Several weeks ago, Qualitas Health’s VP of Marketing, David Hart, was part of a panel discussion on omega-3s at the Nutrition Integrates conference in London. Panelists at the event included omega-3 producers and researchers working in the United States, Europe and Asia; all of the speakers addressed the unique challenges in their areas. Here’s a quick summary of some of their points:
Awareness vs. Education
Several of the panelists spoke about the gap between omega-3 awareness in the general consumer population and having a deep understanding of it. Despite more than 28,000 published research papers on omega-3s and widespread governmental permission for health claims for heart and brain health, many people are still are unaware that there are no substitutes for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Nelly Conus, a biochemist and nutrition researcher who works in Asia, noted that baby formula manufacturers have greatly increased the awareness of DHA omega-3 and its importance for fetal and infant brain development. But this awareness does not extend to understanding the differences between DHA, EPA and ALA omega-3s and their sources – as well as the research-confirmed benefits of EPA omega-3s to support heart health!
What Consumers Don’t Know
A survey of Americans by GOED indicated that even those who had experienced a “heart health scare” remained uneducated about omega-3s, including their support of healthy blood pressure and healthy triglyceride levels, and what foods are good sources of omega-3s.
According to the panel, these are some of the barriers faced for more omega-3 intake around the world:
Many consumers equate omega-3s with fish oil, despite the existence of alternatives (including our vegan and sustainably-sourced algal omega-3).
Consumers are told that omega-3s are good for them, but they don’t know the specific health benefits.
Consumers don’t know specific recommended levels of omega-3 intake, dependent on age, stage of life and/or gender.
Testing omega-3 blood levels is not a regular part of panels that check other blood lipids like triglycerides and cholesterol. People are not aware of omega-3 deficiencies, that these can be tested for and that positive changes can be noted in as little as two weeks.
While the push to eat more fish is always popular, the most consumed fish in the U.S. is tilapia, which rates far lower for omega-3s than fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies or pollock.
The Sustainability Question
Panelists at Nutrition Integrates offered different perspectives on sustainability in the omega-3 industry. Those working with fish oil indicated that high-volume fisheries in places such as Peru (anchovy) and Norway (herring) are closely monitored by both the government and non-governmental organizations and certifying agencies, such as Friend of the Sea, to ensure that the number and quality of fish used for omega-3 fish oil are kept at sustainable levels.
But with a growing world population to feed and keep healthy, Hart proposed that alternative omega-3s are an important glimpse into the future. “Omega-3s in fish originally come from algae. When we talk about sustainability, we don’t impact marine ecosystems, and we use desert land, and all of our algae production is using sustainable energy. We believe there really aren’t enough fish in the sea. The future is algal or plant-based omega-3s.”
The world’s fisheries, agreed panelist Ingebord Brouwer of VU University Amsterdam, will not be enough to feed the world’s population regardless of omega-3 dosage levels. “If we are serious, and we would like the world to eat as much omega-3s as we are advising at the moment, then we have no other choice but looking for other sources besides fish.”
How did you learn about omega-3s? Do you want to learn more? How do you share this information with your friends and loved ones?