Globally, heart and vascular disease, including hypertension, is expected to affect about 250 million people by the middle of the next decade. But the real tragedy is that much of it is preventable.
A healthful diet and at least moderate daily activity goes a long way to reduce risk of disease or death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Food and beverage processors can't help much with the latter, but they've been making strides in developing products for cardiovascular health. At the heart of these heart-smart offerings are a number of ingredients known to play specific roles in cardiovascular protection.
Some of the most significant phytochemicals hitting the mainstream are plant sterols, (phytosterols). Research shows they can lower LDL cholesterol associated with heart disease risk without affecting HDL cholesterol levels. Plant sterol esters (or "stanols") are more soluble in fat and during digestion compete with cholesterol and thereby reduce their uptake.
The FDA has approved the following food health claim for phytosterols: "Foods containing at least 0.65g per serving of plant sterol esters or 0.4g of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily intake of at least 1.3g of plant sterols or 0.8g of sterols as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
According to an assessment published by Enzymotec Ltd., (www.enzymotec.com), Migdal HaEmeq, Israel, phytosterols are now "among the strongest market leaders in terms of functional, science-based ingredients capable of addressing specific health benefit or health concern." The company's CardiaBeat brand sterol formulation is suitable as a fat replacer in such food applications as bars, dairy products, spreads, cooking oils and dressings. Products using the phytosterol can also be eligible to include functional claims for cholesterol or CVD risk reduction.
Note To Processors
ConAgra Foods Inc. R&D manager Elizabeth Arndt explains that one of the greatest challenges for processors is finding ways to deliver efficacious amounts of ingredients without affecting the taste or the appearance of the product. With Sustagrain, for example, formulators have to ensure the product delivers the required amount of soluble fiber in the reference serving. To formulate heart healthy bread, formulators need to ensure 51 percent of the product weight should consist of Ultragrain -- whole grain material. ConAgra has developed a series of particle sizes and particle shapes for various product types for ease of application and reformulation.
Cincinnati-based Cognis Corp. (www.cognis.com) makes Vegapure natural plant sterols for use in food and beverage formulations. "Phytosterols offer a safe, natural and clinically proven way to create products that command a real competitive advantage in the heart healthy sector," says Laura Troha, marketing manager.
The Vegapure line of plant sterol esters is available in liquid and water-dispersible powder forms suitable for a wide variety of products, including bread spreads, dressings, bars, yogurts, beverages, cereals, pastas, sauces, snacks, confections and even ground roasted coffee. The company offers co-branded consumer marketing support under its Heart Choice brand.
MultiBene Products Ltd. (www.multibene.com), Espoo, Finland, makes MultiBene, an ingredient that combines plant sterols with calcium or other beneficial mineral nutrients such as potassium or magnesium. The patented combination has proven effective in clinical trials at lowering elevated serum cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, and can also help to maintain bone health. The FDA has approved three health claims relating to increased amounts of phytosterols, calcium and potassium: "May reduce the risk of coronary heart-disease," "May reduce the risk of osteoporosis" and "May reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke."
Cargill Inc. (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis, is covering multiple ingredient angles of heart health with its highly successful Corowise plant sterols, as well as its Prolisse brand of soy protein isolate and its Barliv barley beta-glucan. Corowise plant sterols have been clinically shown to lower cholesterol, and products with Corowise are eligible to make the following approved health claim: "Foods containing at least 0.4g per serving of plant sterols, consumed twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8g, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Antioxidants have a solid scientific track record for exhibiting positive effects on heart health. Antioxidants, especially those derived from newly popular "superfruits" such as açai, mangosteen, goji and pomegranate, are only getting more play as processors catch on to their suitability for a variety of products.
These fruits are all very high in antioxidant compounds, especially anthocyanins. Research has shown that not only do anthocyanins protect against oxidative damage to cells, they can help reduce inflammation in epithelial tissues, such as those which line arterial walls, counteracting the build-up of arterial plaque. (For more on these superfruits and their healthful compounds, see "Caution: Botanicals at Work")
Pomegranate, one of the hottest of the superfruits, may be effective at reducing atherosclerosis, hypertension and other cardiovascular disease in amounts as little as 50ml of pomegranate juice per day. One of the main pomegranate antioxidant compounds is a polyphenol called punicoside. PL Thomas Inc. (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J., developed P40p, a pomegranate extract containing a minimum of 40 percent punicoside. The calorie-free product suitable for a wide range of functional foods is the only kosher-certified pomegranate extract available.