New in Hong Kong: Don’t like fish? Eat pork with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids added

It’s well known that omega-3 fatty acids help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. A Finnish company has engineered pork with less saturated fat and four times more omega-3 than normal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 8:00am

The next time you dig into some gu lo yuk (sweet and sour pork) or char siu (barbecued pork), you could be enjoying some heart-healthy benefits that usually come with eating fish.

Fresh omega-3 pork was recently launched in Hong Kong by Nordic meat supplier HKScan under the brand Flodins. The Finnish company claims the product has four times more omega-3 fatty acids than normal pork and less saturated fat, with a fat composition that’s close to that of white meats such as chicken and turkey.

Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, help lower the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, and are important for fetal neurological development, according to Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety.

Flodins Omega-3 Pork took five years to develop and was originally launched in Finland in February 2011. The pigs, reared on Finnish farms, get their superior fat composition through being fed a special GMO-free diet of Finnish- and Swedish-grown grain and rapeseed oil seeds , supplemented with home-grown sources of protein such as peas and broad beans.

“Like humans, pigs are what they eat,” says Juha Yrjonen, director of HKScan’s Asian operations.

The key source of omega-3 is fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. There are some plant sources as well, including flaxseed, vegetable oils, walnuts and leafy green vegetables.

While there is no consensus on how much omega-3 we need, many health experts recommend that adults consume two fatty fish meals per week, equivalent to about 500 milligrams of omega-3.

The traditional Chinese diet isn’t typically rich in the nutrient. Given pork’s ubiquity in Hongkongers’ diets, perhaps an omega-3 version could help.

One hundred grams of omega-3 pork tenderloin contains 130 calories and 4.1 grams of fat, including 200mg of omega-3. Fattier cuts such as the omega-3 pork collar or pork belly pack more calories and fat, but 600mg of omega-3 per 100 grams.

“What we eat is so important for our health and particularly the fat composition [of foods]. Omega-3 pork has a different composition [than typical pork], so it complies quite well with health recommendations,” says Pekka Puska, a Finnish expert on public health and former director general of the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland.

Fat comes in different forms: saturated (found in meat, whole-fat dairy products, and baked goods);

trans fats (found in fried foods and baked goods, and being phased out of the food supply); polyunsaturated, such as omega-3 and omega-6 (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils); and monounsaturated (found in olive and canola oils). The former two are thought to increase one’s risk of heart disease, while the latter two are thought to help the heart.

Although the amount of fat found in the omega-3 pork is the same as typical pork, it contains less saturated fat: 32 per cent versus 38 per cent. Poultry contains 28 per cent saturated fat.

Omega-3 pork also contains more omega-3 and omega-6 (4.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent respectively, compared with 1.1 per cent and 9.9 per cent).

The altered fat composition is also said to result in a softer textured, more tender and tastier meat than regular pork.

But there can be too much of a good thing. In a 2013 study, researchers at Oregon State University warned that excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may lead to a dysfunctional immune response to a viral or bacterial infection.

So just how much omega-3 do we really need? Puska didn’t provide a figure, but says: “You don’t have to worry about the numbers.”

“I think if you eat food you usually cannot get too much of anything. The problem is if you take supplements,” he says. “You should have food that’s high in omega-3 because the evidence of its impact on heart disease and hypertension is very strong. We always tell people to eat a variety of foods. I think you should eat fish, and if you eat meat, this [omega-3] pork is a very good choice.”

Flodins Omega-3 Pork is currently being served at selected restaurants, and soon will be available in the fresh meat aisle at supermarkets.