The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

When Soybeans Meet Omega 3’s

When Soybeans Meet Omega 3’s

Health and Wellness

February 22, 2009

Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for both men and women, costing the nation an estimated $475.3 billion annually. There are an estimated 80,000,000 people in the U.S. with one or more forms of cardiovascular disease. Thousands more are at risk of developing high blood pressure or suffering from stroke or heart failure.
Most experts agree that the road to coronary health starts with smarter dietary choices, like reducing the intake of trans fats and including more soy in your diet. Studies suggest that soy can indeed be a beneficial heart tool, helping to decrease LDL oxidation, lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. This in turns lowers the risk for coronary heart disease.
From cooking oil to food ingredients, soybeans offer consumers, food companies and restaurants a heart-healthier alternative to artery-clogging hydrogenated products. In fact, diets with four daily soy servings can reduce LDLs by as much as 10%, a significant number because a one percent drop in total cholesterol can equal a twopercent drop in heart disease risk, says the FDA.
Also known for their heart health benefits are the Omega 3’s, those long-chain fatty acids found in fish like salmon and mackerel. Omega 3’s embed themselves into heart tissues, possibly reducing the chance of heart arrhythmias. For this reason, they have become one of the hottest food additives out there, finding their way into products like orange juice, cereal and milk. However, many food manufacturers still avoid Omega 3’s because of their typically “fishy” smell.
Now, researchers are in the process of developing a commodity soybean that packs a bigger heart-healthy punch minus any offensive odors. With soybeans that produce Omega 3’s, farmers can offer food companies a healthier oil without that fish smell or taste.
“Consumers are constantly looking for healthier options. We’ve found a way to get all the goodness of Omega 3’s into cooking oil,” says David Stark, Vice President of Consumer Traits at Monsanto.
Like humans, fish cannot make Omega 3’s on their own and must consume them in their diet. The Omega 3’s found in fish actually originate in the algae that they eat, says Stark, so researchers taught their soybeans to be more like algae, or more specifically in this case, like certain kinds of mushrooms that also make Omega 3’s.
Omega 3-fortified soybeans can be used for livestock too. As diets in places like China change to incorporate more poultry and beef, overseas ranchers will need more grain to feed their animals. The U.S., says Stark, will soon be able to export feed made from soybeans with a greater nutritional profile. Domestic animals will benefit as well.
Although there are no current plans to breed the Omega 3-producing trait into soybeans that are used for tofu or edamame, the developing technology will make it possible to fortify such products if those manufacturers request Omega 3’s. Stark expects the Omega 3 soybeans to hit the marketplace within the next three to five years – a timeline that works for the entire supply chain.
“From an environmental standpoint, this technology eases up pressure on some of the fishing populations as well,” says Stark. “Farmers will be able to produce a diverse plant with a lot of applications, and consumers benefit from having healthier options on the shelves.”
In 2008, domestic farmers planted 74.8 million acres of soybeans. Soybeans production totaled 2,973 million bushels with farm cash receipts totaling $36.4 billion. Thirty-four percent of the domestic soybean product is exported; approximately 408 million bushels go to China. The top five U.S. producing soybean states in order areIowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri.