Growth of Omega-3 Products in North America

The use of omega-3 fatty acids has been growing for over 20 years. The May 2005 “Omega-3 Oils Market Analysis” report by Datamonitor predicted a rosy future for omega-3s. The forces that will drive this market are greater health awareness; an aging population; a shift in marketing focus towards healthier products; greater purchasing power; a demand for greater convenience and immediate health benefits; and technological advances that allow the development of healthy products that enhance flavor, odor and stability.

Some of the primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed and coldwater fish. The former contains ALA omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) and the latter DHA and EPA. The U.S. market for functional health foods was valued in excess of $28.1 billion in 2003. This market is expected to maintain growth levels of 6.6% through 2008. (See chart “Functional Foods Market Sizes and Expected Growth.”)

Statistics show very high consumer awareness regarding omega-3 fatty acids. However, even though over 50% of adults consume some kind of omega-3 supplement or omega-3 fortified food, people are confused over its health benefits, according to the Datamonitor analysis report.

If one examines specific market segments for omega-3 fortification and the omega-3 label, one sees significant increases in a number of different areas. Breads and pastries—often fortified with flax or flax oils—had new product releases numbering from less than 20 in 1999 to almost 200 in 2005. Similar trends were noted for beverages, which jumped from 112 in 1993 to 426 in 2005. Salad dressings, spreads, dips and oils had 172 new releases in 2005, according to Datamonitor online.  Processors have also added omega-3 fatty acids to ice creams, frozen novelties, yogurts, pasta and pasta dishes, vegetables, pizzas, hot snacks and side dishes. There has been a similar increase in new products that contain flaxseed with an omega-3 label.

One of the benefits of omega-3 addition is that the FDA has allowed processors to make health claims for products with added omega-3. Products that contain 260mg of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) or 1.3g of flaxseed may be may be labeled as a high, rich or excellent source of omega-3, whereas a good source of the nutrient must contain 130mg of ALA or 0.65g of flaxseed. Processors may also make structure-function claims. Processors may say that omega-3s will support cardiovascular health, the immune system and general health. These types of claims need not be previewed by the Agency and do not need to include the disclaimer “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.” Consumers appreciate these claims because they are simple and to the point.

“Omega-3 Labeling and Labeling Issues: Growth of Omega-3 Products in North America,” Linda Pizzey, president,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Polyols in Bakery Operations

Obesity is a problem in the U.S. and in many other nations. In response, the number of low-, no- or reduced-sugar products that have been released in the past five years has spiked upwards, according to Mintel’s GNPD. (See chart “Low-/no-/reduced-sugar Product Launches.”)

In developing low-, reduced- or no-sugar products that meet consumer expectations, the first step is to understand the roles of sucrose and corn syrup in foods. For example, sucrose helps develop cell structure during mixing. It increases the gelatinization temperature of flour; increases the coagulation temperature of egg protein; controls the volume of a cake or spread for a cookie; binds moisture; and provides texture. Of course, it also adds sweetness. So, replacing sugars or corn syrup means that any replacement ingredient must provide both flavor and functionality.

Polyols or sugar alcohols (polyhydric alcohols) are one of the most effective and commonly used ingredients as bulk sugar replacers. Not recognized as sugars by the FDA, these carbohydrate derivatives, containing only hydroxyl groups as functional groups, are often found in nature but manufactured commercially from starch hydrolysates. Since polyols are metabolized differently than traditional sugars and carbohydrates, lowering blood glucose levels and reducing calories, they have been used for decades by diabetics. Furthermore, their structural similarity to sugars provides excellent bulk replacement and functionality, unlike high-potency sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. However, because they have a reduced functional group (hydroxyl), they do not produce the typical caramel flavors or browning reactions like sugars. Therefore, products manufactured using polyols, such as cheesecakes, may have a lighter appearance. Polyols also have a heat of solution, which can be defined as the amount of heat absorbed or released when dissolved in water. Typically, these “heat of solution” values are negative for polyols in crystalline form and vary greatly from one another. Consequently, as these values decrease or become more negative, a more pronounced cooling sensation is perceived when eaten. Polyols also vary greatly in their solubility in water, which can affect the shelflife or eating quality of a finished baked good such as a cake or cookie.

The key, therefore, is to select a polyol that most mimics the sugar or carbohydrate polymer for which it is being substituted. Generally speaking, for replacing a monosaccharide, consider the polyols sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol or erythritol. Disaccharide substitutions, on the other hand, use maltitol, lactitol or isomalt. Lastly, when it comes to corn syrups, consider maltitol syrups or polyglycitol syrups.

By carefully looking at the various physical properties—such as relative sweetness, humectancy, heat of solution, solubility and relative laxation—the developer can create high quality “reduced-sugar,” “no sugar added” or “sugar-free” baked goods that consumers can enjoy.

“Understanding Polyols in Bakery Applications: Issues and Opportunities,” Peter R. Jamieson, manager of applications research, SPI Polyols Inc.,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Flexible Functionality of Eggs

Egg protein has the highest biological value of any protein available in nature (excluding commercial protein isolates). It is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids required for protein synthesis. (See chart “Biological Value of Different Proteins.”) Egg yolks contain minerals such as iron, phosphorous, calcium, manganese, iodine, copper and zinc, as well as significant levels of vitamins A, D and E, plus biotin, choline, folic acid, inositol, panothenic acid and thiamin.

Egg whites are primarily protein and water. Their functions include foaming, aeration and emulsification, coagulation, flavor and color maintenance, and providing humectancy.  When egg whites are beaten, they entrap air, thus creating a colloidal dispersion. As air is incorporated, the foam becomes stiffer. If yolks get into the mixture, they can destroy the foam due to the presence of fat bullets. Other factors that affect foam stability include the degree of beating, blending, homogenization, temperature, pH and water, plus the presence of copper, sugar and salt.

Egg yolks are excellent emulsifying agents. They contain phospholipids, lipoproteins and other proteins that are surface active agents that enable the formation of emulsions. Egg yolk also provides color, the major flavor components and humectancy to food products. Dried whole egg and fresh liquid eggs have similar functional properties. Eggs and egg yolks are used in mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, salad dressings and many baked goods.

Both the whites and yolks are used for thickening and coagulation. They bind products naturally and will suspend other ingredients. Heating egg foam creates a stable structure, such as one might see in custards. Coagulation is affected by heat, sugar (raises temperature of coagulation), the presence of acid (drops temperature of coagulation), alkali and agitation. 

Because of their good coating and binding properties, eggs impart rigidity, causing mixtures to gel and ingredients to adhere. Egg washes are used for batters and coatings in home cooking and many industrial applications. There are no significant differences in the binding properties of dried whole egg, dried yolks and of fresh liquid eggs.

Most eggs used in industrial applications are processed liquid, dried or frozen egg products. These have been pasteurized to reduce the potential for foodborne illness.

“The Incredible Edible Egg,” Christine Alvarado, Ph.D., assistant professor of Poultry Processing and Value-added Products, Texas Tech University, on behalf of the American Egg Board,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor    

The Health Benefits of a Low Glycemic Index

Eating breakfast can help people keep their blood sugar levels from spiking too low, causing them to overeat later in the day. GI has become a hot topic in nutrition circles and amongst consumers. GI is a measure of how the human body metabolizes carbohydrates and is defined as follows:

AUC for 50g of carbohydrate from test food

AUC for 50g from a reference food

Foods containing carbohydrates have different glycemic indices based on the rate at which these products are metabolized (see chart “Glycemic Index Ranking”). Clinical studies have shown that consuming carbohydrates that have lower glycemic indices will reduce the risk of a number of diseases. These include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and endometrial cancer. According to epidemiological studies, it is estimated that the risk of each of these diseases is approximately two or more times higher for consumers eating foods with the highest GI when compared to those with the lowest.

