Food makers are producing an increasing number of products fortified with omega 3 oil, designed to provide the heart health benefits otherwise associated with eating oily fish, according to market analysts Datamonitor.

The number of new foods launched in the USA and Canada claimed to be high in omega 3 fatty acids nearly doubled between 2002 and 2004, according to Datamonitor's Productscan Online database of new products

In Europe, omega 3 fatty acids are also finding their way into everything from beverages to sliced meats, Datamonitor said.

Nestle for example, recently launched Yoco P'tit Yoco a Boire Omega 3, a strawberry-flavoured dairy drink for kids that is fortified with omega-3 fatty acids plus calcium and vitamin D.  I Portugal, Primor has debuted a line of sliced pork delicatessen products under the Pimor Omega 3 banner, all with omega-3 added for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

"Beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are at the center of efforts to make new food products more heart-healthy," says Tom Vierhile, executive editor of Productscan Online. "Oily fish species like salmon and tuna have long been lauded as good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flax and canola,"

The list of foods that are now fortified with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids now includes frozen waffles, salad croutons, bread, chocolate bars, eggs and pasta. Barilla America recently debuted Barilla Plus Enriched Multi-Grain pasta, said to be rich in heart-healthy omega 3s. Van's All Natural Premium Frozen Waffles in a Flax variety break new ground by offering 1600mg of omega 3 fatty acids per serving.

Candy and good health are no longer mutually exclusive thanks to Ecco Bella Botanicals' new Ecco Bella Health by Chocolate Women's Wonder Bar. The bar contains a blend of omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids which are derived from cranberry seed oil. Consumers who want omega3's, but just don't want them from fish can also turn to Gold Circle Farms DHA Omega 3 Liquid Eggs which are made from vegetarian fed hens.

Bread makers seem to have found a soft spot for omega 3's, judging from recent product launches like Wegmans Omega 3 Enriched Bread from Rochester, NY-based Wegmans Food Markets. The omega3s come from fish and are used in a powdered, microencapsulated form supplied by Ocean Nutrition that is said to keep the oils fresh while allowing for good absorption, all while eliminating any fishy taste.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also finding their way into beverages. Georgetown, Ontario, Canada-based Neilson Dairy, Ltd. recently introduced Neilson Dairy Oh! 1% Milk. The milk is produced from cows that are fed a unique diet containing the omega3 fatty acid DHA. DHA itself is believed to be important for brain development as well as vision health in infants which is why so many infant formulas are now fortified with DHA.

 Health authorities may not agree on much these days, but when it comes to omega 3 fatty acids, the consensus is clear: omega 3's are good for you. Various health authorities claim that omega 3 can prevent the formation of blood clots for greater heart-health, can help the brain function properly, can reduce the risk of breast cancer and may also play a role in preventing depression and even protecting against Alzheimer's disease.

In September of 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would allow makers of products fortified with specific long-chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to claim that their products may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

In March of 2005, the FDA expanded the number of food categories in which omega-3 fatty acid rich menhaden oil may be used from 14 to 29. Menhaden is a herring-like fish that is not utilized as seafood, but is abundant along the US Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coasts. Menhaden is a surface-feeding fish that is short-lived and may not have the same environmental contamination worries as more longer-lived, deep water fish.

"If all of this suggests that omega 3 fortified products will be hitting store shelves in elevated numbers in 2005, that analysis would be right on the mark," says Vierhile. "Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg is just one company that plans to launch new food products fortified with omega 3s in 2005. The company recently inked a deal with Martek Biosciences to use the latter's omega 3 fatty acids for some new food products scheduled to be launched in 2005."

But will consumers really go for omega 3s in their food? "Nobody knows for sure, but consumers seem to be moving in that direction," says Vierhile. "A 2004 survey by the Food Marketing Institute found that 56% of Americans strongly agree that eating well is a better strategy for preventing health problems than taking medications. Likewise research from Datamonitor also shows that health is one of the top 10 'mega-trends' that will dictate and shape new food and drinks products in 2005 and beyond. The study found that almost three-quarters of Europeans are more concerned about their health and well-being compared to a year ago, a good indicator that in Europe, people are likewise putting greater value on healthiness."