Meat and eggs from chickens fed a diet rich in omega 3 are likely to reduce the risks of heart attacks, strokes, dementia and depression.
The omega 3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish are known to be beneficial for the brain, eyes, arteries and general good health.
Now research on eggs and meat from chickens given a diet including an algae which is rich in the substance offer similar human health benefits.
The world-first clinical trial was carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on behalf of Belfast-based farming and food company Devenish.
Devenish has been working on improving the health of chicken meat and eggs for 10 years in a partnership with Waitrose and its chicken suppliers, Moy Park.
Meat and eggs from chickens fed a diet rich in omega 3 are likely to reduce the risks of a heart attack
Waitrose began selling the chicken with enhanced levels of omega 3 in the meat last year.
The chicken meat and eggs used in the new study came from birds given OmegaPro, an algae-based source of omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA).
The trial involved 161 people who ate at least three portions of chicken and eggs per week. Participants saw an increase in omega-3-PUFA levels in blood and a positive shift in what is described as the ‘omega-3 Index’- a test that measures the amount of the omega-3 fatty acids, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) in red blood cell membranes.
A low omega-3 Index indicates a heightened risk of heart and brain disease. The number of people who fell into this category halved during the trial.
The results of the six month clinical trial were presented on a world stage at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions Conference in Anaheim, California, yesterday. (tue)
Professor Alice Stanton, of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, told the conference: ‘Greater consumption of oily fish has long been linked to a reduced incidence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer and improved brain health, vision, muscle and joint health.
‘International guidelines recommend eating oily fish at least once per week, however, many people do not eat fish at all and less than 20per cent of the world’s population have optimal omega-3 PUFA levels.
‘Therefore, in this project we studied the recently developed alternatives to oily fish or supplementation, namely chicken meat and eggs, naturally enriched with sustainable algae-based omega-3 PUFA.
‘Omega-3 enriched chicken and eggs offer consumers an attractive alternative to eating oily fish or to the lifelong taking of supplements, with the potential for substantial health benefits.’
Professor Alice Stanton said the consumption of oily fish is linked to reducing the risks of heart attacks and strokes
Professor Chris Elliott, founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queens University Belfast, said: ‘The cost to the health service of treating cardiovascular related illness in the UK is £10 billion a year. Having access to sustainably-produced nutrient-rich food, with a scientifically proven health claim, offers huge potential to turn this around globally.’
Now the technique has been proven to work, it could also be used to improve the diet of other farm animals to deliver healthier pork, beef and milk.
Dr Heather Hayes, Director of Food Innovation with Devenish, said: ‘Offering birds a natural and sustainable source of omega-3 PUFA is good for the bird and good for the consumer.
‘Taste panel studies have shown that the omega-3 enriched chicken meat tastes as good, if not better than conventional chicken.
‘This science has demonstrated the importance of food nutrients to promote good health and prevent ill health.
‘We are also focusing our research efforts on producing sustainable and nutrient rich pork, beef and milk, with scientifically proven health claims. Omega-3 is just one nutrient that we are interested in – we are working on others too.’
The executive chairman of Devenish, Owen Brennan, said: ‘We worked closely with Moy Park, Waitrose and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, to deliver an innovative, nutrient-rich food that increases omega-3 levels in consumers, naturally.
‘The science shows the importance of food nutrients to promote good health in consumers and the innovation starts on the farm.
‘The farmer has a key role to play in delivering sustainable and nutritious food with a health claim.’
Dr Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin, said: ‘By enriching the birds’ diet, the meat and eggs become naturally enriched with omega-3 PUFA and the associated nutritional benefits are then passed on to consumers.
‘By including the omega-3 in chicken and eggs, both very affordable sources of quality protein, all segments of the population can benefit from this approach to using innovative animal nutrition to benefit human health.’