The Three Omegas
June 1, 2011
by Laurie Gorton
Fats make baked foods and snacks taste good, and they provide essential texture. But fats also add calories and have come under increasing scrutiny for their heart health roles, positive and negative. In this post-trans era, formulators often pursue an “omega-3, -6, -9” strategy when selecting bakery shortenings to balance their products’ performance and processing requirements with consumers’ nutritional and health needs.
Oils containing omega-3 fatty acids, known for their health benefits, can be tricky to use in grain-based foods. The recent development of oils high in omega-9 polyunsaturated fatty acids promises to bring stability and structure to formulas that previously required partially hydrogenated shortenings laden with undesirable trans fats. Falling between the -3s and -9s are the omega-6 fatty acids with their intermediate fatty acid properties.
In positioning such new shortenings, Roger Daniels, director, R&D, Bunge North America, Bradley, IL, said, “Advances in the means of quantifying compositional elements of structuring lipids and the commercial availability of omega-3, -6, and -9 oils, coupled with advances in processing, is making the goal of ‘balanced shortenings’ more than just an aspiration.”
RAISING THE LEVELS.
It’s worth noting that no oil is composed exclusively of one single fatty acid; instead, nature creates blends, with the genetic heritage of the source controlling the ratio of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. “Human beings eat a total diet,” observed Rick Wilkes, food applications director, Monsanto Co., St. Louis, MO. “Many nutritionists believe it’s all about getting the right amount of fatty acids and, in particular, increasing the amount of long-chain omega-3s consumed. It’s a matter of getting to the right levels.”
A balanced fat strategy fits foods that may provide a significant portion of a person’s dietary intake, especially baked foods and snacks, which can be high in total fat, according to Christine Bunting, director, applications and technical service, Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, MD. “The Western diet is much too high in omega-6 fatty acids and quite low in omega-3 fatty acids,” she said. “A shift in the current ratio to emphasize omega-3s would result in great health benefits, particularly reduced risk of inflammatory disorders and chronic disease.” She recommended keeping the ratio of omega-3s to -6s at no less than 1:1.
Others cite a desired ratio of 1:2 of omega-3s to -6s, but current diets are often 1:20, noted Bob Wilhelm, vice-president, R&D, Mallet & Co., Inc., Carnegie, PA. “Basically, omega-6 oils are inflammatory, and omega-3s are anti-inflammatory,” he said. “They compete in the body for use.”
The body needs fats to function. Both alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3, and linoleic acid, an omega-6, are essential fatty acids, with “essential” defined as required to support life but not made in the body. Instead, they must be consumed. “ALA has clearly defined benefits to protect heart health,” said Lorin DeBonte, PhD, assistant vice-president, R&D, Cargill Oils & Shortenings, Wayzata, MN, “and replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (omega-3 and -6) similarly have heart protective benefits.”
Although omega-9 fatty acids are not defined as essential, they are as healthy as other plant-made omega-3s, according to Dave Dzisiak, commercial leader, oils, Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN, who quoted research stating that plant-source omega-9s, like those found in canola oil, reduce only bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. “Thus, in formulating, you can optimize good versus bad,” he said.
“And there is the question of stability with omega-3 fats,” Mr. Dzisiak continued. These fatty acids are highly unsaturated and don’t posses the shelf life stability needed for packaged foods. “The omega-9s work well in commercial applications, offering good oxidative stability and good, clean flavor.”
The times favor increasing use of unsaturated fats. “We do need to consume more monounsaturated fats,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “That’s a good thing, but the negativism toward saturated fats is alarming.”
NEEDING AN OIL CHANGE.
To promote healthy eating patterns, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) emphasized avoiding trans fats altogether and moving away from saturated fats. The school lunch program and other government-subsidized nutrition plans use DGA to guide selection of foods. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a labeling regulation in 2006 that requires listing the amount of trans fatty acids in the Nutrition Facts panel on packaging.
An increasing number of local governments have moved to regulate trans fats, and an estimated 20% of the US population lives in regions where trans fats are banned. Wal-Mart, too, recently announced its intention to eliminate trans fats and hydrogenated fat from all its store-brand products “and may eventually apply this policy to every [fat-containing] product in its stores,” speculated Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president, R&D and marketing, Loders Croklaan North America, IOI Group, Channahon, IL.
The new lower-saturated fat and nonhydrogenated trans-free shortenings offered by many shortening suppliers are ideally positioned to provide healthy alternatives to formulators. “Many of these new products are designed as drop-in solutions to comply with the new 2010 dietary guidelines,” said Kevin Miller, marketing communications manager, Loders Croklaan North America. The company developed SansTrans shortenings to lessen the need for extensive product reformulations when replacing trans fats.
When altering formulations to use omega-3s, formulators must achieve the right proportion to support the benefits claimed. “Relatively few foods contain either of the two kinds of omega-3s most beneficial to heart health: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),” said Michelle Braun, nutrition science group, Solae, LLC, St. Louis, MO. She cited significant dietary sources of these fats to include fatty fish, fish oil and algal oil. Flaxseed, walnuts and vegetable oils contain ALA, a precursor to EPA and DHA.
