Research Findings

Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios in margarines ‘significant’

Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios in margarines ‘significant’

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has dispelled claims that omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in margarines are irrelevant and therefore insignificant to the health of consumers. Listen to interview on SAfm’s “Health Matters” (29 June 2010).

 

Dr. Carl Albrecht, Head of Research for CANSA has confirmed that too much omega-6 fatty acid increases systemic inflammation that is the “breeding ground” of cancer cells. “It is generally accepted that omega-6 needs to be balanced against omega-3 fatty acids in order to counteract inflammation optimally.” Photo right: Dr. Carl Albrecht, Sue Janse van Rensburg (CEO CANSA) and Altaf Hassam, Director of Epic Foods, at the CANSA Smart Choice Award Function for Blossom Canola Margarines.

A scientific analysis of 40 margarines in South Africa had revealed that Blossom Canola and Blossom Canola Lite, top the list of margarines when listed from a low to high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. The low saturated fat – less than 10% (less than 10 grams per 100 grams margarine) combined with the high omega-3 fatty acid content and low omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio as well as the less than 1% (one gram per 100 grams margarine) content of trans fats resulted in CANSA endorsing the Blossom Canola margarine range with the CANSA ‘Smart Choice’ Seal of Recognition. This coupled with the fact that the two margarines have the highest concentration of Canola oil of all margarines in South Africa, earned the brands a much sought after ‘Smart Choice’ endorsement from CANSA,” says Albrecht.

Subsequently on 29 April an article appeared in http://foodstuffsa.co.za with the title “Margarine myths debunked” claiming that omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in margarines are irrelevant – the author was not identified. The article quotes a World Health Organisation (WHO) report which it says “appears to be at odds with the opinion of CANSA and its chief researcher, Dr Carl Albrecht.”

In response Albrecht presented a detailed report to journalists at a media briefing in Cape Town today (Thursday, 3 June) showing that the quote from the WHO report differs substantially from the original quote in the WHO report and that the difference between the derived quote compared to the original quote is significant.

“The derived quote leaves out the reference that is made, in the original quote, to the intake recommendations of n-6 and n-3 which are established in the report. The selective use of only a part of a WHO quote has created the impression that it is un-scientific to refer to any ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids – under all circumstances,” says Albrecht.

The full quote states that there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids but refers to the intake of omega-6 and omega-3 to avoid deficiency. Minimum intake of omega-6 is 2.5% of daily energy and for omega-3 it is 0.5% thus giving a ratio of 5/1. This fact, says Albrecht cannot be argued away. “It is recognised that a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 without quantitative data is meaningless and could also be misleading. Ideally one would want to know the absolute amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 in a food. From this data the ratio can be readily determined as well as the percentage energy contributions. With this information in hand one can make meaningful comparisons.”

He says CANSA had full omega-6 and omega-3 quantitative information from 40 different margarines in hand and derived the ratios from this. “Attention was also paid to absolute amounts of omega-6 and especially omega-3 where 70% of the margarines tested had less than 1gram per 100 grams margarine compared to Blossom Canola margarine which had 4.29 grams of omega-3 per 100 grams of margarine. Furthermore 85% of the margarines tested had omega-6 to omega-3 ratios higher than 5/1. Some as high as 44/1. This is clearly an unbalanced situation and remains a concern to CANSA.”

Sue Janse van Rensburg, CEO of CANSA says it is important for consumers to be aware of the findings of CANSA’s research. “Selective quotes to challenge these findings are unacceptable especially when facts that are important to the health of consumers are misrepresented.”

Queries CANSA:

For more information, please contact: Lucy Balona – Head: Marketing and Communication at CANSA – Tel: 011 616 7662, Cell: 082 459 5230 or email: lbalona@cansa.org.za or visit www.cansa.org.za

Editor’s Notes

Margarine and the ration of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids:

Dr Carl Albrecht, Head of Research, Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Thursday, 3 June 2010

Introduction:

On the 29th of April an article appeared in http://foodstuffsa.co.za with the title “Margarine myths debunked” – the author of which was not indicated. In this article mention is made of a WHO Expert Committee on Fats and Fatty acids in Human Nutrition Interim Report of Conclusions and dietary recommendations on total fat and fatty acids.

According to this report it was concluded that “based on the scientific evidence and conceptual limitations, there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids”. It is further added that “This would appear to be at odds with the opinion of CANSA and its chief researcher, Dr Carl Albrecht.” This document is intended to show that the quote from the WHO Report (see above) differs substantially from the original quote in the WHO Report and that the difference between the derived quote compared to the original quote is significant.

Difference between original and derived quote:

Original Quote:

Based on both the scientific evidence and conceptual limitations, there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio on n-6 to n-3 fatty acids of LA to ALA, especially if intakes of n-6 and n-3 fats lie within the recommendations established in this report.: Source: On page 9 under the heading –“Conclusions and Recommendations for n-6 and n-3 ratio”.

Derived quote:

“Based on the scientific evidence and conceptual limitations, there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids”

Significance of the difference in quotes:

The derived quote leaves out the reference that is made, in the original quote, to the intake recommendations of n-6 and n-3 which are established in the report at the top of page 8. Quote at the top of page 8: The minimum intake levels for essential fatty acids to prevent deficiency symptoms are estimated at a convincing level to be  2.5%E LA plus 0.5%E ALA.

