Fortifying foods with sustainable omega-3s from fish by-products

A high daily intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and improved cognitive function.

Recognizing their health benefits, government agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommend a minimum daily intake. In the case of EFSA, a daily intake of 250 mg of EPA and DHA is recommended.

This could be achieved by consuming two to three servings of fish per week, including oily fish.

However, Western and Asian diets do not meet this threshold. This could be due to a variety of factors: consumer aversion to the flavor of fish and seafood, lack of availability, or an increase in vegan and vegetarian diets.

How to increase the consumption of omega-3 in an effective and sustainable way?

Food fortification

Even without considering the element of sustainability, increasing omega-3 intake is a challenge, explained Heidi Johnsen, head of research at SINTEF, at a recent European Health Forum event. power supply (EFF).

The obvious solution is to encourage more fish consumption, but as mentioned, not all consumers are enthusiastic. Taking a daily oil, such as cod liver oil, is another option. But similar challenges are likely to remain, given that it tastes and smells fishy.

Alternatively, omega-3 macrocapsules could be taken daily in addition to consumers’ regular food intake. “However, many of those most in need of increased intake, such as the elderly, may have difficulty swallowing macrocapsules,” Johnsen said.

The other potential solution, which could be the most effective according to the SINTEF researcher, lies in the enrichment of food products with omega-3. This comes with its own challenges, including that unsaturated fatty acids are easily degraded by oxidation in air and light. This produces free radicals, resulting in “unpleasant tastes” and “unpleasant tastes”.

Therefore, omega-3s cannot be “just added” to food formulations. The fatty acids must be “protected”, so as not to affect the sensory properties and the shelf life of the finished product.

“A demanding field”

Several researchers and companies are working to overcome these obstacles by protecting the oil and masking its smell and taste.

One way to do this is to take advantage of antioxidants. These can be synthetic or natural, such as rosemary extract. This was the technique employed by the German research institute Fraunhofer, when it developed an omega-3-enriched sausage product in 2013.

“They used antioxidants in emulsions trying to protect omega-3s,” remembers Johnsen. “To my knowledge, these [sausages] are no longer available on the market, which also shows that it is not simple.

The other option available to R&D teams is the encapsulation of fatty acids in microcapsules. “These microcapsules are so tiny, a 100ea millimeter [in size]so you can’t identify them in food with the naked eye, nor taste them when you chew them,” we have been told.

“The idea is to protect the fatty acids from the time the food is produced until it is consumed, and then these tiny capsules will release their cargo of fatty acids into your intestines to be absorbed.

“It’s still a difficult area and research is ongoing.”

Other food products that have been fortified with omega-3s in recent times include Barilla pasta, Quaker granola bars, and Jif peanut butter.

Other omega-3 innovations include BASF’s encapsulated omega-3 powders for infant and maternal nutrition, food fortification and dietary supplements, and microencapsulated omega-3s from algae oil, developed by the Australian CSIRO.

A focus on sustainable development

Since Johnsen believes that fortifying food products with omega-3s is an effective way to encourage consumer adoption, she is now concerned with ensuring that this process is carried out in the most sustainable way possible. .

“If you want to increase intake, we should also consider sources of marine omega-3s and how to achieve sustainable use,” she told delegates. “More and more consumers are betting on responsible and sustainable consumption…

“Given projected population growth of around 26% by 2050, we need a nearly 70% increase in food calories to feed nearly 10 billion people. At the same time, we know that 35% of the world’s fish catch is lost or wasted. There is therefore a clear need to make better use of resources. »

A potential solution lies in the remaining raw materials, i.e. fish skins, bones, heads and viscera. These fish by-products contain a large amount of lipids, but in today’s food systems they are either recycled into lower value products, such as animal feed, or thrown away.

So how much fish waste is there today? Two years ago in Norway, it was estimated that a total of one million tonnes of marine raw materials were generated from four million tonnes of raw materials. These excess materials contain 20% fat and 15% protein.

Johnsen argues that the lipids and proteins in these potential waste products should be repurposed for food fortification purposes. “In this way, we can obtain products of greater value for human consumption, not only enriched with omega-3, but with increased nutritional value thanks to proteins.

“In addition, marine fish proteins could replace some animal proteins. Fish gelatin [for example] may meet the needs of consumer groups that avoid animal gelatin for religious or principled reasons. »

More research is needed in this space, the researcher suggested. Improved methods are needed to increase the quality and quantities extracted from the remaining raw materials, as is better protection of omega-3s for use in fortified foods.

And finally, although in general, consumers who prioritize sustainable consumption are more willing to accept scrap-value products, Johnsen suggested that a better understanding of consumer perception and the factors that influence these perceptions would be beneficial for its adoption in the market.

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