Meal (replacement) Shakes and ALA: How and Why
By Rene van Hoorn
Meal (replacement) shakes and ALA have become increasingly popular in recent years. They act as a convenient and quick alternative to traditional meals. Building a healthy meal (replacement) shake is not that easy though. One of the reasons is that these products typically contain a blend of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Designed in a way where they provide a balanced and nutritious meal. However, the regulatory landscape surrounding these products is constantly evolving. Therefore, manufacturers must stay up to date with changes in order to comply with the law.
One recent regulatory change in the European Union concerns the inclusion of alpha linoleic acid (ALA) in meal replacement products. ALA is an essential fatty acid that the body cannot produce on its own and must be obtained through diet. It is found in plant-based sources such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
Changing regulation on Meal (replacement) shakes and ALA
On August 30th 2022 the European Commission published regulation EU-regulation 2022/2182 on requirements for total diet replacement for weight control. This new regulation on diet replacement products amends (EU) 2017/1798.
The original delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1798 explains that a total diet replacement for weight control can be named as such when it contains at least 11g linoleic acid and 1,4g alpha-linolenic acid for the total daily ratio. The new implemented regulation states only a requirement for alpha-linolenic acid. Requiring it to be a minimum of 0,8g per day. It shows how the EU committees values the importance of Omega 3 over Omega 6, though no (upper) limits for Omega 6 have been defined.
Health benefits associated with ALA
Meal (replacement) shakes and ALA is a significant combination because of the potential health benefits associated with this nutrient. ALA has been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of heart disease. It has also been linked to improved brain function though many researchers point to the long chain omega 3 DHA rather than ALA. On both formats health claims are available to use.
One of the most well researched areas on fatty acids is that of the balance between omega 3 and omega 6. Which for most general consumers comes down to the ratio between Linoleic acid (LA, omega 6) and ALA. In the diet of some consumer groups this ratio has been seen as high as 25:1 (LA:ALA). Scientists believe this is unhealthy because overconsuming LA can lead to inflammation, which may form the foundation for many diseases found in the western world. Current beliefs are that a ratio of 4:1 is LA:ALA is probably best, a ratio that our hunter-gatherer ancestors also ate.
So LA is not bad for you per se, but like with everything it has to be proportional to our body’s needs. Otherwise you might suffer from things like inflammation.
Building a healthy meal (replacement) shake
Manufacturers of meal replacement products must take steps to ensure that their products comply with the new regulations related to ALA. This may involve reformulating existing products to include the minimum required amount of ALA or developing new products that meet the new requirements. We believe this is more than simply lowering the ALA content from 1,4 to 0,8g per day. It is probably the best time to re-evaluate the macro nutrients and fatty acids in the formulation as a whole. So that the combination of Meal (replacement) shakes and ALA becomes as powerful as it can be!
Fat no longer the devil
In the last two decades the body of evidence that saturated fatty acids are one of the main causes for heart diseases is being challenged. New science looks at LA combined with overconsumption of cheap carbs like glucose syrup, starched and maltodextrin leading to higher risks of cardiovascular issues. High fat low carb diets became immensely popular and guided many consumers to new eating habits that made them lose weight and feel energetic at the same time.
It is evident from the number of brands across the globe that the focus on low carb shakes has been a great market success. These have outgrown the traditional (and regulated) meal replacement shakes and are high in healthy fats, contain high quality protein & fibers and have low(er) amounts of carbohydrates. Usually these are also high in ALA, far beyond the 0,8g per day as in EU-regulation 2022/2182.
Sources of ALA
In conclusion, whether your brand has a meal replacement, and you need to adhere to the latest EU regulation, or you have / are building a low carb meal shake. A good source of ALA is a necessity and for these product types it needs to come as a powder!
But what makes an ALA source high-quality? Our thoughts:
- It needs to be rich in ALA (g/100g).
- It needs to have a proper shelf-life.
- It needs to have a low omega 6 content, preferably LA:ALA < 4:1.
- The powder needs to be mixable with your other ingredients.
- It needs to add creaminess, have good dispersibility and no off-flavours.
- It needs to be available to the market in significant quantities.
- It should not add sugar to the product.
Flax and chia may be the source of oil to go to, as these are very high in ALA. Unfortunately they form issues in terms of oxidation and go rancid quickly. Canola (sometimes also called rapeseed) may just be an ideal solution. As it contains significant amounts of ALA and is in good balance with LA (<4:1 LA:ALA). Canola oil is also a stable oil due to high amount of Omega 9.
To make a powder, most producers use one of three systems. A 1) glucose-syrup / caseinate system, 2) a glucose-syrup / Modified starch & Maltodextrin system or 3) (our favorite) a Gum Arabic system. It has to be mentioned that ingredient suppliers have found creative names to disguise sugars. For example, by naming ingredients Corn Syrup solids (= 100% glucose) or by simply not labeling these at all. Our favorite, gum Arabic, prevents the addition of unwanted glucose to the meal (replacement) shake. In addition, it adds soluble fibers that can help support gut health.
Conclusions & ideas
The new regulations related to ALA in meal replacement products represent an important development in the regulatory landscape for these products. Manufacturers of meal (replacement) products must take steps to ensure compliance with the new requirements. While at the same time consider the broader implications of including ALA in their products.
At Lus health Ingredients, we feel that a gum Arabic-based Canola oil powder is the best product one can use to (re)formulate a meal (replacement) product. Since it has a long shelf-life, contains relevant amounts of ALA, adds no carbs or sugars and gives creamy benefits to the final consumer.
We are launching next month! If you want to request a sample, a specification or perhaps want to secure material from our first production, send us an email on email@example.com
Do you want our R&D team to help you combine Meal (replacement) shakes and ALA (and perhaps palm free MCT). Let Lotte know on firstname.lastname@example.org, she will make prototypes in our application lab that may surprise you!