The UK-based information provider has offered UKAS-accredited fat analysis for some time, but it decided to expand the service to include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in response to increased interest in fatty acids and the health benefits they are believed to confer, both from food manufacturers and consumers.
The new service could be especially relevant to dairy firms as they seek to add value to their product portfolios. Britain's Dairy Crest has launched both a milk and a spread enriched with omega-3 in the last year. Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows that 174 product launches or range extensions across Europe by November 2005 made a reference to omega-3 content in their product description, an increase on the 153 products launched in the whole of 2004.
Leatherhead's Dr Bill Reid explained to NutraIngredients.com that the analysis involves a rigorous extraction process and the breaking down of the tryglyceride molecules into fatty acid methyl esters. These are then measured using gas chromatography.
Key to the analysis is the identification of the omega fatty acids using reference standards of oils.
The method can be used to analyse a broad range of foods that have a fat content, from ingredients to packaged foods and even supplements.
Dr Reid said that the service is useful both in assisting with quality control of omega-3 containing products, or in helping formulators develop a product with omega-3.
Although much attention has been paid to the health benefits of omega-3, Dr Reid drew attention to current thinking amongst nutritionalists that there should be a proper balance between omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet.
A healthy ratio is thought to be less than 5:1, in order to help prevent inflammation, lower blood pressure, prevent irregular heart beats and promote healthy blood flow.
With the availability of packaged and convenience foods, Western eating habits have shifted in the last 50 years away from fish and plants with a high omega-3 profile, towards foods that are more heavily weighted towards omega-6.