Strategies for Making Heart-Healthy Products: Take out the Bad and Put in the Good

While doubts increase about soy and sodium, there's no debating the wisdom of developing heart-healthy foods.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer (616,067 in 2009), according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. One medical breakthrough was reported just over a month ago. A study published in The Lancet and presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., showed heart failure patients given stem cells taken from their own bodies showed dramatic and lasting improvement, reversing heart damage and even growing new heart muscle.

As with most breakthroughs, it will take years before this therapy is confirmed, proven safe and becomes an accepted part of heart disease treatment. Until this or some other magic bullet arrives, most people – following the advice of their doctors – look to food for improvement of their heart health.

There are two intertwined strategies for making food products heart-healthy: take out the bad and put in the good.

"By removing or reducing components that are not heart-healthy, such as cholesterol or saturated fat, and replacing them with healthier alternatives, such as soy protein, product developers are able to significantly boost the health value of foods," says Noel Rudie, director of research at Harvest Innovations (www.harvest-innovations.com), Indianola, Iowa. "Another example is reducing the amount of saturated fat in a product and replacing it with dietary fiber, which is effective in lowering cholesterol."

Harvest Innovations processes various soy products plus legumes, egg replacers and expeller-pressed oils, all with an emphasis on hexane-free processing. Two recently introduced soy-based ingredients provide heart-healthy benefits.

"The first is called HIsolate. It is a non-GMO, hexane-free, 65 percent soy protein that functions like an isolate in meat, pasta and beverage products," Rudie explains. "It is a cost-effective ingredient that allows producers to offer a more economical way to add a natural and healthy protein to their food.

 Textured Soy Protein
 Textured soy protein

"The second product is Egg-Out, which can replace 100 percent of the function of egg in certain food products," he continues. "Egg-Out is a fraction of the cost of egg whites, with all the functionality of eggs offering substantial savings for food manufacturers. The base formula can be made with either soy or pea protein, as a non-allergen alternative."

Textured soy protein (TSP) is used for its low cost and high nutritional content as an extender in meat and poultry products. "Textured soy proteins have been used for more than 50 years as a replacement for ground meat," says Bob Kaegi, director of protein applications and seasoning at Wixon Inc. (www.wixon.com), St. Francis, Wis. "When fortified with vitamins and minerals it is nutritionally equivalent to animal protein." But without many of the heart-damaging effects of animal proteins.

Kaegi says that TSP is also used in vegetarian meat analogs that contain no meat whatsoever. "The flavor in the vegetarian meat analog typically is achieved through the use of seasonings and other non meat flavors. There are all kinds of meat analogs on the market today ranging from breakfast sausage analogs, Sloppy Joe analogs, veggie burgers to shredded chicken analogs, and they are all healthy, low-fat meat protein substitutes."

There is, however, a debate now about soy's health benefits. In addition to its positives -- protein and phytosterols -- it also contains estrogen-like compounds and phytic acid, the latter of which may inhibit the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Even the FDA is no longer convinced of its heart-healthy attributes, and soy's health claim (for reducing LDL cholesterol) remains under review by the food agency.

Grains and fiber
Assuming soy stays in, there are 12 unqualified health claims recognized by the FDA, and six of them relate to heart health:

  • Sodium and hypertension
  • Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease
  • Fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and risk of coronary heart disease
  • Soluble fiber from certain foods and risk of coronary heart disease
  • Soy protein and risk of coronary heart disease
  • Plant sterol/stanol esters and risk of coronary heart disease.

In addition to textured soy proteins, Wixon offers another option to manufacturers. "Oat fiber performs like soy protein concentrates and isolates and is being used in processed meats," says Kaegi. "It improves texture and cook yields by not only adding more water but by holding on to more water that normally would be purged from the meat.

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