Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

Heart health is still one of the top health concerns among consumers today. Coronary heart disease is the nation’s single leading cause of death. This year, about 1.2 million Americans will have a first or recurrent coronary attack. About 479,000 of these people will die, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Including almonds in the diet has been shown to help reduce cholesterol.Today’s heart-healthy functional foods tout that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some now carry claims to lower cholesterol or reduce blood pressure. This is good news for those 65 million people in the United States with high blood pressure and 34.5 million Americans with cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dL. Heart-healthy ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids, sterols, soy, and dairy peptides are popping up in beverages, snacks, and baked goods.

Here is a look at some of the research and ingredient innovation going on in the heart-health field.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Already enjoying a health claim for a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, omega-3 fatty acids recently received allowance for additional label claims. In April, Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, supplier of MEG-3® brand omega-3 EPA/DHA, announced the allowance of its petition for an "Excellent Source" nutrient content claim for foods containing both EPA and DHA under the provisions of the Food and Drug Modernization Act.

The new ruling means that companies can place certain claims on their packaging, such as "An Excellent Source of Omega-3 EPA and DHA," "High in Omega-3 EPA and DHA," or "Rich in Omega-3 EPA and DHA." Products must contain a combined total of at least 32 mg of EPA and DHA per serving to qualify for this claim.

Like omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols also boast a heart-health claim. These cholesterol-lowering ingredients add their health benefits to products such as Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise™ orange juice, which contains CoroWise™ plant sterols from Cargill Health & Food Technologies, Minneapolis, Minn.

Recent announcements from several sterol suppliers will soon make it easier for consumers to lower their cholesterol with sterol-fortified foods.

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• In January 2006, ADM, Decatur, Ill., announced an expansion of GRAS categories for its CardioAid™ plant sterols. Food companies can incorporate the plant sterols into mayonnaise; dressings for salad; pasta and noodles; healthy beverages; sauces; healthy bars; salty snacks; milk-type products, including processed soups; puddings; soy milk, ice cream and cream substitutes; adult confections; yogurt; vegetarian meat analogs; cheese and cream; edible vegetable oil for home use; adult ready-to-eat breakfast cereals; and fruit/vegetable juices.

• In February, Cognis Nutrition & Health, La Grange, Ill., launched a consumer Web site as part of a new co-branding marketing program to educate consumers about the benefits of natural plant sterols. The company’s Vegapure® sterols and sterol esters are now marketed to consumers under the brand name Heart Choice. The company’s Web site ( provides information, including answers to frequently asked questions about cholesterol, as well as a locator for products containing Heart Choice.

• Israel-based Enzymotec launched its sterol-based heart-health ingredient, CardiaBeat last year in the U.S. The patented ingredient is capable of replacing the fat fraction within a range of food applications, including yogurts, spreads, and bars.

• At this year’s IFT Food Expo, Jerzy Zawistowski, Vice President, Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals, Forbes Meditech, Vancouver, BC, Canada, will discuss a method to improve the shelf life of sterol-containing vegetable fat spreads. The company has developed a new formulation by incorporating a combination of phytosterol esters and free sterols. It manufactures Reducol, a unique blend of plant sterols and plant stanols.

Dietary Fiber and Grains
Sterols and dietary fiber contribute to the benefits of a new heart-healthy product, Right Direction Cookies™. Introduced in February 2006 by RD Foods, Kenilworth, N.J., the fiber-rich, cholesterol-lowering chocolate chip cookies contain 10 g of dietary fiber, including 8 g of soluble fiber, and 2.6 g of plant sterols.

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Studies supporting the benefits of both dietary fiber and whole grains have recently been published:
• Researchers in France examined the relationship between the source or type of dietary fiber intake and cardiovascular disease risk factors in a cohort of adult men and women (Lairon et al., 2005). The highest total dietary fiber and nonsoluble dietary fiber intakes were associated with a significantly lower risk of overweight and elevated waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, cholesterol, triacylglycerols, and homocysteine. Fiber from cereals was associated with a lower body mass index, blood pressure, and homocysteine concentration. The researchers concluded that dietary fiber intake is inversely correlated with several cardiovascular disease risk factors in both sexes.

• Another study linked a diet rich in whole grains to a reduced risk of heart disease (Jensen et al., 2006). The researchers showed that whole-grain intake was inversely associated with homocysteine and markers of glycemic control. Inverse associations were also observed with total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

• A barley beta-glucan extract, Barliv™ from Cargill Health & Food Technologies, was shown to improve cardiovascular risk factors (Cargill, 2005). Results from the double-blind study to determine the effects of extracted barley beta-glucan on cardiovascular disease biomarkers were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions last year.

The beta-glucan is a concentrated soluble fiber, derived from barley, that has cholesterol-lowering properties similar to those of oats.

