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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"It is promising for those with risk factors for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, that dietary changes may help to improve factors that play a potential role in the disease development," says Michelle Wien, assistant research professor in nutrition at Loma Linda University's School of Public Health and principal investigator for this study, which was conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

The debate on sodium
Another ingredient that has been the subject of great health debate, especially regarding hypertension, is sodium.

When the 2010 revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans was being deliberated, there were impassioned pleas both ways: to reduce the daily limit of sodium from the 2005 recommendation (2,300mg) or whether the entire connection between sodium and high blood pressure should be thrown out. Despite recommendations from their own advisory committee to lower the limit to 1,500mg per day, the USDA and Dept. of Health and Human Services allowed the 2005 limit to stand.

Correct or not, many consumers are buying into the connection between sodium and high blood pressure. Food processors are meeting that demand with varying degrees of conviction.

While salt is often used synonymously with sodium, St. Louis-based ICL Performance Products LP (, has been keying on non-salt, hidden sources of sodium in baked goods and other foods, specifically leavening agents sodium aluminum phosphate or sodium acid pyrophosphate. The company in 2006 introduced its Levona line of calcium-based ingredients to leaven delicately flavored bakery products without sodium and without negatively affecting their taste or texture.

ICL has been developing calcium, magnesium and potassium phosphates for more than 100 years. "In the last several years ICL has focused their attention on the role these minerals play in heart health," says Nadeen Myers, food phosphate specialist.

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to high blood pressure. "It is believed that magnesium stabilizes the heart rhythm and relaxes the muscle that dilates the arteries, therefore reducing blood pressure," she says. "It works in partnership with calcium to ensure the normal rhythm of a beating heart. Magnesium is one of the minerals lost during food processing, so fortification is the primary means to replenish this mineral. Magnesium, like the other minerals critical to heart health, has an RDI [recommended daily intake]. For healthy adults, it is 350-420mg per day."

"Per the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, published earlier this year, calcium and potassium are classified as nutrients of concern," says Myers. "Several studies have shown that potassium regulates blood pressure and blunts the impact of sodium on the diet. Like calcium and magnesium, potassium also plays a role in normal muscle contraction. While there are several food sources that contain potassium (leafy green vegetables, orange juice and bananas), the majority of Americans do not consume the RDI for potassium of 3,500mg."

And if you must add salt, many food processors are looking seaward for their salt. Sea salt is naturally low in sodium, with only 1.7g of sodium in every 100g compared to 39g of sodium in 100g of sodium chloride, according to Myers. ICL this year introduced Salona low sodium sea salt. "It allows for a 25-50 percent replacement of sodium chloride," Myers says.

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