PUFA Power

by Jeff Gelski
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Consumer awareness of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) could be greater. The 2011 edition of “Consumer attitudes about nutrition: Insights into nutrition, health and soyfoods” from the United Soybean Board showed 33% of respondents viewed PUFAs as very/some-what healthy.

Perhaps food manufacturers might promote a specific PUFA instead. In the United Soybean Board report, 79% of respondents viewed omega-3 fatty acids as very/somewhat healthy. Oil suppliers, meanwhile, are working to increase omega-3 fatty acid content in certain vegetable oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are both PUFAs while omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Amer-icans 2010, people should limit their consumption of foods high in saturated fatty acids and replace them with foods rich in polyun-saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.

While both PUFAs have health benefits, researchers are working to improve the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids in some oils. The Dallas-based American Heart Association encourages people to stay within the recommended amounts of omega-6 fatty acids since all fats are a source of calories and thus a potential problem with weight gain.

A study in the May 1, 2011, issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sought to quantify changes in PUFA consumption from 1909 to 1999. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., used economic disappearance data for each year from 373 food commodities. They then estimated the ratio of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, increased to 10:1 in 1999 from 6.4:1 in 1909.

The body converts ALA into two other kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and doco-sahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in fish oil.

It may benefit people to eat more omega-3 fatty acids. A omega-3:omega-6 ratio of 1:5 in some cases may be the best ratio for cardiovascular benefits, said Dilip Nakhasi, director of innovations, R.&D., for the Bunge Ingredient Innovation Center in Bradley, Ill.

“The balance is not there,” he said. “We consume a ton of omega-6 and omega-9.”
The ratio may be different for each person based on the person’s metabolic rate, he said. The type of omega-3 fatty acid also may affect the ratio. More ALA consumption is needed for a health benefit than EPA and DHA because the body converts only a portion of the ALA into EPA and DHA. It takes 14 molecules of ALA to convert into one molecule of EPA/DHA inside the body, Mr. Nakhasi said.

Work in Bunge’s Delta oil series includes efforts to increase omega-3 fatty acid content, Mr. Nakhasi said. Researchers use structural lipids to protect PUFAs, including omega-3 fatty acids, from oxidation. Bunge through its Delta work has created a Delta-Dry powdered nutritional lipid that has 18 grams of PUFAs per 100 grams and may be used in such applications as sports drink mixes, milk-based powdered drink mixes, infant formula, baked foods, gravies and sauces. A Delta-CS cooking spray concentrate; structured lipid has 35 grams of PUFAs per 100 grams.

The challenge of adding omega-3 fatty acids conflicts with functionality in a product, said Willie Loh, vice-president of marketing, Cargill Oils and Shortenings. Partially hydro-genated fats may provide more functionality, but the act of partial hydrogenation eliminates omega-3 fatty acids, he said. Companies reformulating out of partially hydrogenated fats thus may improve the omega-3:omega-6 ratio, he said.
Cargill under its Clear Valley brand offers an oil blend of flax oil and canola oil. Food manufacturers may use it to create products that qualify for nutrient content claims such as “good source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids” or “excellent source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.”

Cargill last November also announced plans to work with BASF Plant Science to develop canola oil that contains EPA and DHA.

The Solae Co., St. Louis, promotes Soymega, an oil that is 20% stearidonic acid (SDA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is converted in the body into EPA and DHA. It may be used in such applications as baked foods, soups, beverages, snack bars, dressings, yogurts, margarines and shortenings. A balsamic vinaigrette prototype with Soymega has 7 grams of fat, including 4 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 1.5 grams of monounsaturated fat.
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