Seafood has an enormous potential to promote health. At the same time the opportunities for innovation and value creation are huge. Knowledge and documentation are the keys to success.

“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,” states Norwegian researcher 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.

Purity leads to popularity

Seal oil, a rapidly growing product in the Norwegian market, is a good example of the effects of research. Thanks to documentation compiled through a project carried out at NIFES, the Norwegian threshold limits for contaminants in this product have been reduced by half.

“In Norway sales of seal oil have increased from about NOK 0.5 million when the NIFES project started to NOK 60-70 million annually today,” says Dr Frøyland, who sees similar opportunities to produce food products from the sea in general.

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.”

“With more documentation of various types of seafood, we are likely to find other beneficial effects,” says Dr Frøyland. “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.

Documentation required

According to Dr Frøyland, consumers will demand even better documentation of the health effects of nutrients in the future.

“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.

Multi-faceted research

The research conducted at NIFES encompasses the entire food chain from feed via the production of marine products to human consumption. The researchers are studying various beneficial substances in seafood, such as unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine, selenium and calcium, as well as the incidence of any undesirable substances.

In the area of feed, a consortium involving NIFES and Norway’s four largest fish feed manufacturers (BioMar, Ewos, Marine Harvest and PolarFeed) is soon to be established.

“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.