How much more?

by Jeff Gelski
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Researchers and industry members generally agree people need to consume more omega-3 fatty acids. Now, new research focuses on how much omega-3 fatty acids children are consuming and an upcoming petition will seek to clarify how much of each kind of omega-3 fatty acids people should consume.

The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (G.O.E.D.) is working on a petition that will request the Institute of Medicine revisit intake guidelines for omega-3 fatty acids, said Adam Ismail, executive director of the G.O.E.D., Salt Lake City. The Institute of Medicine currently has an adequate intake (A.I.) level of 1.1 grams daily of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a kind of omega-3 fatty acid, for women and 1.6 grams of ALA for men. Adequate intake of two other forms of omega-3 fatty acids combined — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — is 10% of the ALA level, or 110 mg for women and 160 mg for men.

The G.O.E.D. in its petition will say that EPA and DHA should have their own level apart from ALA, Mr. Ismail said. The petition also may seek to obtain a Recommended Dietary Allowance (R.D.A.) for omega-3 fatty acids.

The Institute of Medicine analyzed published scientific studies from up to 2000 before setting the current A.I. levels in 2005, Mr. Ismail said. More research on omega-3 fatty acids has happened since then.

"We’re hoping that they review the science and that there is enough new science to clarify the situation a little bit," Mr. Ismail said.

The Institute of Medicine will need to receive funding from other government agencies to review the science, he said.

"The next step is to try to convince different agencies to fund the study," he said.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee addressed omega-3 fatty acids. The committee said Americans should consume 496 mg combined of EPA and DHA per day and then converted this into the two servings of fish per week, which is recommended in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, said Lori Covert, vice-president of marketing and communications for Ocean Nutrition Canada, Dartmouth, N.S.

"Some U.S.D.A. officials have stated that they expect omega-3s to be a larger part of the 2010 Guidelines," she said.

Food and beverage manufacturers still may use a Food and Drug Administration health claim when applying DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids into their products. The F.D.A. in 2004 approved the qualified health claim "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

The G.O.E.D. has filed for similar claims in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.) is examining the claims now, Mr. Ismail said.

In Canada, researchers from the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont., conducted a study with 41 children from the ages of 4 to 8. They found 61% of the children met the A.I. for ALA and 22% met the suggested combined A.I. for EPA and DHA.

"There is an apparent need to create greater awareness of the importance of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids among both health professionals and the general public as well as the existing gap between actual and recommended intakes from various sources," the researchers wrote.

Results of the study appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

"This new study is really important because although research shows that awareness of the health benefits of omega-3 DHA/EPA is high, most people still do not consume enough fish," Ms. Covert said. "In fact, more than 80% of Americans do not consume at least two 4-oz servings of oily fish per week, resulting in omega-3 EPA/DHA deficiency.

The troubled economy may have some in the food and beverage industry speculating whether consumers will continue to pay more for healthy products, such as those containing omega-3 fatty acids.

"We have seen the market has continued to grow throughout the crisis, which is encouraging," Mr. Ismail said.

The act of retailers offering price specials on omega-3 fatty acid supplements shows how far the category has grown.

"Usually you typically do that with mature products, like Coke and Pepsi," Mr. Ismail said.

Another encouraging sign came from attendance numbers at the Natural Products Expo West/Supply Expo held March 5-8 in Anaheim, Calif., Mr. Ismail said. The event drew 53,000 industry members and more than 1,900 exhibiting companies, including 482 new exhibitors.

Dr. Bill Sears, Ph.D., an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, promoted his line of children’s snack foods with omega-3 fatty acids. A Sky Radio interview segment with Dr. Sears talking about omega-3 fatty acids also played on American Airlines flights in March and was estimated to reach 4.2 million travelers.

Such awareness may lead to continued growth in sales. The Nielsen Co., New York, said U.S. sales of foods and beverages with omega-3 fatty acid claims reached $1.5 billion for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 2008, up 25% from the previous 52-week period and up 73% from four years ago.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 17, 2009, starting on Page 47. Click here to search that archive.

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