Components of Effective Heart-Health Diets

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one million Americans per year die of CVD. That’s more than 40 percent of all deaths, at a rate of nearly two per minute.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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A recent study showing that daily consumption of pomegranate juice may improve stress-induced myocardial ischemia in patients with CHD demonstrates there is still much untapped potential in these compounds, something processors have duly noted. A few years ago, you could only find pomegranate juice on the back shelf of an odd health-food store. Today, it’s in virtually every beverage case.

Fiber for the Heart

Fiber, associated with cancer protection, also plays a heart-healthy role. However, in spite of a decades-long awareness and education campaign by health and nutrition experts, Americans still meet only half their minimum recommended fiber intake.

Apples, pears, oranges, plums and bananas are good sources of soluble fiber (mostly pectin), along with vegetables like spinach, broccoli, okra, potatoes and squash. Soluble fiber can trap cholesterol and prevent its recycling.

Bob Green, executive director of the Michigan Bean Council, notes that the humble bean is an unrefined food that’s one of our richest sources of soluble fiber. Beans have been staples in virtually every civilization for thousands of years. Green points to a study in which subjects who ate four servings of beans per week showed a 22 percent lower chance of heart disease than a control group that enjoyed beans less than one time per week.

Dry beans are more than merely a source of soluble fiber. They’re a good source of B vitamins, including folate. Their unique blend of protein and fiber makes them the slowest digesting of all carbohydrates and thus perfect for dieters and diabetics. Beans are creeping into processed foods, both whole and as bean “flour” in reformulations, but they could and should be a bigger part of the American diet.

Guar gum, added as a fiber supplement to traditional breads, improves texture and has been shown to lower cholesterol in study subjects by 10 percent. The viscous nature of guar gum tends to slow the entrance of sugar into the blood, which can make traditional breads more satisfying. Partially hydrolyzed gums can provide completely water-soluble fiber that is perfect for smoothing drinks without adding extra sugar and fat.

TIC Gums (, Belcamp, Md., produces a comprehensive line of hydrocolloids (gums). Gums, once used for primarily for texture and stability of products, have found new life as an added source of dietary fiber.

For a fiber bonanza, whole grains and food gums can be combined in products like these energy bars. Photo courtesy of TIC Gums.

Going with the Grain

Whole grains are another fiber-rich food. It’s hard to imagine a time when oats weren’t associated with breakfast. Quaker began providing the nation with oats for breakfast as early as 1877. And just when we replaced oatmeal with heavily sugared cereals, we “discovered” soluble fiber. The big processing news last year was the shift, pioneered by General Mills, to whole-grain formulas by many cereal manufacturers.

Oats represent the richest sources of soluble fiber among all grains. The addition of oats to a heart-healthy diet can significantly lower cholesterol. Other grains have soluble fiber; barley may reduce cholesterol, but it’s not widely used in the U.S.

The benefits of whole grains are not restricted to soluble fiber. The majority of studies show that higher total intake of whole grains is associated with lower risk of CHD. Most nutrients are significantly reduced during the processing of grains, several of which have the potential to offer protection from CHD.

For example, folate, necessary to metabolize homocysteine, is decreased by over 60 percent. An elevated blood level of homocysteine is now a known risk factor for CHD in certain individuals. Various antioxidant phytochemicals, such as lignans, are lost in processing, along with the beneficial fats found in the germ of the grain.

Reformulating for Health

In the U.S. we eat about seven times more refined grains than whole grains. Only a small percentage of us meet the five-a-day recommendation for fruits and vegetables, let alone the 10 per day of the DASH study.

Lately, much emphasis has been placed on reformulating grain staples because they have become the weak spot of the modern diet. Replacing portions of white flour and sugar in modern food formulas is becoming a popular strategy for manufacturers juggling the modern desire for convenient foods with the necessity to meet high demand for acceptable heart-healthy alternatives.

“I think the future is now. Already, from all sides there is a demand for healthier foods,” says Bill Driessen, technical sales manager for Taiyo International Inc. Taiyo provides a number of natural ingredients and products that include heart healthy soluble fibers and antioxidant-rich green teas. “Government health agencies see the need for improving the eating habits of the general population as a means to reducing obesity and heart disease.

“Schools are implementing programs to improve nutritional content, and consumers are demanding products that offer proven health benefits,” Driessen continues. “The food and beverage industry is responding by developing delicious products that are healthier than their predecessors. Ultimately, food and beverage manufacturers search for ingredient suppliers that have a strong focus on research and development.”

Fortitech is bullish on taurine; the firm includes the amino acid in some of its heart-healthy nutrient mixes.
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