Eating the right oils may help your health
(NC)—A rapidly growing global market for functional foods and natural health products is being driven by a trend toward healthy lifestyles. Capitalizing on this trend, Canada's active, research-oriented industry has experienced significant growth. In 2004, nearly 400 companies generated annual revenues of $2.9 billion, employed close to 13,000 people and exported $545 million worth of products abroad.
Functional foods are similar in appearance and taste to conventional foods with demonstrated benefits to human health. But how effective are functional foods. Can they really make a difference in to our health and well-being?
According to Kelley Fitzpatrick, president of NutriTech Consulting, incorporating functional foods can be a positive step in developing healthier eating habits. “For example, concern with types of fat, such as saturated fat and trans fatty acids, as important dietary risk factors in coronary heart disease have been a major impetus for the development of specially modified fats and oils,” said Fitzpatrick, who holds a masters degree in nutrition and has practiced in the field for more than 20 years.
For many Canadian oilseed producers, this increased demand has given them incentive to develop new markets for their products through the use of biotechnology.
“For the Canadian oilseed industry, natural health products and functional foods represent a significant opportunity to add value to traditional crops such as canola, soybean, sunflower and corn as well as to further capitalize on markets for specialty oilseeds such as flaxseed, borage and hempseed,” she said.
According to Fitzpatrick, there are many potential benefits of incorporating oils in your diet, including:
Canola Oil: Canola oil was one of the first vegetable oils that used traditional plant breeding techniques to achieve health benefits through modifying its fatty acids. Advances in biotechnology have helped canola to achieve large-scale commercial production. A high level of oleic acid, combined with the low level of saturated fatty acids, helps lower blood cholesterol in humans.
Flaxseed Oil: The natural health products market for the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid present in flaxseed is well established. It has been found to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol levels; reducing the clotting of blood platelets and lowering blood pressure. It may also protect against strokes by reducing blood clotting and platelet aggregation.
Flax products are currently one of the most popular functional foods in the natural health market and are available as oil, as whole seed or as milled seed. Flaxseed flour, ground or whole flaxseeds can be added to breads, muffins and cereals.
Borage, & Black Currant Oils: Research during the past decade has shown that oils from plants like borage and black currant may play an important role in the etiology of a number of diseases. For example, treatment of rheumatoid arthritis patients with borage oil has shown reduced signs and symptoms of the disease. There also is increasing evidence that these oils may reduce symptoms common in skin disorders such as atopic eczema and dermatitis.
Hempseed Oil: Hempseeds provide high levels of protein and also contain all of the essential amino acids. Shelled hempseed and oil are increasingly used in natural food products, such as corn chips, nutrition bars, hummus, nondairy milks, breads and cereals.
Fitzpatrick predicts that natural health products and functional foods represent the next generation of agricultural-based growth industries for many sectors of the Canadian economy. “As the category of natural health products and functional foods develops, it is clear that there will be a significant role for fats and oils in formulating and developing products that will maintain well-being and reduce the risk of disease,” she said. “Oilseeds and their constituents developed as functional foods or as sources of natural health products provide benefits for consumers and food processors, and represent a significant opportunity for biotechnology and plant breeding companies.
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