Consumers have been challenged to eat more fish and other foods with high levels of heart-healthy1 omega-3s. Now, soybeans may become a valuable source of omega-3. Soy oil is renewable, stable and easy to consume.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids, which means they are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food. The challenge is omega-3 is not present in most of the foods we eat on a daily basis, and the food processing industry has had difficulty finding omega-3 supplements that don’t interfere with taste while still meeting industry standards for shelf life.
A product from Monsanto will result in a broader omega-3 portfolio for development of new products that can bring omega-3 health benefits to consumers.
How Omega-3 Works in the Body
Three major omega-3 fatty acids are ingested through foods and used by the body:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Once eaten, the body converts ALA to heart-healthy1 omega-3s, including EPA, and to a smaller extent DHA. These are the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by the body.
However, the conversion of ALA to EPA (and then to DHA) is very inefficient, and only a small percentage of ALA consumed is made into the beneficial omega-3s.
Currently, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish and certain plant oils. ALA is found in plant sources including flax, walnuts and canola oil. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish, like salmon, sardines and tuna. Monsanto has developed soybeans that provide oil enriched in the omega-3 fatty acid called stearidonic acid (SDA).
SDA is more efficiently converted by your body to EPA than current plant sources (ALA) because it bypasses a step in the conversion process. SDA can also be easier to work with than fish oil (EPA and DHA).
Omega-3 Essential for Healthy Hearts
Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to be beneficial at various life stages and with several health conditions. Much of the research behind omega-3 benefits are related to heart health. The FDA has recognized the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, stating that while they’re not essential to the diet, scientific evidence indicates they may be beneficial in reducing coronary heart disease.
In addition, for a healthy person the American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish a week, which provides approximately 500 mg of EPA and DHA a day. For a person with coronary heart disease one gram a day is recommended.
Soybeans as a Renewable, Land-Based Source of Omega-3s
Another benefit of SDA soybeans is providing an alternative source of omega-3 to supplement marine sources.
The supply of wild fish is decreasing, and the world population increasing. People are already not getting enough omega-3s, so the gap is growing even greater. The best way to relieve the pressure on that gap is a land-based consistent, reliable source of omega-3s, such as soybeans, that takes the pressure off the fishing in our oceans.
Focus on the consumer: Flavor and shelf-life
SDA soybeans will result in a wider range of foods enriched in omega-3s than what is currently on the market, while providing improved flavor stability, which is key to shelf-life.
SDA soybeans have been processed to provide high-quality SDA oil, similar to commercial soybean oil, which can be used in a wide variety of traditional consumer products.
The current source of omega-3, fish oil, doesn’t always lend itself well to food processing and can be expensive to add to food.
Monsanto has incorporated SDA soybean oil into several different food products, including salad dressing, beverages and snack bars, creating prototypes using the SDA soybeans.
1FDA, in considering the relationship between EPA and the risk of cardiovascular disease, has issued qualified health claim that “supportive but not conclusive” research shows that consumption of EPA “may reduce the risk” of CVD.