McCain Foods has just added some new faces to its staple of French fries products in Australia. They are the SuperCrunchy Omega 3 Steak Chips, SuperCrunchy Omega 3 Classic Chips and SuperCrunchy Omega 3 Chunky Chips.
This is in response to a major deficiency in the Australian diet.
Innovation Director at McCain Foods, David Boyle, said “I think the food industry as a whole has got to get more serious about putting nutrients in our foods”. And it is getting serious. These “functional” foods, with nutrients added, are hitting supermarket shelves everywhere. Manufacturers like McCain are clearly concerned about our diets.
A quick refresher on Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids found mainly in fish, some plants, nuts and seeds. Those found in marine life consist mainly of EPA and DHA, the two principal Omega-3 fatty acids. They are highly biologically active fatty acids. Those found in plants (flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil) are usually in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. The body can convert this into EPA and DHA, but only inefficiently at the level of 10%-15%.
Why are DHA and EPA important?
How many reasons do you want?
Dietary DHA can reduce the level of blood triglycerides, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Low levels of DHA causes a reduction of serotonin, which may in turn be associated with depression and other diseases. An increasing body of evidence suggests that supplementing the diet with DHA can provide therapeutic benefits for people with depression.
EPA is needed by the body to produce prostaglandins, which control blood clotting and other arterial functions. EPA also provides a natural lowering of blood cholesterol and triglycerides.
There is a comprehensive list of the effectiveness of Omega 3s on a range of health conditions at the US National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus.
Depression and bipolar disorder still rate a “C” – “unclear scientific evidence for this use”. There is strong evidence linking depression with a reduced intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, but less evidence for the benefits of increasing Omega-3 to relieve depression more generally. In fact earlier in the year the British Medical Journal’s Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) dropped a bomb-shell, stating that there is no convincing basis for using Omega-3 as a means of alleviating the condition.
UK firm Dairy Crest pulled a new ad campaign for its Omega-3 ‘clever milk’ shortly thereafter.
So I happened upon a packet of McCain’s SuperCrunchy Omega 3 Classic Chips in my local supermarket today. The vital statistics on my nutritional panel were:
Omega 3 – 348 mg
DHA – 26 mg
EPA – 7 mg
So the combined amount of DHA and EPA is less than 10% of total Omega 3. And guess what? Cooked in canola oil.
I would love to know how much Omega 3 there was before the new marketing campaign. Not much less than there is now, is my guess.
McCain Foods innovation director, David Boyle, said the launch was a big step forward in McCain’s quest to provide consumers with a healthier French fry without sacrificing taste or quality. Mmmm. That’s right. No fish oil here.
Here are the Omega 3 levels in some other everyday foods (per 100g), taken from the Australian government’s Food Standards database. Sorry to those who haven’t caught up to metric yet!
Cake, Carrot, Iced, Commercial 56 mg
Cream, Thickened, 35% Fat 90 mg
Lamb, Leg Roast, Roasted, Lean 114 mg
Pancake, Home Prepared 120 mg
Sauce, Hollandaise 122 mg
Tip Top Omega 3 Bread 163mg
Beef, Mince, Hamburger, Dry Fried 277 mg
Beef, Chuck Steak, Casseroled, Lean 357 mg
…then the fish…
Bream, Baked In Foil, Oil Or Fat Not Added In Cooking 1089 mg
Fresh Gemfish, Flesh, Steamed 1753 mg
Salmon, Atlantic, Grilled Without Fat Or Oil 1822 mg
Salmon, Red, Canned In Water, No Added Salt, Drained 2225 mg
Sardine, Canned In Oil 2502 mg
Sardines on toast is looking good.
In the U.S. macronutrients, as fats, are not assigned recommended daily allowances. Instead they have Acceptable Intake, which is 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams/day for women.
There aren’t many academics or clinicians around who will advise a “therapeutic” dosage of Omega 3 for depression. If such a thing exists it will be vastly different between people, probably a lot higher than the normal Acceptable Intake, and only beneficial for some. A Finnish review of Omega 3 studies shows how variable the results have been so far, and this list is far from complete.