Nature Valley company recently introduced the Healthy Heart line, which contains 0.4g of plant sterols per serving in oatmeal raisin and honey nut flavors.
Therefore, the next step in the communication process is educating consumers about how exactly the fat makes that particular food healthful, says Kapsak. If done well and consistently over time, the average Joe will be able to shrewdly chew the fat. NS
Sidebar: Going Global
Labeled to be "closer than ever to breast milk," ? Heinz Farley's First Milk baby formula was launched in Vietnam late in 2005. The gluten-free, sucrose-free product contains a blend of nutrients, such as GLA, DHA and arachidonic acid (AA), naturally found in breast milk and important for brain and eye development. Ingredients listed on the label include fish and vegetable oil which, along with other ingredients, contribute 350mg of linoleic acid, 44mg of alpha linoleic acid, 33mg of GLA and 26mg of DHA and AA.
Also in 2005, Biomedical Laboratories, based in the U.K., added iQ3 Brainstorm cereal and fruit bars to its line of iQ3 omega-3 supplements and products. The snack bars were used in a 12-week trial measuring the concentration, behavior and learning disabilities of five- to seven-year-olds. According to a company press release, "over a quarter (26%) of the children showed improvement to their listening skills and one in five (22%) sustained concentration for longer periods after the introduction of fish oils into their diet."? With the help of micro-encapsulated tuna oil (3.1%), the bars are free of fish odor. Out of 23g of fat, 8g are saturated, 11g are monounsaturated and 3g are polyunsaturated.
Athletes in Vietnam might be thrilled about the introduction of Hanco MCT Sportsmilk, which for every 100g contains 7,000mg of MCT. MCT is noted to increase the absorption of protein, amino acids and minerals, which provides energy when participating in sports.