Researchers at Teagasc have been investigating lipids from a variety of Irish and Canadian seaweed species for their heart-health properties.
In both Ireland and Canada (provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador), seaweeds have a long tradition of use. In Ireland, for example, approximately 36,000 tonnes of seaweed are harvested annually. Seaweed species of commercial interest in Ireland include Laminaria digitata and Fucus species (Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus serratus and Fucus spiralis), which are harvested primarily for their valuable carbohydrates, Laminarin and Fucoidan, respectively. The value-added sector of the seaweed industry in Ireland has emerged to produce attractive, high-quality products for use as functional body care products and cosmetics.
However, there is, to date, limited activity aimed at exploiting Irish seaweed resources as materials for functional food ingredients with enhanced health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition for the consumer. The NutraMara Research Programme is currently working at developing the area of marine-origin functional foods in Ireland.
Seaweeds are known to contain a number of heart-health compounds, including ACE inhibitors, antioxidants and essential fatty acids (lipids).
As part of a research collaboration with the Memorial University, Newfoundland, Michelle Tierney and Dr Maria Hayes developed methods for the isolation of total lipids from a number of seaweed species.
"Seaweeds are a known source of essential fatty acids, which are thought to reduce thrombosis and atherosclerosis - factors important in the reduction of the risk of heart disease," explains Dr Hayes.
Of the eight Irish and Newfoundland seaweed species used in this study, the Irish seaweed, Pelvetia canaliculata, had the highest percentage of total lipids per dry weight, followed by the sustainable Irish seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum. Further work is currently underway at the Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, concerning the bioactivity profiles and bioactive component isolation of all seaweed lipid extracts.
"These lipids could potentially be used in food vehicles such as bread and soup type products in the future," said Dr Hayes.