Seafood: health benefits generate value
Norwegian seafood has an enormous potential to promote health, which in turn creates opportunities for innovation and value creation. Knowledge and documentation are the keys to success.
“More knowledge about the health effects of the individual components in seafood, along with better documentation, will provide a basis for new products and greater value creation in the marine industries,” states Livar Frøyland, a professor of nutrition at the University of Bergen and head of the Department of Seafood and Health at the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) in Bergen.
“The potential for innovation is tremendous,” Dr Frøyland emphasises. “New knowledge and documentation of the nutrients and the risks of undesirable substances in seafood contribute to the ongoing changes in the regulatory framework for marine products. As a result, new opportunities and new markets are opening up.”
A good example of this is seal oil. Thanks to documentation compiled by NIFES, the threshold limits for contaminants in this product have been reduced by half.
“Many companies began to sell seal oil while NIFES was still conducting its research. Sales have increased from about NOK 0.5 million when we began the project to NOK 60-70 million annually today,” says Dr Frøyland, who sees similar opportunities to produce food products from the sea in general.
Following individual components through the food chain
“Today we know a great deal about omega-3 fatty acids, but very little about the impact of other individual components in seafood on human health. The objective of our research is to follow these components throughout the entire food chain and explain their effects on humans in as much detail as possible,” says Dr Frøyland.
The researchers are studying the beneficial substances in seafood, such as unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine, selenium and calcium, as well as the incidence of any undesirable substances. According to Dr Frøyland, consumers will demand even better documentation on the health effects of nutrients in the future.
Combating lifestyle diseases
Seafood is considered to have major potential for preventing lifestyle diseases, which are among the most pressing health-related challenges facing the world today.
“Seafood appears to have a preventive effect against cardiovascular disease. We know this from the extensive documentation done on fish oil and marine fatty acids.”
“Everyone agrees that seafood should be a part of a varied diet,” says Dr Frøyland. “When we eat seafood, we tend to eliminate other foods from our diet and thus reduce our intake of saturated fat from meat and other products. We know this has a beneficial effect.”
New knowledge awaits
“We cannot draw any further conclusions based on what we know today,” explains Dr Frøyland. “But with more documentation of various types of seafood, we are likely to find other beneficial effects. I am quite certain that on the basis of knowledge about individual components in seafood, we will be able to develop products that can combat diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer and that will probably have a positive impact on our mental health as well.
Food or dietary supplements?
Omega-3 is an important product for promoting health, both as a food additive and as a dietary supplement. Dr Frøyland and his research colleagues have focused their efforts on comparing the effects of both types of products with simply eating the seafood in its natural state.
“We have conducted several studies with groups who consume omega-3 in the form of food additives and dietary supplements and a control group who only eats seafood. The objective is to find out the degree to which consuming omega-3 in these various ways produces different effects,” he explains.
The entire food chain
“Even though research is becoming increasingly internationalised, as the world’s largest exporter of seafood Norway must be prepared to finance and conduct much of the research in the field,” says Dr Frøyland.
In the area of feed, a consortium involving NIFES and Norway’s four largest fish feed manufacturers (BioMar, Ewos, Skretting and PolarFeed) has been established. In addition, one of the leading fish farming companies, Marine Harvest, will participate.
“The industry has come to understand that product documentation and production methods are crucial to gaining a foothold in both the Norwegian and international markets,” says Dr Frøyland.
|The National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) serves as the Norwegian authorities’ centre for expertise on and documentation of seafood. NIFES conducts extensive research on the health effects of seafood and has a long-term collaboration with the medical faculty at the University of Bergen. The Food Programme under the Research Council of Norway provides funding to several projects at the institute.|
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