Introduction of Soymega, a soybean oil containing stearidonic acid (SDA), shows promise, especially for bakery products, according to Ms. Braun. “SDA is unique in that it converts to EPA in the body more efficiently than ALA,” she added.
“There is a clear gap between current intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the recommended levels that would optimize human nutrition and health,” Ms. Braun continued. The National Health and Nutrition ExaminationSurvey (NHANES) 2005-06 data showed omega-3s made up only 9% of total intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids. “Soymega SDA soybean oil is a sustainable, plant-based source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” she noted.
GETTING GOOD ADVICE.
Success with these new oils must involve all parties, and plant breeding resources such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, Dow AgroSciences and the Qualisoy program of the United Soybean Board play key roles, too. “These oils are not like commodity oils,” Monsanto’s Mr. Wilkes said. “And it can be an 18-month process to test and introduce them into products and processes.” In other words, contact your oil or shortening supplier early in the product development process.
“We don’t sell the oil directly,” explained Dow’s Mr. Dzisiak, “but we have excellent partners among the oil suppliers.” The company’s Omega-9 Solutions Team recently worked with Weaver Popcorn (see “How to Make Popcorn Healthier” opposite). “We were able to cut saturated fats from 5 g to 2 g and the trans fats to 0 g. We even cut the calories and produced a product that tastes great.”
Every product development project has to start somewhere. Mr. Daniels recommended doing the last experiment first: get it to taste right. “Specifically, realize that taste is, and always will be, king,” he said. “If the taste and functional needs of the finished product are not met, then the other design criteria of nutritional, economical and sustainable are not important.”
If the development focus is to reduce saturated fats, eliminate trans fats and add omega-3s, then pick a shortening that can support nutrient content claims. To qualify as a “good source” of omega-3s, products must provide 160 mg per serving, and to make an “excellent source” claim, each serving must have 320 mg. Using Cargill products as examples, Dr. DeBonte recommended the company’s Clear Valley Omega-3 Oil and Omega-3 Shortening, which he noted can support both claims at roughly 10% of the cost of existing omega-3 sources.
Canola, now the second most widely used oil in North America after soy, has the highest ALA content of all vegetable oils, qualifying as an “excellent source” of ALA while offering omega-6 linoleic acid in moderate levels, according to Kelly Ryan, spokesman for CanolaInfo, the information program of the Canola Council of Canada. “FDA authorized a qualified health claim on canola oil’s ability to help reduce the risk of heart disease when used in place of unsaturated fat,” she observed. Functionally, canola has a high smoke point (468°F), beneficial in baking and high-heat applications.
Fats are important for enhancing processing ability as well as end-product texture and structure. Many baked foods depend on the functionality of solid fats. “Saturated fat is clearly a healthy alternative to trans fats where a solid fat is needed for functionality,” Dr. McNeill said. Loders Croklaan bases many of its shortenings on palm oil to achieve this functionality while eliminating trans fats. Two new products, SansTrans VLS 30 and 40, were developed to reduce shortening use in baked goods, provide cost savings and lower saturated fat content.
The pending introduction of SDA soybean oil also addresses the functionality issue. “Soymega oil has been tested through directly adding it to the dough formulation for baked/nonbaked bars, breads, bagels and tortillas,” said Jane Whittinghill, senior research investigator, analytical science group, Solae. Industrial margarines made with it fit the needs of cookie formulations while shortenings using the new oil are successful in Danish pastries, chocolate compound coatings and icings.
Oxidation can be a concern when making shelf-stable baked foods with omega-3s, but Ms. Whittinghill pointed out that Soymega SDA soybean oil contains antioxidants that aid in prolonging shelf life of the baked applications.
Also high in omega-3s, life’sDHA from Martek is sourced from algae and comes in different styles allowing preparation of products rich in DHA without changing the item’s sensory profile. “We recommend customers test our product under their typical manufacturing and storage conditions,” Ms. Bunting said.
No other category of bakery ingredients has changed more in the past 20 years than that of fats, oils and shortenings. And it’s still careening ahead.
“We see the fats and oils category moving toward creating shortenings with significantly lower levels of saturated fat and including sufficient omega-3 fat to qualify finished baked goods for an omega-3 claim,” Dr. DeBonte said of trends.
For shortening processors such as Bunge, advances include many new components. Mr. Daniels described these as the availability of soybean and canola oils rich in omega-6 and -9 fatty acids, palm ingredients and new structuring technologies that include novel hydrogenation, special hardstocks and enzymatic interesterification. “These tools, properly applied by your customer-focused shortening and oils supplier, allow the expression of a customized ingredient base, balanced in terms of functionality, flavor, stability and nutritional contribution,” he said.
Predicting improvements in formulation and in better votation technology, Mr. Dzisiak said, “A lot of innovation can still come forward to bring more benefits to the consumer and customer.” He described zero-saturated oils as a few years out and noted that Dow has an active program with Martek to produce DHA in canola, thus offering a more sustainable source than fish oils. “An interesting development is that marine flavors are not present in plant-source omega-3 oils,” he observed.