Heart Health Through Added Ingredients

Heart health isn't just about removing certain ingredients, such as trans fats and hydrogenated oils. It’s also about adding ingredients, such as omega3s, fiber, antioxidants, CoQ-10 and phytosterols.

By David Feder, R.D. and Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.

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Resveratrol is an antioxidant polyphenol in a subclass called "procyanidins" which researchers believe is the ingredient in red wine and grape skins that contributes to heart health. Researchers found procyanidins suppress production of a protein called endothelin-1 that constricts blood vessels. Several beverage makers are currently testing new heart-healthy beverages with resveratrol from Indena (www.indenausa.com) Seattle, and Polyphenolics Inc. (www.polypheolics.com), Madera, Calif.

From Fish to Nuts

The omega oils, especially DHA and EPA, have earned an abundance of recognition for their value to heart health (as well as a number of other benefits: See "Wellness Foods Trends 2007") Omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood triglyceride levels, aid the anti-inflammatory response and help reduce arterial plaque. Increased omega-3 in the diet is directly associated with decreased blood triglycerides.


Keep It Legal

Health claims characterize the relationship of a substance to a disease or health-related condition and require prior FDA approval or notification to FDA of authoritative status. There are permissible health claims regarding the relationship between substances (including antioxidant vitamins) and heart disease.

If a product qualifies for an unqualified health claim (based on significant scientific agreement) or a qualified health claim (based on limited evidence), all labeling statements must be consistent with the summary of scientific information and the model health claims stated in the relevant regulation. FDA takes the position that the use of a heart symbol in labeling is an implied health claim. Under most circumstances, a food is not permitted to bear health claims if it contains a "disqualifying level" of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium. And the so-called "jelly bean" rule, which applies at least to health claims authorized under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), requires that a food must generally contain, prior to fortification, at least 10 percent of the daily value for vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber. 

Leslie Krasny, of Keller and Heckman LLP, San Francisco, is a contributing editor. Check out her regular column, Regulatory Issues.


Although marine-derived omegas have the highest bioavailability, the beneficial omegas are available from plant sources such as cranberries, flax and walnuts. Odorless, flavorless highly-stable versions of fish-derived omega-3s by such manufacturers as Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd. (www.ocean-nutrition.com), Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, are fulfilling a worldwide demand for omega oils that's increasing by double-digit percentages.

Wright Group (www.thewrightgroup.net) Crowley, La., makes Supercoat omega-3, a microencapsulated omega-3 fatty acid available in two different powder forms. The microencapsulation process masks unpleasant taste, odor or organoleptic characteristics while enhancing stability, increasing shelf life and protecting against extreme temperature or pH fluctuations during processing, handling and shipping.

Martek Biosciences (www.martek.com), Columbia, Md., produces a marine-derived, vegetarian omega-3 product called life'sDHA, from microalgae. It's suitable for use in food and beverage formulations and infant formula.


In 2003, following a campaign by the International Tree Nut Council, the FDA issued a "qualified health claim," allowing that eating 1.5 oz. of most nuts "may reduce the risk of heart disease when they're part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol." Nuts contain several antioxidants, including vitamin E and selenium, along with plant sterols and other phytochemicals. One study cited by the Almond Board of California (www.almondboard.com), Modesto, Calif., described how almonds reduce inflammation by about the same level as taking a first-generation statin drug.

Olive oil is a classic ingredient with a long research history of lowering LDL cholesterol without decreasing HDL. According to the Oldways Preservation Trust (www.oldwayspt.org) , Boston, developers of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, populations with high intake of olives and olive oil show lower incidence of CVD even with average dietary fat intakes of 35 percent.

Vitamins for the Heart

Because of its "best of both worlds" ability as a preservative and a nutraceutical, vitamin E tocopherol -- has become one of the most effective antioxidants used in food processing. Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant and may improve cardiovascular health in other ways, including maintaining epithelial-cell integrity and enhancing immunity.

Cognis Corp. makes Covi-ox T-95 EU, citing it as the "highest potency, natural mixed-tocopherol ingredient available (and) specifically developed to meet the expanding range of global applications for functional foods." Covi-ox acts as an effective antioxidant suitable to a broad range of foods, protecting against oxidation, extending shelf life and preserving a food's flavor, aroma and color.

Palm oil is a rich, natural source of antioxidants, especially the tocotrienol form of vitamin E. This tropical oil has also enjoyed increased attention as a desirable substitute for trans fats. Trans fats have been under fire for increasing the risks of CVD. (See "Transcending Trans Fats" in this month's Food Processing.) Although palm oil is a saturated fat, research shows saturated fats from plants do not seem to have the same negative cardiovascular effects as those from animal sources. Moreover, palm oil has been shown to favorably increase HDL levels.

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