Soy protein has recently shown up in heart-healthy flatbreads. Introduced this past January by Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas, Los Angeles, Calif., Soy-full Heart flatbreads have 4 g of fiber, 6 g of protein, and, thanks to the flax in the Wheat, Soy & Flax flavor, have 420 mg of omega-3s. The products incorporate Solae® brand soy protein from the Solae Co., St. Louis, Mo.

Recent studies highlight soy protein’s effect on both cholesterol and blood pressure.
• McVeigh et al. (2006). looked at the effects of soy protein varying in isoflavone content on serum lipids in 35 healthy young men. The men consumed milk protein isolate (MPI), low-isoflavone soy protein isolate (low-iso SPI), and high-isoflavone SPI (high-iso SPI).

The ratios of total to HDL cholesterol, LDL to HDL cholesterol, and apo B to apo A-I were significantly lower with both SPI treatments than with the MPI treatment.

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The researchers concluded that soy protein, regardless of isoflavone content, modulates serum lipid ratios in a direction beneficial for cardiovascular disease risk in healthy young men.
• He et al (2005) showed that soy protein may help lower blood pressure. Researchers in China looked at the effect of soy protein supplementation on blood pressure in people with prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension. Their results showed that soy protein supplementation resulted in a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

• Lukaczer et al. (2006) compared the effects of a dietary program combining a low-glycemic-index diet with a functional food delivering 30 g of soy protein and 4 g of phytosterols per day (LGID) with those of a standard dietary program, the American Heart Association’s Step 1 diet (AHAD) in postmenopausal women. The participants in the 12-week LGID program showed statistically significant decreases in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triacylglycerols. The researchers concluded that a significantly greater improvement was observed in cardiovascular disease risk factors in postmenopausal women on the LGID program than with the standard AHAD therapy.

A myriad of antioxidants have recently been shown to reduce blood pressure and ultimately lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Clinical research conducted at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, showed that Lyc-O-Mato® tomato lycopene complex reduced blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension (Engelhard et al., 2006). A daily intake of the tomato extract in soft gel capsules, produced by LycoRed Ltd., Fairfield, N.J., was linked to a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure after eight weeks of supplementation.

• Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants such as soluble polyphenols, tannins, and anthocyanins. Sumner et al. (2005) looked at whether daily consumption of pomegranate juice for 3 months would affect myocardial perfusion in 45 patients who had coronary heart disease and myocardial ischemia. After 3 months, the extent of stress-induced ischemia decreased in the pomegranate group but increased in the control group. The researchers concluded that daily consumption of pomegranate juice may improve stress-induced myocardial ischemia in patients who have coronary heart disease.

• A clinical trial studying the benefits of grape seed extract on patients with high blood pressure showed that those taking a new and unique patent-pending grape seed extract, MegaNatural® BP, experienced reduced blood pressure (Polyphenolics, 2006). Subjects received a placebo or 150 or 300 mg of the grape seed extract. Those taking the higher dose also had reduced serum oxidized LDL cholesterol levels.

• Cocoa flavonols are thought to influence factors associated with clotting and promote a healthy blood flow. Last year, Mars Inc., McLean, Va.., developed a bar containing a patented blend of soy-derived sterols and cocoa flavonols, as well as added calcium and B vitamins thought to boost heart health. Recently, scientists from the company unveiled a new and improved method to isolate important flavanols in cocoa, making it easier to investigate the individual compounds in cocoa thought to be responsible for its benefits (Kelm et al., 2006). The new chromatographic approach separates cacao procyanidins according to their degree of polymerization.

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• According to information from Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, Lakeville/Middleboro, Mass., two studies point to the heart-health benefits of cranberries. The first study, conducted at Laval University, Quebec City, Canada, indicated that cranberry juice improved circulation by increasing the level of HDL cholesterol and acting as a powerful antioxidant. Another study at the William Harvey Research Institute in England found that a serving of cranberry juice each day could be as good for the heart as red wine.

Tree nuts also carry a qualified health claim regarding their link to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Recent research highlighted the cholesterol-lowering properties of almonds and pistachios. A study determining the effectiveness of a combination of cholesterol-lowering foods (dietary portfolio) under real-world conditions included almonds in the diet (Jenkins et al., 2006). The diet was also high in plant sterols, soy protein, and viscous fibers.

The researchers concluded that more than 30% of motivated participants who ate the dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods under real-world conditions were able to lower LDL-cholesterol concentrations by more than 20%, which was not significantly different from their response to a first-generation statin taken under metabolically controlled conditions.

In an analysis of the phytosterol content of nuts and seeds, chemists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., found that pistachios and sunflower kernels had the highest levels of phytosterols among the nuts and seeds that are most commonly consumed as snack foods in the United States (Phillips et al., 2005). The researchers analyzed some 27 nut and seed products and found that pistachios and sunflower kernels had the highest levels of phytosterols among the nuts and seeds that are most commonly consumed as snack foods.

Dairy Peptides
Research continues to support dairy-derived peptides and their effect on hypertension.

One study showed that a casein hydrolysate reduced blood pressure after 6 weeks of consumption (Mizuno et al., 2005). AmealPeptide from Calpis, Japan, contains the major angiotensin-I-converting enzyme inhibitory peptides Val-Pro-Pro (VPP) and Ile-Pro-Pro (IPP). Changes in the systolic blood pressure after 6 weeks of treatment were dose dependent. The antihypertensive effect was greater in mildly hypertensive subjects than in any of the other subjects.

Another study in 10 hypertensive subjects (Townsend et al., 2004) looked at whether a single dose of a patented natural milk protein–derived hydrolysate (C12 Peptide from DMV International, the Netherlands). Low and high dose, either alone or combined with alginic acid (low and high dose), reduced daytime blood pressure.

A significant reduction in systolic blood pressure at hour 6 compared with hour 2 occurred on the higher dose of alginic acid combined with C12. The C12 peptide with the higher dose of alginic acid also showed a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure at hour 6 compared with hour 2.

by Linda Milo Ohr,
Contributing Editor, Denver, Colo.
[email protected]

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr is a food scientist and writer based in Highlands Ranch, Colo. ([email protected]).
Linda Ohr


Cargill. 2005. Clinical study on Cargill’s Barliv™ barley beta-glucan to be presented at American Heart Association annual meeting. Cargill Health & Food Technologies press release, Nov. 10.

Engelhard, Y.N., Gazer, B., and Paran, E. 2006. Natural antioxidants from tomato extract reduce blood pressure in patients with grade-1 hypertension: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Am. Heart J. 151(1): 100.e6-100.e1.

He, J., Gu, D., Wu, X., Chen, J., Duan, X., Chen, J., and Whelton, P.K. 2005. Effect of soybean protein on blood pressure: A randomized, controlled trial. Annals Internal Med. 143(1): 1-9.

Jenkins, D.J.A., Kendall, C.W.C., Faulkner, D.A., Nguyen, T., Kemp, T., Marchie, A., Wong, J.M.W., de Souza, R., Emam, A., Vidgen, E., Trautwein, E.A., Lapsley, K.G., Holmes, C., Josse, R.G., Leiter, L.A., Connelly, P.W., and Singer, W. 2006. Assessment of the longer-term effects of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods in hyper-cholesterolemia. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83: 582-591.

Jensen, M.K., Koh-Banerjee, P., Franz, M., Sampson, L., Grønbæk, M., and Rimm, E.B. 2006. Whole grains, bran, and germ in relation to homocysteine and markers of glycemic control, lipids, and inflammation. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83: 275-283.

Kelm, M.A., Johnson, J.C., Robbins, R.J., Hammerstone, J.F., Schmitz, H.H. 2006. High-performance liquid chromatography separation and purification of cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) procyanidins according to degree of polymerization using a diol stationary phase. J. Agric. Food Chem. 54: 1571-1576.

Lairon, D., Arnault, N., Bertrais, S., Planells, R., Clero, E., Hercberg, S., and Boutron-Ruault, M.C. 2005. Dietary fiber intake and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in French adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 82: 1185-1194.

Lukaczer, D., Deann, J.L., Lerman, R.H., Darland, G., Schiltz, B., Tripp, M., and Bland, J.S. 2006. Effect of a low glycemic index diet with soy protein and phytosterols on CVD risk factors in postmenopausal women. Nutrition 22(2): 104-13.

McVeigh, B.L., Dillingham, B.L., Lampe, J.W., and Duncan, A.M. 2006. Effect of soy protein varying in isoflavone content on serum lipids in healthy young men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83: 244 - 251.

Mizuno, S., Matsuura, K., Gotou, T., Nishimura, S., Kajimoto, O., Yabune, M., Kajimoto, Y., and Yamamoto, N. 2005. Antihypertensive effect of casein hydrolysate in a placebo-controlled study in subjects with high-normal blood pressure and mild hypertension. Brit. J. Nutr. 94(1): 84-91.

Phillips, K.M., Ruggio, D.M., and Ashraf-Khorassani, M. 2005. Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States. J. Agric. Food Chem. 53: 9436-9445.

Polyphenolics. 2006. UC Davis study shows grape seed extract may be effective in reducing blood pressure. Promising results prompt second human clinical study. Press release. March 27.

Sumner, M.D., Elliott-Eller, M., Weidner, G., Daubenmier, J.J., Chew, M.H., Marlin, R., Raisin, C.J., and Ornish, D. 2005. Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on myocardial perfusion in patients with coronary heart disease. Am. J. Cardiol. 96: 810-814.

Townsend, R.R., McFadden, C.B., Ford, V., and Cadée, J.A. 2004. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of casein protein hydrolysate (C12 peptide) in human essential hypertension. Am. J. Hypertension 17: 1056-1058.