Hormel Institute’s Holman receives award

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2001

How often does fat lead to something good?.

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

How often does fat lead to something good?

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Rather regularly if you are Dr. Ralph Holman, professor emeritus and former director of the Hormel Institute. Holman has spent a large portion of his life studying the effects of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids on the health of human beings. He currently directs the nutritional biochemistry section of the Hormel Institute.

On May 15, Holman was presented with the 2001 American Oil Chemists Society A. Richard Baldwin Distinguished Service Award. This award is given annually "to recognize long and distinguished service to AOCS at positions of high responsibility," according to AOCS information made available by Dr. Doug Bibus, Holman’s colleague at the Hormel Institute.

The man the award is named after, A. Richard Baldwin, was a former AOCS president and research director for Cargill Inc. Cargill is a supporter of the award that was given to Holman. Holman received a plaque, an honorarium and travel expenses for his attendance at the award ceremony.

Holman and Baldwin met in 1945 in Chicago, Ill., and have collaborated over the years, particularly during the time Holman was president and editor of Lipids Magazine. Holman joined the AOCS in 1946 and became an emeritus member in 1988, the same year he retired as director of the Hormel Institute.

He was a student at Bethel College and the University of Minnesota, but said he did not set out to enter the field of nutritional biochemistry: "One does not have that kind of vision," he said.

After obtaining a master’s degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey, he went back to the University of Minnesota to study physiological chemistry. It was then that he obtained his doctorate. While working in Sweden on a National Research Council Fellowship, he worked on research involving fats and oils. He then worked as an associate professor at Texas A&M for three years and joined the Hormel Institute in 1951.

This is not the first award Holman has received. In 1978, he received the AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981.

Bibus, a nutritional biochemist at the Hormel Institute, said he considers Holman to be his mentor.

"His fervor and enthusiasm for nutrition and compassion for human health guided me," Bibus said. That guidance has led Bibus in research started by Holman.

According to Bibus, Holman invented the nomenclature of omega 3 fatty acids and has been instrumental in telling the world what a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids means. The balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids affect the good or bad health of human beings, according to research done by the nutritional biochemistry department, headed by Holman, at the Hormel Institute.

"There is a strong component between omega 3 and omega 6," Holman said. "Too much omega 6 can suppress omega 3."

Omega 6 can be found in fatty foods Americans regularly enjoy, containing corn and vegetable oils.

"He has documented 100-plus disease states showing low levels of fatty acids compared to other populations," Bibus said. "Americans have very low levels of omega 3 fatty acids."

Current research involves preventing and treating diseases like heart disease – the No. 1 killer of Americans – depression, arthritis and diabetes with omega 3 supplementation. This supplementation, with foods rich in omega 3 or fish oil in pill form, produces a positive result "with an efficacy similar to drugs," Bibus said.

Omega 3 can be found in most fish, particularly salmon and albacore tuna. Fish native to Minnesota lakes and rivers contain some omega 3 fatty acids, according to Bibus. Omega 3 is also found in flax seed, fruits and vegetables. Eggs contain omega 3 as well, especially omega 3-fortified eggs Bibus said can be found at Hy-Vee Food Store.