Interpretation and comments:

  • What this means is that the biochemical/physiological processes requiring omega-6 fatty acid (n-6) such as linoleic acid (LA) and omega-3 fatty acid (n-3) such as alpha-linolenic (ALA) are not deficient when the daily intake of energy is at least 2.5% for LA and 0.5% for ALA.Thus in terms of percentage of daily energy intake the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2.5/0.5 = 5/1.
  • The first point to be made is that there indeed is a ratio, of 5/1 referring to the ratio of the percentage of energy contribution to the daily diet by omega-6 vs. that of omega-3.
  • This ratio would have been clear to see if the author(s) of the article (Margarine myths debunked” ) had not tampered with the WHO quote and had reported on the differential intake levels of omega-6 and omega-3 as implied by the this quote.
  • Put simply this means that five times more linoleic acid is required to counteract deficiency than of alpha-linolenic acid.
  • Surely this is important to know!
  • When formulating healthy, balanced food, which is supposed to help counter diet deficiency, would it not be helpful to have a significant amount of omega-6 plus omega-3 and also a ratio of at least 5/1 between the two?
  • It stands to reason that in the case of essential fatty acids our food should contain an adequate amount of each fatty acid but also a correct ratio to meet the biochemical needs.
  • Would there be any value in having food where the amount of omega-6 was more than adequate to rule out deficiency but the ratio was 70 units omega-6 and 1 unit omega-3? (This is close to the situation in sunflower oil).
  • It stands to reason that using the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio per se with no reference to absolute amounts in the food, is meaningless and also misleading.
  • However to discard the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio as a reasonable indicator of health aspects of different foods could also be a big mistake similar to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Conclusions:

  • The selective use of only a part of a WHO quote has created the impression that it is un-scientific to refer to any ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids – under all circumstances.
  • The full quote states that there is no compelling scientific rationale for the recommendation of a specific ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids but refers to the intake of omega-6 and omega-3 to avoid deficiency. Minimum intake of omega-6 is 2.5% of daily energy and for omega-3 it is 0.5% thus giving a ratio of 5/1.
  • It is concluded that this ratio is a fact of life and cannot be argued away.
  • It is recognised that a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 without quantitative data is meaningless and could also be misleading. Ideally one would want to know the absolute amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 in a food. From this data the ratio can be readily determined as well as the percentage energy contributions. With this information in hand one can make meaningful comparisons.
  • CANSA had full omega-6 and omega-3 quantitative information from 40 different margarines in hand and derived the ratios from this.
  • Attention was also paid to absolute amounts of omega-6 and especially omega-3 where 70% had less than 1gram per 100 grams margarine.
  • Furthermore 85% of the margarines had omega-6 to omega-3 ratios higher than 5/1. Some as high as 44/1. CANSA sees this as an unbalanced situation.

More about CANSA’S research:

The research conducted by CANSA was triggered when Wikipedia stated that some margarines can contain up to 15% trans fats. As trans fats have been linked to breast and prostate cancers in international literature, CANSA decided to investigate this statement by analysing margarines available in South Africa.

A total of 40 margarines available in South Africa were purchased from commercial outlets and submitted to the CSIR for fatty acid analyses. It was found that all of the margarines were below 2% trans fats (2 grams trans fats per 100 grams margarine). According to Albrecht this is really good news because it means that margarines in general do not pose a trans fat health threat as is often the case in other countries where hydrogenated oil, especially soya oil, is used.

The Department of Health, Food Safety Division, have published the intention to ban food products in South Africa with more than 2 % trans fats in the Government Gazette of 30 March 2010.

As far as the ideal composition of margarines is concerned, in terms of fatty acids, CANSA supports the following formula where all percentages are grams per 100 grams margarine:

  • Trans fats below 2%
  • Saturated fats below 10%
  • Omega-3 fatty acid – higher than 4%
  • Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2.0 or less

Margarines differ considerably in terms of saturated fat contents – the harder the margarine, the higher the concentration of saturated fat. Saturated fat is not essential to the body and should be taken in moderation. It is known to promote systemic inflammation which is associated with many diseases.

Margarines also vary considerably in terms of essential fats such as omega-3 and omega-6. Most margarines have a high omega-6 and little omega-3 content.  South Africans in general are omega-3 deficient because they eat little food containing omega-3. An exception is Canola oil which contains 10-12% omega-3.

CANSA also recognises margarine as a very convenient carrier of natural substances that could help to reduce the risk of cancer such as vitamins B and D and curcumin (turmeric) which is a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

Click here ot see list of margarines tested and results obtained ( list on pg.4) or download Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratios in Margarines Significant PowerPoint presentation.

About CANSA

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa by offering a unique and integrated service to the public and all people affected by cancer.  As a leading role-player in cancer research (R4,5 million spent annually), the scientific findings and knowledge gained from our research are used to realign our health programmes as well as strengthen our watchdog role to the greater benefit of the public. Our wide-reaching health programme includes prevention and education campaigns, patient care and support in the form of 11 Care Homes and the main metropolitan areas plus one hospitium (based in Polokwane) for out-of-town cancer patients, support centres that offer stoma and lymphoedema clinics, medical equipment hire, toll-free line and support to children and their families affected by cancer.   CANSA offers a toll-free information service operating during office hours via 0800 22 66 22 or visit www.cansa.org.za. and gives out free Cancer Coping kits in English, Afrikaans, seSotho and isiZulu funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.


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