Other studies have shown that low GI diets also reduce fat mass and increase fat oxidation in consumers. Research further indicates that low GI meals increase satiety. High GI meals can promote excessive food intake throughout the day (Ludwig, et al. 1999. Pediatrics. 103:E26). There is also evidence that low GI meals will increase physical performance. For example, al dente (firm) pasta is one carbohydrate that generally has a low glycemic index. The research confirms what marathon runners and other athletes have espoused for years; that is, prior to intense exercise, a meal of pasta is a good idea. Another 1999 study (DeMarco, HM, et al. 1999. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 31:164-70) reported that the time to exhaustion was greater when low GI meals were consumed, which is especially important to long-distance runners or cyclists.

There are a number of factors that affect the rate at which foods are digested. These include the nature of the starch, particle size, the presence of fiber and protein-starch interactions that occur in wheat. Starch itself is a complex molecule and undergoes different reactions. Factors such as the ratio of amylase to amylopectin, the degree of retrogradation, the degree of gelatinization and the degree of hydration all affect the rate of carbohydrate absorption

There are now many food companies emphasizing the GI of the products they manufacture. The GI Symbol Program, started in Australia as a non-profit company, now also has licensees in North America. The GI Symbol program ensures that only products tested by an accredited laboratory and meeting healthy nutrition criteria can carry their GI symbol.

“The Health Benefits of a Low Glycemic Index,” Alexandra L. Jenkins, Ph.D., director of research, Glycemic Index Laboratories Inc., alexandrajenkins@; an unrestricted travel grant was provided by the Cherry Marketing Institute:

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Choline for Heart, Brain and Liver Health

Choline is an essential nutrient widely distributed in foods, principally in the form of phosphatidylcholine, but also as free choline. Additionally, it is found in foods in the form of the phospholipid sphingomyelin. Unfortunately, the levels of this essential nutrient found in foods may not reach the levels needed for optimal nutrition. It is found in fats and cholesterol, which should not be consumed in large amounts. For example, beef or chicken liver, eggs and bacon are excellent sources of choline. It is also found in foods that infants, who really need choline, may refuse to eat, like cauliflower.

Choline salts, such as choline chloride or choline bitartrate, will not degrade when exposed to heat and light and are GRAS-approved by the FDA. Moreover, choline is mandated by the FDA for use in infant formulas. Choline performs a number of functions in human physiology. It is an important part of cell structure, essential for neurotransmission and cell signaling and, hence, brain development and function. Choline is also a necessary component of lipoproteins, promoting fat and cholesterol transport from the liver. These physiological functions have allowed the following structure/function claims to be made for the nutrient: 1) it helps memory problems associated with aging; 2) prenatal use enhances lifelong memory; 3) supplementation during infancy increases lifelong memory; 4) choline will reduce fatigue during vigorous exercise; 5) it lowers plasma homocysteine, which can enhance the cardiovascular system and delay the onset of dementia; and 6) it promotes healthy liver function. According to the FDA, foods that have been supplemented with at least 55mg choline per serving are a “good source of choline,” whereas those containing 110mg are an “excellent source.”

There are a number of options available for supplementing products with choline. Choline is available as choline chloride, choline bitartrate and choline dihydrogen citrate. The chloride and bitartrate compounds are most commonly used. As seen in the chart “Choline for Food Fortification,” choline chloride has the highest cation content. All forms of the compounds are soluble in water, which enhances their ability to mix or blend properly, and none will impart off-flavors to the end product.

Choline is highly stable in a wide range of food systems and in most processing operations. It is stable in extruded products over temperature ranges of 100ËšC to 145ËšC. It is stable in beverages at pH values of 2.5 that have been retorted and processed using UHT (ultra high temperatures). It also is stable in baked products. Choline is easily incorporated into these foods and others as a powder. It is also more stable and less expensive than omega-3 fatty acids, yet has similar therapeutic benefits. Choline is an underappreciated and under-publicized nutrient when compared to omega-3s.

“Choline: Formulation for Cardiovascular Health, Brain and Liver Function Made Easy,” Lucien Hernandez, business manager, nutrients, Balchem Corporation,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor