Fish has been the main source of omega-3 for human adults for millennia, and most fish oil has a DHA:EPA (docosahexaenioc acid:eicosapentaenoic acid) ratio of 18:12. But for infants, the main source is natural breast milk, which has a ratio of 4:1.
Most of the oil used for Meg-3 comes from anchovies, but for the new variant, 'Meg-3 DHA', the company sources from tuna oil with a 5:1 ratio, VP for marketing and new product development Ian Lucas told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
This is therefore closer to nature's own dose for young children.
"The nutritional dilemma is that once infants are weaned from infant formula children's brains and nervous systems continue to rapidly grow through age seven. And yet, consumption of foods containing DHA and EPA is very low, creating a nutritional deficiency during these developmental years," said VP for research and development Dr Colin Barrow.
The new ingredient aims to facilitate foods to bridge this gap, as well as help nursing mothers to maintain their own omega-3 levels in order to provide their offspring with the optimum amounts of the essential fatty acid.
Lucas explained that if a nursing mother does not have enough DHA in her diet, her own body's supplies are depleted in order to provide for the baby. There is some evidence to link this occurrence with post-partum depression.
Omega-3 is best known for its heart health benefits, but evidence is stacking up in favour of its role in mental function. It is thought that 30 per cent of the fat in the human brain is made up of DHA, and EPA is considered an essential nutrient for healthy cell membranes.
A number of studies have yielded positive results for its role in boosting concentration and helping to alleviate behavioural problems in children, with more trials currently underway.
Omega-3 supplementation has traditionally been delivered by capsules, but it is now making an appearance in food and drink products since sensory issues that had blocked product development in the past have now been overcome. ONC's method, applied to both the mainstream Meg-3 and the high DHA variant, involves a patented form of micro-encapsulation called Powder-loc, which is claimed to locks the DHA and EPA into the food ingredient and keep the fishy taste and smell out.
ONC claims its Meg-3 food ingredient is versatile and can be used to enrich many foods. Food firms currently using the formula range from tortilla manufacturers, to dairy producers and confectioners.
As for foods and formulas intended for consumption by infants and small children, 80 percent of those available in the United States contain DHA.
But Lucas said that it is becoming increasingly apparent that the human body needs both DHA and EPA to facilitate proper brain development, and this creates a great marketing opportunity for food companies.
According to David Jago, consulting director of Mintel's GNPD (Global New Products Database) omega-3 accounted for a great deal of innovation last year.
"In 2006 we are likely to see a number of new products containing omega-3," he predicted.