Food Processors Target Women's Heart Health

Heart disease kills several million women each year, but food processors are targeting it in the campaign to enhance women’s heart health.

By Jennifer LeClaire

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Nuts are a macroingredient processors find extremely versatile in formulating heart-healthy products. A recent study from the University of Toronto found that a diet that includes almonds not only lowers cholesterol levels, as proven in numerous almond and other nut studies, but also C-reactive protein levels   key markers of inflammation and an independent risk factor for heart disease. In addition to its high antioxidant content, an ounce of almonds is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fiber, as well as monounsaturated fat, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron – all of which contribute to a heart-healthy profile.

Phytosterols, also called plant sterols, are associated with lower LDL cholesterol (considered a primary factor in heart disease) without affecting HDL cholesterol levels. This is because fat-soluble plant sterol esters (“stanols”) compete with cholesterol for 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.”


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To qualify for FDA's health claim, foods and beverages must contain at least 800mg of sterols per serving. Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, NJ ( addressed this issue with Promise Activ SuperShots yogurt each 3-oz shot delivering 2g of plant sterols. Cargill makes CoroWise – a free plant sterol that is easier to incorporate than its counterparts. Los Angeles based Corazonas Foods Inc in collaboration with Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., makes Heart-Healthy Tortilla Chips in a number of flavors. The chip provides 400mg of sterols per serving.

Ingredients makers are witnessing an increased interest in phytosterols, polyphenols and probiotics for heart health. Probiotics, by helping increase friendly gut flora are believed to help manage cholesterol metabolism. Manufacturers have been including probiotics in yogurt and other dairy products for several years, but recently they successfully jumped to bars, cereals and chocolate confections. The Dannon Activia yogurt product line, by Groupe Danone (, Paris, is one particularly successful example, showing double-digit sales increases for two years. and billions of dollars in worldwide sales.

Polyphenols act as antioxidants to protect cells and body chemicals against free radicals damage. One of the reasons olive oil is heart healthy is because it contains polyphenols. Olive oil is part of the Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean Diet is perfect for women,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, executive vice president of Oldways Preservation Trust (, the Boston food issues think tank. “It’s time-tested, and numerous studies confirm its healthfulness in terms of longevity and disease prevention.”

The Mediterranean Diet just celebrated its 15th year with Oldways creating its “Med Mark,” stamp for those manufacturing products that conform to the Mediterranean diet. Processors already branding with the mark include Sabra Corp.’s line of hummus dips and salads, Lucini Italia’s olive oil products, Liberty Richter Inc.’s International Collection brand of olive oils and dipping oils, and Davina olives.

Complex Approach
Complexes of multiple ingredients are popular too. LycoRed Ltd. (, Orange, N.J., a global supplier of lycopene and other carotenoid antioxidant ingredients important to health, teamed with Tara Dairy Ltd. in developing “YOU”   an innovative line of fortified dairy products targeting women 30-40 years old. YOU contains a unique vitamin and mineral formulation to help protect women's health, including heart health, via calcium, a full complement of B vitamins and iron, plus vitamins D and E.

Avoiding flavor clash of the functional ingredient blend comes via LycoRed’s microencapsulation technology. “Manufacturers can’t afford to risk negatively impacting taste or aroma when they fortify products with multiple nutraceuticals,” explains Udi Alroy, vice president of global marketing. “Our fortification capabilities allow us to combine ingredients without cross-interaction to create the neutral flavor profile demanded by functional foods.” Although YOU currently is not marketed in the U.S., the companies hope to penetrate the local market soon.

A recent survey commissioned by the IFIC showed that about half of consumers (53 percent) mention their heart and circulatory conditions as a top health concern. This puts processors in a position to cater to the needs of a burgeoning market easily served by a variety of functional ingredients ready-made to effectively serve the growing need.

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