Fats & Oils: Balancing Act

by Rebeca López-García
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Omega fatty acids have been on the radar for many years now. Consumers are aware of their benefits and favorably receive products that are formulated with these health-promoting fats. However, understanding their role in health and disease and knowing the correct amount that needs to be consumed of each fat seems a lot more complicated.

Consuming a balance of different omega fatty acids is essential for health and well-being. Because several studies have pointed out that the typical Western diet is unbalanced and that fatty acids are not consumed in the adequate proportions, there are ample opportunities for applications of specific fatty acids in bakery products.


Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids serve different functions within the body (see “Omega-3, -6 and -9 Fatty Acids” on Page 60). However, irrational consumption may not only prevent the beneficial functions of these compounds but also be detrimental to health. There is clear evidence that the incorporation of balanced proportions of essential and non-essential fatty acids is needed to maintain overall health. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), adults should receive 20 to 35% of energy from dietary fats, avoiding saturated and trans fats and increasing the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

A healthy intake of fatty acids consists of roughly two to four times more omega-6 than omega-3. However, a typical North American diet may contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 thus contributing to the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the US.

Why is the omega-3/omega-6 balance so important? According to a paper published by Ian Newton and David Snyder, Roche Vitamins, Inc., Paramus, NJ, the same group of enzymes is responsible for metabolizing both types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) so there is always metabolic competition for these enzymes within the body. The relative oversupply of omega-6 PUFAs in the diet may impair the transformation of omega-3 PUFAs into the longer chain metabolites eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and this may lead to an imbalance of end products that are thought to be a major factor in cardiovascular disease. This is particularly important when most omega-3 fatty acids are derived from vegetable sources instead of fish oils because vegetable sources contain mainly the short chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is converted into longer chain fatty acids in the body.


Flaxseed is commonly used as a source of omega-3 fatty acids with more than half of its lipids in the form of ALA. Although flaxseed is commonly used as intact whole seeds, it is not digestible in the human body because of the hard outer shell. Removing the shell is important to get the nutritional benefits. Flaxseed is considered a whole grain, but you must make appropriate formulation changes because the additional fiber may require as much as 75% additional water and adjustment of proofing times. The rougher texture may also require additional yeast and gluten to improve dough strength.

According to a recent statement from the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, preformed DHA,not EPA or ALA,should be consumed to achieve an enhanced DHA status, which is important for optimal health. However, consumers usually believe that fish is the only dietary source of pre-formed DHA, and this may create a problem for vegetarians. However, Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, MD, developed a vegetarian source of DHA by extracting the fatty acid from microalgae that are rich in this product.

Collaboration between Gurnee-IL-based Pizzey’s Nutritionals’ MeadowPure Flax and Houston, TXbased Omega Protein’s Omega Pure RFB fish oil brings the best of land and sea to food applications. This innovative product delivers all three types of omega-3s in a dry ingredient with guaranteed stability. The product adds a slightly nutty flavor, and a small amount — just 3% — in a serving of bread provides an excellent source of ALA and EPA+DHA plus fiber, protein and lignans. The soluble fiber content helps balance moisture, soften texture and even delay staling. In bread, tortillas or cookies, it can replace some or all of the oils and shortening. This product is stable in extrusion up to 5% levels, and only 3% is needed to claim excellent source of omega-3.

The major challenges for omega-3 applications is avoiding a fishy offflavor in the final products and preventing rancidity because PUFAs are highly susceptible to oxidation. Suppliers offer different solutions to these issues. For example, Ocean Nutrition Canada, Ltd., Dartmouth, NS, developed a patented double-shell protection for fish oils that produces a free-flowing, dry powder with a unique molecular construction that locks in the health benefits of omega-3 and locks out even the slightest hint of fishiness. This powder has no impact on the taste, smell or texture of the final product and contains both DHA and EPA. It is dispersible in water or oil and withstands heat processing and extrusion.


