Saturday, January 13, 2007

Take your cod liver oil: Americans eat spectacularly badly, and we've ruined the food chain of the animals we eat, to boot. So food manufacturers have long added artificially derived nutritional supplements to processed foods — but not everything could be added easily and cheaply. Until now. Arrive the Omega-3 craze:

Yet that has not stopped [executives from Martek, who sell an algae-based Omega-3 additive] from promoting DHA’s potential health benefits more broadly. “If you have a product that reduces your chance of Alzheimer’s,” Mr. Dubin said, “if it improves your cardiovascular, if it improves your eyesight, if it improves the health of your baby, then I have to think consumers will say that’s worth an extra 25 or 50 cents a day for these benefits.”

He may be right. After all, this is a country where people concerned about their cholesterol will cut their egg intake in half but then consume four times as many servings of a fat-rich superpremium ice cream. Our tortured relationship to food might just help Martek’s cause.

“My experience in nutrition is that single nutrients rarely produce miracles,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of “What to Eat,” published last year. “But it’s also been my experience that companies will put anything in their food if they think the extra marketing hype will help them sell more of it.”

For a long time, the typical American diet contained plenty of omega-3, DHA included. But that was when cattle were not trapped in pens and actually roamed the prairies and grazed on grass, which is a good source of omega-3s, rather than eating feed-lot corn and soy, which are not. Eggs, too, used to be a strong source, but chickens have undergone a similar lifestyle change.


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