Perform a basic search for ALA (EU) on a food industry news site like FoodNavigator.com, and it’s easy to see why formulating with this omega-3 fatty acid is attractive for those wishing to up the nutritional benefits of their food products. Headlines include everything from alpha-linolenic acid’s benefit to dry eye syndrome when used as eye drops to potential links in lowering brain abnormalities in the elderly. But before jumping into formulating with ALA, it’s important to know the basics and to explore key development considerations that could make or break your next product.
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA,18:3n-3) is an 18-carbon chain with three cis double bonds. ALA is the omega-3 fatty acid found in plant sources and is an essential nutrient, which humans are unable to synthesize. In healthy people, ALA is converted into small amounts of DHA and EPA, which the body uses for heart health and brain function. Most nutrition benefit studies have been completed on DHA and EPA, but ALA has shown similar health benefits as the marine sourced omega-3 to a lesser degree. However, there has been some research linking higher levels of ALA as a factor in increased prostate cancer rates.
The USDA has Adequate Intake (AI) levels set for men at 1.6 g/day and 1.1g/day for most women, but American diets are nearly double at an estimated 2-3 g/day.
Common sources of ALA include flaxseeds (EU), flaxseed oil, chia seeds (EU), soybeans and soybean oil (EU), canola oil (EU), pumpkin seeds (EU), perilla seed oil (EU), walnuts and walnut oil (EU). Oils containing stearidonic acid (SDA) derived from ALA are thought to be more bioavailable in the conversion to EPA, and can be found in unique oils like hemp (EU) and echium seed oil (EU). Some of these ingredients may impart a nutty flavor to the finished product but there are many ingredients on the market which have been refined to offer ALA with a clean flavor profile.
Key Development Considerations
Formulators should take into account the following considerations to achieve the highest quality finished product when formulating with ALA.
- ALA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and most sources also contain linolenic acids, meaning ALA is prone to both oxidation and flavor reversion. These off-notes are increased by oxygen, the presence of catalysts like trace metal ions, high temperatures and time.
- Developers should work closely with suppliers on supply standards and correct additives to reduce the incidence of product failure before the desired shelf life has been exceeded. Once in the product manufacturing facility, the developer can influence raw material, processing guidelines, ideal packaging requirements and finished product shipping guidelines.
- For example, you can utilize supplier knowledge to identify the best source and ingredient form of ALA for your application. Suppliers can add proper antioxidants and chelating agents to the raw material oils, process under specific analytical testing and ship in modified atmosphere packaging to enable the best condition raw material for additional processing. Alternatively, oils can be encapsulated or emulsified to achieve additional protection.
- Guidelines should be established in the product manufacturing facility so raw material containers are stored in cool temperatures and partial containers are not left open for extended periods of time. Developers should review the manufacturing process to reduce the oxygen incorporated into the production system. For example, choosing to agitate oil in a tank may add more oxygen than pumping oil a short distance from a drum.
- Ideally, products made with oxidative prone ingredients should be packaged in protective packaging with features like dark/opaque graphics, an oxygen barrier layer, and/or nitrogen flushing; again the focus is to reduce oxygen and light. And finished products should be kept in controlled shipping environments to reduce exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Developers should complete real time shelf life studies and include consumer acceptability testing on the aged product. During shelf life studies, fat analysis can be completed to watch the rate of deterioration of ALA and the increase in oxidation by-products.
As an essential nutrient, omega-3 ALA can be added into product formulations from various plant-based ingredients. Developers who keep these formulation considerations in mind can achieve high quality finished products.
Clear Valley® Omega-3 Oil by Cargill Health & Nutrition
Clear Valley® Omega-3 Shortening by Cargill Health & Nutrition
ULTRAGRAD® MHA by Glanbia Nutritionals Ingredient Technologies
ULTRAGRAD® MHA PLUS by Cargill Health & Nutrition
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