The American Heart Association (AHA) in 2011 set a goal for America to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% and to reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020. Improving diets will be the key to reaching this goal. Today, more products are hitting market shelves that help promote heart health, affecting blood pressure, cholesterol, or overall cardiovascular health.
For more than 15 years, the AHA has helped consumers find heart-healthy foods and beverages with its Heart-Check program. Food companies can certify products to use the red-and-white Heart-Check mark. According to the AHA, research shows consumers are more likely to buy a product bearing the symbol. The organization in 2011 expanded and improved the Heart-Check Food Certification Program, allowing certification of more foods with healthier fats, including fish, nuts, and other foods higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The AHA also revised its sodium allowances and implemented screening guidelines to limit added sugars and promote dietary fiber in certified products.
With research uncovering cardiovascular benefits of whole foods as well as food ingredients, food and beverage manufacturers will have ample resources to create heart-healthy products consumers are looking for. Here is a look at some of the options.
• Apples. Chai et al. (2012) demonstrated that 75 g of dried apple (about two medium-sized apples) significantly lowered atherogenic cholesterol levels as early as 3 months in postmenopausal women. The researchers randomly assigned 160 female subjects to one of two groups: dried apple (75 g/day) or dried plum (comparative control). At six months, serum total cholesterol levels were significantly lower in the subjects who consumed dried apple compared with those who consumed the dried plum. The subjects who consumed dried apple had significantly lower serum levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 9% and 16%, respectively, at three months compared with baseline.
• Potatoes. Vinson et al. (2012) showed that purple potatoes were an effective hypotensive agent. The potatoes contain high concentrations of antioxidants, including anthocyanins and carotenoids. In a crossover study, 18 hypertensive subjects with an average BMI of 29 were given either 6–8 purple potatoes twice daily or no potatoes for 4 weeks and then given the other regimen for another 4 weeks. There was no significant body weight increase, and diastolic blood pressure decreased 4.3% while systolic blood pressure decreased 3.5%.
• Grapes. Vislocky and Fernandez (2012) suggested that red/purple grapes and grape products can help support a healthy heart. The review study concluded that consuming red/purple grapes and grape juice, including Concord grape juice, each day can support cardiovascular health by having a favorable impact on vascular health, LDL oxidation, blood lipids, oxidative stress, and inflammation (Welch’s, 2012).