While awareness of the benefits of omega-3s is high, many still are not getting enough of them. An expanding selection of supplements can help.
Across the globe, consumers are turning to natural products more than ever—especially essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as omega-3 and 6. And because our bodies can’t produce all the fats we need, EFA supplements play a big role in keeping our bodies healthy. EFAs increase vitamin and mineral absorption, and are vital to nerve function.
Combating Inflammation—and Contaminants
Combating inflammation is the single largest concern for customers at Natural Foods General Store (Apothecary) in Toms River, NJ, according to manager/buyer, Tantra Practico. “Because fish oils and EFAs do help promote a healthy inflammatory response, they are continuing to see well. The EFA supplements we carry are certified free of the common contaminants found in fish,” she said. “Our manufacturers are helping by continuing to provide those certifications, and making the cleanest EFA products available. On the marketing end, many of our manufacturers are advertising, providing coupons, demoing, and giving staff trainings.”
Jennifer Bradley Weinhardt, research and development specialist at Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, Sugar Land, TX, agreed that environmental contaminants are potential concerns for fish-based EFA formulas. She said, “Bluebonnet only offers products that have undergone a four-step purification process that virtually eliminates heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins, as well as that unpleasant fishy taste and odor typically associated with marine fish oils.”
Weinhardt also noted that Bluebonnet specifically selects their fish oil, such as their Natural Omega-3 Artic Cod Liver Oil, with environmental sustainability in mind.
“Our cod liver oil is selected from Iceland’s marine habitat to ensure environmental management and sustainability,” she said. “Iceland’s government has a sophisticated quality assurance program overseeing its fisheries, and its environmentally sustainable practices are beyond reproach, enabling Bluebonnet to provide products that are second to none in quality, as well as ecological preservation and sustainability.” Additionally, the company’s EPAX formulas are sourced from Peru—and not only does Peru have a highly sophisticated governmental fishery quality assurance program, but they also have an unrivaled surveillance system to address sustainability, such as controlling the minimum size and number of juvenile fish caught, earning EPAX the Friend of the Sea (FOS) certification in 2009.
Weinhardt added that there are hundreds of studies demonstrating the benefits of EFAs from fish. “In fact,” she said, “the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends everyone eat fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice a week. They also suggest that while foods are the best source of omega-3s in the diet, fish oil supplements are recommended for those who do not like fish.”
Getting Past That Fishy Taste
While “nothing negative” has been heard about EFAs from Dan Sobon, store manager of Seagirt Natural Market, Sea Girt, NJ, he is quick to point out that customers in their 40s, 50s and 60s have bad childhood memories about cod liver oil.
Therefore, he recommends enteric coated capsules. “It’s an easier sell,” he said. “As far as convenience, capsules sell better than liquid.”
Other ways to avoid the fishy aftertaste are plant-sourced EFAs.
For example, plant-based formulas, such as Bluebonnet’s Plant-Based Omega 3-6-9 soft gels are derived from flaxseed, evening primrose oil and borage oils. Bluebonnet also carries Natural Omega-3 Vegetarian DHA soft gels that come in 100 or 200 mg. They provide a pharmaceutical grade, vegetable-based docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a natural triglyceride form derived from marine algae.
Other Bluebonnet EFA formulas derived from plant sources include:
• Plant-sourced algae (e.g., Life’s DHA) that provide a pharmaceutical grade, vegetable-based docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a natural triglyceride form derived from marine algae.
• Evening Primrose Oil, 500 mg and 1,300 mg soft gels
• Certified Organic Flaxseed Oil, 1,000 mg soft gels
• Clarinol CLA, 1,000 mg soft gels from safflower oil
“Vegetarian-aware consumers are becoming increasingly popular and now make up 25 percent of the U.S. population,” said Bluebonnet’s Weinhardt. “That means more than 70 million people—or one in four Americans—are making vegetarian-aware choices each day. And 65 percent of these consumers acknowledge the benefits of taking regular dietary supplements.”
Another vegetarian and vegan option for obtaining the EFA alpha linoleic acid (ALA) is chia seed. “It’s very attractive for a growing number of consumers who are opting for plant-based food options over meat/animal options,” said Sandra Gillot, CEO of Benexia in Santiago, Chile. “We feel that this sector is going to continue to show robust and accelerated growth. Benexia has 15 years [experience] working in chia, with people and growers that are committed to this crop, as well as being devoted to the sustainable development of the agricultural activities. Benexia, in turn, has been committed to our growers. Thanks to this, today we offer a very strong supply chain for our customers.”
