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The Veggie Alternative

Albion Minerals®

As consumer awareness of EFA importance grows, many are opting for omega-3 fatty acids from vegan or vegetarian sources.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are a necessary part of a person’s diet.Omega-3 fatty acids support the immune, nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems as well as eye and brain health. Further, more studies and research are being conducted to discover additional benefits of consuming EFAs.

There are three main types of EFAs: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Further, omega-3 EFAs fall into two major categories: plant-derived and marine-derived. ALA is found in plant-based sources such as flax seed, chia seed, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables, while EPA and DHA are most commonly found in cold-water marine animals such as cod, krill, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.

When plant-sourced EFAs are consumed, the body converts ALA to EPA and then eventually to DHA. Even though the process of conversion can be very slow in some people, the plant-based option is essential for those living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, and is seen a good alternative for those with fish allergies or who choose not to consume marine-based EFAs. “ALA is a crucial dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids and its inclusion in the diet is critical to maintain long-chain omega-3 tissue levels,” said Dean Mosca, president of Proprietary Nutritionals Inc. (PNI, Kearny, NJ). “However, a number of factors are responsible for the low consumption of these essential fatty acids, and greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids is hard to achieve by the general population, due to the occidental modern diet.”

Natural Sources 

The body is unable to produce EFAs on its own, so they must be consumed from other sources. While many consumers opt for marine-based EFAs, others who are not necessarily restricted to a vegan or vegetarian diet may worry about digesting toxins and contaminants that can be found in fish (such as mercury), and prefer a supplement that isn’t as heavily processed.

“Beyond the strict vegan demand need, general consumers want To be able to logically link the food/supplement ingredient to a known natural source,” said Walter Postelwait, vice president of sales and marketing for BI Nutraceuticals (Long Beach, CA). “The image of pressing fish by-products to make fish oil does not resonate as a natural process to most everyday consumers. Additionally, the medical research on EFAs is ever increasing and Showing more benefits. This will only continue to drive the demand along with the demographics of the aging population.” There are a number of plant-based EFAs including flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and some leafy green vegetables and plant foods. While there is also a growing interest in lesser-known plant sources of ALA such as sacha inchi (a native plant of the Amazon rainforests) seeds and perilla seeds, the two most popular plant-based EFA sources are flax and chia.

Seeds of the flax plant, flaxseeds can provide a rich source of ALA (containing more than 50 percent of ALA), and is also a good source of fiber. Flax can be added in various types of foods, beverages as well as supplements.The popularity of adding flax to products is growing rapidly, as the Flax Council estimates that close to 300 new flax-based products were launched in 2010 in the U.S. and Canada.

Like flax, chia is an oil seed that is rich in ALA. In fact, 63 percent of total fatty acids in chia seeds are omega-3 EFAs. In addition, chia provides other nutrients including antioxidants; fiber; vitamins B1, B2 and B3; as well as minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper.

Benexia™ Omega-3 Chia from PNI is organic, gluten-free and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Typically, chia seeds contain 20 percent protein, 34 percent oil and 25 percent dietary fiber. Benexia is also a super antioxidant, delivering a higher ORAC value than fresh blueberries. The health benefits include cardiovascular, brain and immune system support, as well as support of a healthy inflammatory response. Benexia Chia is the only GAP, GMP, HACCP and ISO certified source for highest purity and quality. It is available in bulk seed, sprouted seed, milled seed, flour and oil. According to the company, it is ideal for drink mixes, bars and incorporates easily into other foods.

BI Nutraceuticals offers Steam Sterilized Chia Seeds, which are a complete vegan source of protein, have no gluten or cholesterol, offer a comprehensive range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential amino acids, and contain the highest levels of total omega-3 fatty acids by weight of any common foods, according to the company.

“BI only wants to offer products which truly bring value to our customers,” said Postelwait.

“This is why we chose chia seeds. Our proprietary steam sterilization technology provides us the ability to sterilize the seeds and guarantee a level of safety that no other supplier of this ancient grain can provide today.” BI Nutraceuticals’s Steam Sterilized Chia Seeds can be used in various applications including cereals, breads, soups, salad dressings and nutrition bars, and can be mixed with liquids to create beverages.

Setbacks and the Sustainable Future 

Although the popularity of plant-sourced EFAs is growing and consumers are embracing them more, Postelwait said he believes that there is still confusion and misconceptions about plant-based EFAs.“I am not so convinced that the majority of end consumers are truly aware of how each of the different types of the vegetarian EFAs are made and therefore, I don’t believe they fully understand the scientific Credibility each offering has,” he explained. “Yes, they most likely are aware of the original source of the vegetarian EFA (algae, ancient grain, flax, etc.), but it is not clear that they fully understand how they are derived and the different benefits of each.” But what manufacturers and consumers are taking into consideration is, unlike fish sources, vegan and vegetarian EFA sources seem to be more sustainable in the long run. “We believe that the sustainability of the omega-3 supply is the big challenge in this category of products,” said Mosca. “As EPA and DHA continue to grow in sales and in demand, sustainability is becoming more crucial.

The fish stock is not endless and the needs for omega-3s are huge for the global human population. ALA is the only sustainable source of omega-3 for humanity in the long term. The world’s population is increasing and is becoming more aware of the huge requirements for omega-3s, and the health problems resulting from its deficiencies in human nutrition.”