Eating omega-3-enriched chicken provides similar health benefits as oily fish

Introducing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) into chicken feed could provide a health benefit to humans at the top of the food chain, according to research presented Nov. 14 at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions.

Consuming the naturally enriched chicken increased humans’ omega-3 index similar to eating oily fish—a common source of omega-3 PUFA. A low omega-3 index is linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia and depression, according to a press release issued by Devenish, the company that created the chicken feed.

"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," lead investigator Alice Stanton, MB, BSc, PhD, with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, said in the release.

"International guidelines recommend eating oily fish at least once per week, however, many people do not eat fish at all and less than 20 percent 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.”

Over the six-month trial, 161 participants consumed at least three portions of the enriched chicken and eggs per week. Increases in omega-3 PUFA levels were detected in their blood. The number of participants with a high-risk omega-3 index (less than 4 percent) was halved by the study’s end.

"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,” said Patrick Wall, MSc, MBA, a professor of public health at University College Dublin. "Morbidity is unevenly distributed in society and poorer people experience poorer health. 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."

Heather Hayes, Devenish’s director of food innovation, said the omega-3 enriched chicken performed as well as, if not better than, conventional chicken in taste tests.