Benexia has just launched a brand-new consumer line called Seeds of Wellness (SOW) that contain various chia products, such as:
• Chia Pasta—Gluten- and wheat-free pasta, high in nutrition. “This pasta is a high-power blend of corn, rice and chia flours, suitable for everyone. Our gluten-free Chia Pasta is also high in healthy omega-3 ALA and fiber,” said Gillot. “So, yes, pasta is back in the diet!”
• Chia Milk—Giving nut milks and other dairy-free options a run for their smoothness, Chia Milk provides the highest omega-3 ALA than any other cow’s milk alternative.
• Chia Shake—Chia protein for healthy shakes that the whole family can enjoy—whether for breakfast, snacks or desserts. Chia Shake features defatted pure chia powder, providing concentrated chia protein 40 percent, as well as omega-3 ALA and fiber. Perfect for workout days.
• The Chia Baker—A chia ingredient for homemade breads and other baked goods, such as pizza doughs, muffins and even bagels. “Desserts such as cookies, pastries and cakes can be eaten ‘guilt-free’ with this product!” said Gillot. “Our chia flour is made with pure chia powder, containing protein, fiber and omega-3 ALA.”
• Chia Crunch—Naturally toasted black chia seed for any recipe where the satisfying crunch factor enhances the taste experience. Salads, mixed in veggie sides or fruit bowls, used on top of casseroles, it can also be eaten by itself. It offers 5 grams of omega-3 ALA per portion, as well as protein and fiber.
• Chia Oil—Non-vegetable, high-stability oil for any recipe or homemade condiment. Chia Oil is cold-pressed and contains 63 percent of omega-3 ALA. “Our high-stability Chia Oil lasts longer than many other oils due to our proprietary Ox Blocker technology that thwarts oxidation, naturally,” said Gillot.
• Flavored Chia Oil—Non-vegetable, high-stability oil with very high omega-3 ALA content is perfect for dipping sauces and for drizzling on salads, fruits and vegetables.
• Wake Up—Either white or black chia for breakfast smoothies, cereals and muffins, as well as for pancakes and waffles. Ready to use, Wake Up! offers five grams of omega 3 ALA per portion, plus protein and fiber.
Monique Wellise, national sales manager with Washington-based Natural Factors, agreed that chia is a “nutritional powerhouse” that continues to experience aggressive growth in the industry. “They are an excellent source of fiber, lignans, protein and omega-3-ALA. While they are a source of omega-3 ALA, they are not a direct source of the omega-3 EPA and DHA that has been the subject of so much clinical research,” she noted. “That said, they are a great addition to the diet that can be sprinkled on any snack or meal for a healthful addition.”
Wellise said she has also seen an expansion of products offering algal sources of EPA and DHA, which is great news for vegetarians and vegans. “Until fairly recently, algal sources offered DHA only for products that were highly DHA dominant. New strains of algae are now available that also deliver meaningful levels of EPA.”
Natural Factors Whole Earth and Sea Marine Algae-3 is one such product that is performing well. “We can expect to see much innovation in the algae space,” Wellise added.
Qualitas Health in Imperial, TX also provides consumers with omega-3s EPA and DHA that are fully vegetarian, completely traceable, highly bioavailable, and grown in a 100 percent scalable and sustainable process, according to CEO Miguel Calatayud. He noted, “Omega-3 is an essential nutrient that represents an exciting market, currently dominated by fish and krill. As the demand for omega-3 supplements continues to grow, people are starting to look for viable and sustainable alternatives to fish and krill oil. Most people don’t know that fish and krill get their omega-3s EPA and DHA from algae. At Qualitas, we go directly to the source for ‘the original omega-3s.’”
Christopher Speed, MND, vice president of global business development with Wiley’s Finest in Ohio said he is also excited to see many non-fish oil based omega-3s on the market. “Algae and krill oil provide omega-3s, EPA and DHA,” he said. “And this is exciting for customers who want other choices. Scientifically, the sum total effect of the research suggests that all omegas are significantly important for the future health of our planet and that the primary effect of omega-3s is not just through their vital and essential effect, but that they counteract the negative effects of omega-6s, which is the nutritional plight of Westernized diets.”
