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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Vitamin K has emerged as another ingredient for better cardiovascular health. Already well-established for its role in blood clotting, research supports K's strong role in building the blood vessel-wall matrix. Vitamin K2 is a newly recognized form of vitamin K that has been strongly linked to cardiovascular health, particularly preventing arterial calcification (hardening of the arteries).

Vitamin K-dependent proteins help inhibit vascular calcification, and vitamin K2 is needed to activate those proteins. PL Thomas just released its MenaQ7, an extract of fermented soy (natto) that provides natural vitamin K2 as menaquinone-7 (MK-7). In studies, it has proved to be the most bioactive and bioavailable form of all vitamin K forms.

Vitamin D is usually thought of in relation to bone health. But vitamin D plays a role in healthy hearts, too. It regulates calcium, vital for regulating the flow and exchange of ions throughout heart and vascular tissue and balancing the electric charge that keeps the heart ticking. Vitamin D also regulates the kidneys' production of renin, a hormone that controls blood pressure.

CoQ-10, although not a vitamin, is a vitaminelike coenzyme critical to heart health for its role in strengthening the heart muscle, acting as a powerful antioxidant that also enhances vitamin E and reducing the potential for cholesterol to stick to the arteries.

Grains and Fiber

Health experts note that increasing whole grains in the diet can reduce risk of CHD by up to 40 percent. Hundreds of studies over several decades have shown heart disease incidence and risk goes down as consumption of fiber and whole grains goes up. According to the Whole Grains Council (www.wholegrainscouncil.org), Boston, Americans are still not eating enough whole grain foods.

The council stresses the complete nature of whole grains when it comes to ingredients for a healthy cardiovascular system. Not only do whole grains contain fiber, they are replete with antioxidants, phytosterols, vitamin E, folate, omega-3s, beta-glucan, phytate, selenium, calcium and magnesium -- all of which contribute to keeping arteries clear and the heart pumping. A recent comprehensive review of the science in the European Journal Clinical Nutrition found "that regular consumption of whole-grain foods can reduce incidence of heart disease and stroke by 20 to 40 percent."

Oats, including oatmeal and oat bran, have proven particularly powerful at lowering levels of LDL cholesterol. The Quaker Oats Co. (www.quakeroats.com), Chicago, had the first product to receive the FDA heart-health claim oatmeal. Today, the company (a division of PepsiCo) is successfully building on its strong heart-health position with its Take Heart Instant Oatmeal line, targeting consumers concerned about high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It has 1.5g soluble fiber from whole-grain oats for lower cholesterol and added potassium to help lower high blood-pressure risk. It also includes added antioxidants, vitamins E and C, and vitamin B for healthy arteries.

General Mills Inc. (www.generalmills.com), Minneapolis, boasts one of the earliest successes in making heart-healthfulness a point of difference with its Cheerios brand. Made from whole grain oats, Cheerios is becoming an everyday health message. It is also billed as "the only leading ready-to-eat cereal that has been clinically proven to lower blood cholesterol levels when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol," according to the company.

This flagship brand of General Mills has done a fantastic job of convincing consumers how good it is for their hearts. The latest project has Cheerios partnered with "The Heart Truth" and "Women-Heart" efforts to raise awareness about the risk of heart disease in women.

Kellogg Co. (www.kelloggs.com), Battle Creek, Mich., has been leading the heart healthy fray since the 1990s, with its introduction of "Heartwise" made with psyllium, a source of soluble fiber. The company created Smart Start Healthy Heart, which it promotes as "the only national cold cereal with ingredients that may help lower both blood pressure and cholesterol." The cereal is certified by the American Heart Assn. and provides 2g soluble dietary fiber per serving, plus oat bran and potassium.

Kellogg also continues to expand its Kashi line in a heartfelt direction. Kashi's Heart to Heart breakfast foods are specifically tailored to help promote healthy arteries and healthy blood pressure. They're loaded with soluble oat fiber to help reduce cholesterol. The waffles, cold cereals and instant hot cereals read like a laundry list of right-for-your-heart ingredients: vitamins E, C and beta carotene, grape seed extract, green tea extract and lycopene. Heart to Heart foods also provide 100 percent of the daily values for vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid.

Other breakfast makers are carving their niches in heart health, too. Van's International (www.vanswaffles.com), Vernon, Calif., has a new heart-healthy line of waffles called Hearty Oats. Each serving boasts the antioxidant power of one whole pomegranate plus whole grains, calcium, 5g of fiber and protein.

ConAgra Foods Inc. (www.conagrafoods.com), Omaha, launched its decades-old Healthy Choice line after former CEO Charles Harper suffered a heart attack. Today, the company is promoting its Sustagrain barley as a new boon for formulators creating heart healthy foods. The barley, by carrying a unique micronutrient composition, delivers higher levels of fiber and protein and lower levels of starch than other cereal grains. Sustagrain also allows for a heart-health claim.

Another ConAgra grain suitable for formulations seeking a heart-health claim is Ultragrain. Chicago-based Sara Lee has tremendous success with Ultragrain in Soft & Smooth bread -- a single slice yields a "Good Source" with 8 g of whole grain, as does Kansas City-based Wonder Bread's Whole Wheat White bread.

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