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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"Although higher in cost, oat fiber has a neutral and clean flavor in meats, which makes it more desirable than soy products, which are considered an allergen and can have an off-note typically described as ‘beanie,' " he continues.

Quaker Oats, of course, has had quite a run with the connection between oats and lower cholesterol. The brand devotes quite a bit of its web site ( to the science of heart health.

Cargill successfully petitioned the FDA in 2008 to include barley betafiber as an authorized source of soluble fiber, and thereby to be included in fiber's heart-health claim. Cargill claims to be the only producer of barley betafiber; therefore, its Barlív product is the only barley beta-glucan concentrate that qualifies for the FDA health claim.

A six-week clinical study, conducted at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Joseph Keenan, found barley betafiber, when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet, significantly improved total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels.

Another grain of interest, though not so much for its fiber but for its alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is flax. ALA, the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, plays unique roles in maintaining human health, performing many of the same functions as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Among the many health benefits credited to ALA is metabolizing cholesterol.

ALA increases the omega-3 fat content of cell membranes, which makes them more flexible and improves functionality. It regulates the heart beat, thereby reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death. ALA also reduces inflammatory reactions in the body, reduces blood pressure and significantly contributes to EPA and DHA requirements.

Diets rich in ALA lower the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), ischemic heart disease (IHD), nonfatal myocardial infarction, and stroke according to numerous recent studies, says Marilyn Stieve, business development manager at Glanbia Nutritionals (, Fitchburg, Wis.

In 2003, following a campaign by the International Tree Nut Council, the FDA issued a "qualified health claim" 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 that aid in heart health.

One study cited by the Almond Board of California (, Modesto, Calif., described how almonds reduce inflammation by about the same level as taking a first-generation statin drug.

A more recent study, published in the June 2010 Journal of the American College of Nutrition, not only confirmed earlier cholesterol findings but also showed almonds may treat and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes.

The study suggests that consuming an American Diabetes Association-recommended diet consisting of 20 percent of the total calories from almonds for 16 weeks is effective in improving LDL cholesterol levels and measures of insulin sensitivity in individuals with pre-diabetes. Nutrients in almonds, such as fiber and unsaturated fat, have been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and increase insulin sensitivity, both of which help to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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