State of the Market
The state of the omega-3 market is incredibly good, according to Speed. “We have seen growth through U.S. Spins data and brands are continuing to innovate and bring to their customers good products that support the many health concerns they face. As the health care experts who drive our food and dietary guidelines continue to realize that omega-3s are the most researched nutrient in history—even compared to most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs—customers are benefiting. They are realizing that omega-3s provide vital and essential benefits and that guidance to eat seafood and/or consume omega-3 supplements is an excellent idea.”
On a global scale, Ellen Schutt, communications director of Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3S (GOED), added that the raw materials market for omega-3s in 2015 was a $1.2 billion market, with the U.S. and Europe, the largest global markets at 32 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
“China is third at 15 percent and quickly gaining,” she said. “The largest growth, though, comes from emerging markets, including Southeast Asia and South America. Looking at the market in terms of what products these omega-3 oils go, dietary supplements are the largest market on a global scale, consuming more than half of the oils. Infant formula and fortified foods are high-value categories, while pet food consumes more lower cost omega-3 raw materials. Pharmaceutical omega-3 products, with low volumes but high values, are currently sold in only a few geographies, but the potential is very high, with more than 30 products under development in the drug discovery pipeline.”
However, one important takeaway is that despite high omega-3 awareness levels, 95 percent of Americans do not get enough EPA and DHA to be cardioprotective, according to Schutt. “So, educating the consumer is very important,” she said.
Sales have been steady in the category of EFAs for the Bluebonnet Nutrition line. Weinhardt pointed out that omega-3 global sales are projected to reach $4.96 billion by 2020, according to Industry Experts Global Market Overview. “And awareness of omegas as being critical nutrients for physical and mental health is increasing,” she said. “Additionally, while there have been some negative reports on fish oil recently, these results should be taken with a grain of salt and continuous education should combat any negative effects these have on the market.”
For instance, according to Weinhardt, one study published in 2013 reported a statistical association between an increased risk of developing prostate cancer and fish oil consumption (Brasky TM, 2013). “However,” she said, “this association does not imply that fish oil consumption actually causes prostate cancer. Randomized clinical trials are needed in order to demonstrate cause and effect. There could be numerous other variables that affect a man’s susceptibility to prostate cancer, and only a randomized clinical trial can control for those confounding variables.”
Natural Factors’ Wellise noted that though growth trends have “cooled dramatically,” the market for fish oil is expected to grow. The growth frenzy between 2002 and 2012 gave birth to an abundance of product offerings. It also gave birth to innovation in concentrations. A steady stream of negative press on omega-3 fish oil began to surface in 2012, which undoubtedly precipitated the cessation of growth frenzy. “While thousands of clinical trials linking the consumption of omega-3 EPA and DHA to human health exist and continue to emerge, these don’t tend to get the media attention,” she said. “While consumer confidence and sales have indeed been affected to an extent, EFAs and in particular, omega-3 EPA and DHA remain a viable and sustainable health essential. Health care professionals and health retailers that delve into the data and the true nature of essential fatty acids know they are non-negotiable foundations to human health.”
She added that while the EFA category, as a whole, is no longer experiencing the growth frenzy of the past, it remains a viable, important category on the shelves of vitamin retailers. “Essential fatty acids are a class of nutrients that are critical to human health. While omega-6 is classified as an essential fatty acid, it is ubiquitous in our food supply. Nutrition researchers and experts agree that the general population consumes far too much omega-6, [and] far too little omega-3.”
Heart Health Support
We’ve known for a while that omega-3s support heart health. Speed, of Global Business Development, pointed out that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved the following, which may appear on labels or in advertisements for foods or supplements containing EPA or DHA: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [name of food] provides [x] grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. [See nutrition information for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content.]”
The Movement Toward Non-GMO
Weinhardt commented on the movement toward transparency within the industry in regard to sourcing of raw materials, testing, labeling and most recently, declaring whether or not supplements contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). “We have taken a proactive lead on this effort because we believe consumers have the right to know what they are consuming,” she said. “We have closely examined our line and have made a choice to eliminate GMO sources whenever possible so that we can provide supplements as true to nature as possible—a mission of ours since our inception. We have always incorporated the highest quality ingredients in our formulas, but we are now demanding non-GMO/PCR negative raw materials whenever they are available. We have elected to lead this movement not out of obligation but because we fundamentally believe that it is the right thing to do.” VR
For More Information:
Benexia, +56 2 2437 5820
Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, (800) 580-8866
GOED, (800) 746-1413
Natural Factors, (360) 243-3599
Qualitas Health, (929) 341-0421
Wiley’s Finest, (855) 514-4088