You Should Know

July 2015 Issue

Meet Stearidonic Acid, the Plant-based Omega-3

Meet Stearidonic Acid, the Plant-based Omega-3

It’s no secret that the omega-3 fats DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid,) found primarily in fish and seafood, are good for you. Research suggests that eating a diet rich in omega-3s may reduce your risk of inflammation, insulin resistance, and dying from coronary artery disease. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 8-10 ounces of fish or seafood a week, though few of us do. But fish supplies are being depleted, some come from waters contaminated with pesticides, dioxins and other toxic pollutants, and questions have been raised about the environmental impact of fish farming. The result is increased interest in plant sources of omega-3s, such as stearidonic acid (SDA.)

Omega-3s beyond fish. Vegetarians, vegans, people with seafood allergies, and those who just don’t like the taste of fish can get omega-3s through plant sources. These include flaxseed, hemp, and walnuts, for example, which provide the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid,) that the body can convert—at modest rates—into the all-important DHA and EPA. Recently, the spotlight fell on another plant-sourced omega-3 fat, SDA (naturally found in soy and canola oils, and hemp), which the body converts to EPA. Animal and laboratory research suggests SDA may have a variety of health benefits, including reducing obesity and suppressing the growth of breast cancer.

SDA-rich oil. If GMO is a concern to you, you might be interested to know that Monsanto has developed a genetically modified SDA-rich soybean, which is in the last stages of the FDA regulatory process. You can expect to see SDA-rich soybean oil in foods, such as bakery products, soups, beverages, snack bars, dressing, margarines, and shortenings, sometime in 2016. However, another company, Technology Crops International, has already gotten the green light from the FDA to produce an SDA-rich ahiflower (Buglossoides arvensis) oil from non-GMO sources, and the company is working to bring the ingredient to market.

Another benefit of SDA is that the conversion to EPA in the body is thought to be three to five times greater than from ALA, which is quite low. But research suggests that SDA doesn’t provide any boost to DHA, as ALA does. DHA, in particular, plays important roles in brain function, eye health, and cardiovascular health.

The future for SDA. While SDA-enriched oils are not in foods just yet, the FDA and its European and Canadian counterparts have said SDA is safe. Note that if and when SDA-rich oils start showing up on ingredient lists, it’s unlikely you’ll know the source and whether it’s GMO or not, unless the product labels itself as GMO-free. EN will keep you posted on any developments with this new source of omega-3 fats.