A science advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA) published in January 2009 highlights the value of soyfoods as important sources of heart-healthy PUFAs. The publication summarizes the current evidence on consumption of omega-6 PUFAs and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. The advisory indicates that consumption of at least 5 to 10% of daily calories from omega-6 PUFAs reduces the risk of CHD.

According to nutrition and soyfoods expert Mark Messina, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor at Loma Linda University and president of Nutrition Matters, Inc., Eau Claire, WI, “There has been somewhat of a controversy about omega-6 fatty ac- ids because, although they lower cholesterol, there is speculation that they may also be disadvantageous because of their effect on the metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids and because of hormone-like compounds produced from omega-6 fatty acids. Claims have been made that these hormone-like substances cause inflammation and thereby raise risk of heart disease, and that too much omega-6 in the diet reduces the anti-inflammatory effects and coronary benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Now, after an extensive review of the scientific literature, AHA has dismissed these claims as unfounded and concluded that Americans should make sure to get sufficient omega-6s.”

One easy way to add some beneficial Omega-6s to products is the use of soybean oil. According to the Soyfoods Council, Urbandale, IA, soybeans are a good source of omega-3 ALA but most of the fat in the soybean is in the form of omega-6 linoleic acid (LA), which is known to lower cholesterol. Sunflower oil also contains LA, and suppliers such as Kerry Ingredients, Beloit, WI, offer powdered versions of this oil to facilitate handling and storage. These powders are also pre-emulsified for wet applications.

If a product is designed specifically for weight control, then conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) is your friendly ally. According to Lipid Nutrition, a Division of Loders Croklaan, Channahon, IL, in the past decade, the potential beneficial effects of CLA on human health have been investigated and proven effective in weight management.

The term CLA refers to a family of at least 28 conjugated chemical disposition forms of linoleic acid. However, most active isomers have been identified and incorporated into ingredients. CLA has been shown to also reduce the side effects from a low-calorie diet such as skin rashes, irritability, depression and hair loss. Lipid Nutrition products are made from natural safflower oil and can be used in different forms depending on the formulation needs. A free fatty acid form offers the basic CLA benefits; a CLA triglyceride has better taste and easier digestibility; and a powder specifically formulated with triglyceride CLA allows fortification of taste-sensitive foods.


Omega-9 fatty acids have a place of their own and are not involved in the omega-3/omega-6 ratio controversy. According to Dave Dzisiak, healthy oils global commercial leader, Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN, omega-9 fatty acids are non-essential, monounsaturated fats that are commonly available in olive, canola and sunflower oils as well as nuts like almonds. These fats have been proven to lower “bad” and increase “good” cholesterol reducing the risk of various heart conditions. Research published by the American Medical Association (April 2009) reported that Mediterranean diets show a causal relationship in reduction of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, almonds, as well as olive and canola oil, are now eligible to bear a qualified health claim about their ability to reduce the risk of CHD.

ADA also stated that substitution of canola oil for fats would increase compliance with dietary recommendations for fatty acids, particularly in lowering saturated fat and increasing heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

In the mid 1990s, Dow AgroSciences was the first to develop a new line of naturally bred canola and sunflower seeds and oils with exceptional stability without hydrogenation. These seeds are the source of omega-9 oils, and their fatty acid profile gives the oils unique taste, health and performance benefits. These oils are ideal for food service because they perform like partially hydrogenated oils but have 0 trans fat, low saturated fat and high monounsaturated fat.

Mr. Dzisiak said the challenge in baking formulation is replacing solid fats, while maintaining mouthfeel and texture in the food. Highly stable omega-9 oils can be blended with low levels of saturated fats to provide the needed shelf life and structuring properties required. Trans and saturated fats can be reduced by 60% when compared with conventional partially hydrogenated or palmbased shortenings. In addition, Dow AgroSciences developed frying oil for heavy-duty frying as well as for snack foods, spray oils for crackers and shortening blends for cookies that are high in mono-unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.


There is a lot of science available about the different benefits of omega fatty acids.

The key is to formulate healthconscious products using a wellbalanced variety of ingredients that are rich in these fatty acids. Trends will come and go, but formulating wisely, with a balance of ingredients, will give products staying power.

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