It’s in everything from margarines and spreads, to fortified eggs, cookies, and even gummy bear vitamins for children and adults. Welcome to the world of products fortified with Omega-3: it’s a heart healthy world.
The two critical Omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). On average, Americans consume roughly 100 mg/day of these two essential fatty acids in the form of Omega-3. Many experts within the medical and dietary fields suggest that number should be closer to 500 mg/day. Americans are poor consumers of fish: in fact, close to 25% of Americans do not eat fish at all. Due to this disparity, there is growing pressure on the American Heart Association to assign specific recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) to EPA and DHA, or broadly speaking, Omega-3 oils.
This mounting health evidence, and an ever growing consumer awareness of all that is critical to a wellness focused, heart healthy regimen of food intake, has not been lost on the producers and purveyors of our food chain. Within the past decade, there has been a tremendous increase in the market sector of food products “enriched” with Omega-3 fatty acids. This growth is only to increase based on consumer preference, and also importantly, a reduction in the worldwide harvesting of ocean ranging fatty fish rich in Omega-3 oils such as mackerel and salmon.
In order to make a labeled claim such as, “an excellent source of omega-3…” the product must contain a combined total of a minimum, 32 mg/serving of EPA and DHA. This claim can be coupled with language suggesting, “supportive, but not conclusive, research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA Omega-e may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease…..”.
Getting Your Fix
There are challenges to the production and market acceptance of all fortified foods, including the premium price that goes along with healthful fortification. In order to be useful, and reap benefits, Omega-3 must be consumed in fairly large doses; and the doses and product concentrations vary. You may very well have to consume many fortified eggs, or quarts of fortified milk to reach the same level of health inducing consumption as a small serving of ocean derived salmon. Consequently, a whole lot of additional and unwanted calories may be consumed along with a healthy dose of Omega-3.
The easiest (and least expensive) option to fortify foods with Omega-3 would be to incorporate plant-based products such as vegetable oils and flaxseed oils. However, these oils contain a disproportionately large percentage of the less beneficial, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Research has shown greater health benefits from EPA and DHA, versus ALA. Additionally, ALA requires an additional metabolic “breakdown step” before it is fully functional, and can make the claim, “excellent source of….”.
As an alternative to fresh fatty fish consumption, bulk fish oil in its concentrated form is an excellent alternative, providing high percentages of both EPA and DHA. Although more costly than bulk fish oil, encapsulated concentrated fish oils, typically in capsule or softgel forms, provide the added benefit of healthy consumption, without the noxious taste or odor.
Always Check the Label
If you can get your Omega-3, and most importantly, EPA and DHA from a recommended twice per week portion of fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon, by all means, get it at the table. However, if your Omega-3 food intake comes from plant based sources such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and canola oil, etc., primarily rich in the ALA form, you may come up lacking. When buying products fortified with Omega-3, make certain that they contain EPA and/or DHA. If you do not see either fatty acid listed as the source of Omega-3, than it is probably (lesser form) ALA. Additionally, when purchasing bulk fish oils, look for stated percent concentrations of EPA and DHA. And always, look for a certificate of analysis, and other documentation which includes important information such as date of product expiration, organic or kosher certification.
As an alternative, or supplement to natural sources, concentrated bulk fish oils in the capsule or softgel form may be a valuable solution.
Jedwards International is one of the largest and most diverse suppliers of bulk fish oils, and Omega-3 products. No fortification necessary with our products!