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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Targeting the Healthy Heart

Manufacturers are in high gear to provide reformulations for heart health. At DSM Nutritional Products (, Parsippany, N.J., epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), one of the most active components of green tea, is the basis of a product called Teavigo. Teavigo is used to add a highly effective antioxidant punch to reformulated foods.

Davisco Foods Intl. (, Eden Prairie, Minn., produces a type of hydrolyzed whey protein shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce hypertension. Fortitech Inc. (, Schenectady, N.Y., provides a variety of nutrient mixes designed to enhance the health potential of traditional foods. These include taurine, a potentially heart-healthy amino acid, and antioxidant mixes that include coenzyme Q10.

According to Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief scientific officer for Fortitech, “Taurine comprises over 50 percent of the total free amino acid pool of the heart. It has a positive action on cardiac tissue and has been shown in some studies to lower blood pressure.”

Coenzyme Q (CoQ-10) is of particular interest to heart health, because it has been shown specifically to strengthen the heart muscle. Few foods are rich in CoQ-10. We synthesize our own in a complex process that requires a nutrient-dense diet. Vigorous exercise also increases CoQ-10.

In addition, CoQ-10 is a powerful antioxidant that can both enhance vitamin E, and travel in lipoproteins to protect cholesterol from oxidation, thus reducing its potential to stick to artery walls.

Soy Sterol-ization

Soybeans have been a boon to producers of heart-healthy products. A recent Shanghai Women’s Health Study of 75,000 Chinese women added to the mountain of positive studies connecting soy consumption to health by demonstrating a dose-dependant reduction in CVD risk with soybeans.

Soy flour is used to replace portions of white flour and increase the vegetable protein of a variety of healthful dishes, and soy is the basis of numerous drinks that have become wildly popular due to reported benefits of soy phytochemicals called isoflavones.

Lesser known healthful ingredients produced from soybeans are cholesterol look-alikes that can lower cholesterol in blood. Cholesterol is only found in animal products, but it has a counterpart in the plant world called phytosterols. Their structural similarity to cholesterol allows them to compete for absorption with dietary cholesterol in the small intestines.

A daily intake of 2 g of phytosterols can reduce plasma cholesterol by as much as 10 percent, without significant inhibition of the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. According to Mark Empie, Ph.D., vice president of regulatory affairs for Archer Daniels Midland Co. (, Decatur, Ill., “Sterols are most widely used in margarine-type spreads, but there are increasing uses in other products like yogurts, beverages, cooking oil, and baked goods. We anticipate that the additional usage of sterols in a variety of products will continue to increase.”

Nuts About Fats

The fat contribution to a heart-healthy diet can be nearly as controversial as carbohydrates. But there is no reason to exclude healthy fats from a heart-health diet, and plenty of evidence that certain fats are protective.

The Coromega Co. found a way to remove the fishy odor and flavor from Omega-3-rich fish oil. They then add orange or orange-chocolate flavoring and voila! — an ingredient suitable for food processing applications.

The International Tree Nut Council’s Nutrition Research and Education Foundation petitioned the FDA to include nuts as heart-healthy foods. In 2003 the FDA agreed, issuing a qualified health claim, saying that eating 1.5 oz. of most nuts, including almonds, may reduce the risk of heart disease when they’re part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Multiple studies have shown nuts can lower cholesterol levels. Nuts are also nutrient dense and contain antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals, along with plant sterols.

Olive oil has been shown to lower cholesterol without decreasing HDL, and is an integral part of the cuisine throughout the Mediterranean region — a region with much lower incidence of heart disease than the rest of the world. Foods of the Mediterranean, especially olives and olive oil, are highly touted as heart healthy by health promotion groups such as Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, the developers of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been strongly associated with diminished risk of CVD ever since studies on the Greenland Inuit population revealed low levels of heart disease in spite of their high animal-fat diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids act by influencing the type of ecosanoids that are produced, tipping the balance to favor the anti-inflammatory classes. They also reduce the stickiness of platelets. Higher levels of omega-3 are associated with lower levels of blood triglycerides.

The most bioavailable omega-3s are those in fish — something Americans don’t eat a lot of. Although the beneficial fat is available from some plant sources such as cranberries, flax and walnuts, one ingredient company, the Coromega Co. (, Vista, Calif., developed a unique process that removes the fish odor and flavor from pharmaceutical-grade fish oil. Orange or orange-chocolate flavoring is then added to yield an ingredient suitable for use as a flavorful supplement or in food processing applications.

For a diet to effectively reduce the multifaceted risk factors for coronary heart disease, it must be balanced and consistently applied. If your objective is to improve your diet at home, you fill the pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods, so they’ll always at your fingertips in competition with the less healthy choices. The same is true of a nation fighting for its health. Success depends on how much you have to go out of your way to gather heart-healthy food.

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