Omega-3 fatty acids have consistently been associated with heart health and there is even some evidence to show that they can prevent heart attacks. They are also thought to lower risk of certain cancers, reduce inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and help prevent autoimmune diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Wide media coverage of the benefits of omega-3 fats has significantly raised consumer awareness of foods rich in these componenets but a nutrient content claim is likely to be greeted with welcome by the US food industry as the information will help consumers identify foods high in these fats.
According to an FDA official, the nutrient content claim, which was submitted on behalf of Alaska General Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Trans Ocean Products in January, became effective as of May 16.
The notification specifically covers ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) for which the terms 'good source', 'high source' and 'more' are permitted, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) for which the term 'high source' is allowed.
However FDA disagreed with the method used by the petitioner to identify levels appropriate for the claim. "We think there is a more scientifically rigorous method to calculate the numbers. Although we do not have a problem with the numbers they produced, FDA intends to issue rulemaking in the near future to amend this technicality," an FDA official told NutraIngredientsUSA.com.
The functional foods industry has also been urging the FDA to approve a petition for a qualified health claim (QHC) for omega-3 fatty acids and its beneficial link to coronary heart disease. Supporters of this petition include the Consumer Federation of America, Kraft Foods Global and Nu-Mega Ingredients.
About a third of all cancer cases are related to nutrition, physical activity and other lifestyle factors and even though Americans are increasingly switiching to low-fat, healthier food options, the typical diet tends to be overloaded with omega-6 fats and deficient in omega-3 fats.
Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research, said: "The ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in the current American diet has been measured as high as 15:1."
In countries consuming a traditional plant-based diet, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is closer to 4:1, or even 2:1, according to the World Health Organisation.
"When the amount of omega-6 fat we consume is so hugely out of proportion with the amount of omega-3s in our diet, we effectively cut ourselves off from the protective benefits that omega-3s provide," said Polk.