Heart disease continues to be a major health concern in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, heartdisease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In 2008, more than 616,000 people died of heart disease in the United States, the CDC reports. The organization also notes that every year about 785,000 Americans have their first coronary heart attack, while another 470,000 who have already had one or more coronary attacks have another attack.

With numbers like these, more and more scientific studies are conducted each year looking for answers to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Alpina Foods launched Renew Oat Smoothies, a blend of natural oats and skim milk. According to the American Cancer Society, eating oats can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, control sugar spikes in diabetics and deter heart disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA), Dallas, reported new research in its Circulation Heart Failure journal indicating that drinking coffee regularly and in moderation could reduce a person’s risk for heart failure.

“While there is a commonly held belief that regular coffee consumption may be dangerous to heart health, our research suggests that the opposite may be true,” said Murray Mittleman, senior study author and director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in a statement. “We found that moderate consumption, which we define as the equivalent of about two typical American coffee shop beverages [each day], may actually protect against heart failure by as much as 11 percent.

“On the other hand, excessive coffee drinking — five to six commercial coffee house cups per day — has no benefit and may even be dangerous,” he continued. “As with so many things, moderation appears to be the key here, too.”

The researchers reviewed five high-quality prospective studies of coffee consumption and heart failure risk that were published between 2001 and 2011, according to the AHA. In combination, the studies reported 6,522 heart failure incidences among the 140,220 men and women who were part of the studies. One study was conducted in Finland, while the other four took place in Sweden.

The studies defined moderate consumption as two typical 8-ounce American servings and excessive consumption as the equivalent of four or five coffees from American coffee restaurant chains where serving sizes can vary from 9 to 20 ounces. The research didn’t account for the strength of the coffee, the AHA reported.

“There are many factors that play into a person’s risk of heart failure, but moderate coffee consumption doesn’t appear to be one of them,” said Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead study author and research fellow at Beth Israel, in a statement. “This is good news for coffee drinkers, of course, but it also may warrant changes to the current heart failure prevention guidelines, which suggest that coffee drinking may be risky for heart patients. It now appears that a couple of cups of coffee per day may actually help protect against heart failure.”

Fortifying benefits

In addition to coffee, numerous vitamins, minerals and healthy fats have been associated with aiding heart health. Because of this, more opportunities are available for consumers and beverage manufacturers.

“Functional foods and beverages should be used in tandem with proper diet and exercise to help manage or prevent heart disease,” says Michael Sigmundsson, manager of research and development and technical services at Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. “The point of these products is to fill nutritional gaps that occur due to our hectic lifestyles, which unfortunately have become the norm.”

Developing and manufacturing custom nutrient premixes for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, Fortitech uses vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals, nucleotides and botanicals to meet health needs, Sigmundsson says. For heart health premixes, ingredients might include various forms of both soluble and insoluble fibers, sterols/stanols, CoQ10 and omega-3 fatty acids, he adds.

The company also works to ensure that the suggestions it makes to its customers will support a heart health claim.

“We look to our suppliers to share with us any studies that have been done on these nutrients that we can then share with our customers for them to determine what benefits they would like to communicate to the consumer,” Sigmundsson says. “Generally speaking, the studies that we have seen for nutrients such as these have centered around their ability to lower [low-density lipoprotein] (LDL) cholesterol.”

As more research is being conducted, more ingredients are being associated with improving heart health.

“Many functional ingredients will have a beneficial effect on the functioning of the heart,” says Tom VonderBrink, president of BioEnergy Life Science Inc., Minneapolis. “Some of the ingredients like oatmeal have been given an actual health claim: cholesterol lowering. There are other ingredients [that] have been shown to improve how well cardiac tissue functions.”

BioEnergy offers D Ribose, which might help increase the rate at which adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is produced in tissue that has been depleted of its energy stores, he says. “This increase in ATP production can improve cardiac tissue functioning,” VonderBrink adds.

The lowdown

A common association with heart health is the lowering of LDL, or as it is sometimes called “bad cholesterol.” In addition to oatmeal, other ingredients have been associated with this popular label claim.

Minneapolis-based Cargill offers CoroWise plant sterols, which have been associated with lowering LDL.

“CoroWise plant sterols, when consumed as described in the health claim, can reduce LDL and total cholesterol by 8 to 15 percent in four weeks, with changes noticed in as little as two weeks,” says Carol Lowry, senior application scientist of health and nutrition with Cargill.

Lowry notes that plant sterol claims on products are very specific, and specific health claims around heart health are the strongest available.

Another popular ingredient associated with heart health is omega-3 fatty acids. Sometimes referred to as “good” fats, omega-3s are among the most beneficial ingredients for heart health, says Kyle Marinkovich, marketing director of specialty canola oils with Cargill.

Cargill offers Clear Valley Omega-3, which can help manufacturers deliver heart health benefits in functional foods and beverages, he says. Because claims on consumer packaged goods can be both specific and general, ingredients such as omega-3 can have an impact on consumers.

“Omega-3 claims are very powerful and help consumers proactively address heart health,” Marinkovich says. “Additionally, consumers are conscious of the nutrition facts and they pay close attention, especially if they are worried about or actively managing a health condition.”

Also available under the Clear Valley line is Cargill’s High Oleic Canola Oil, which was designed to help manufacturers achieve shelf stability in functional foods and beverages, Marinkovich says. The oils also don’t impact flavor profile, are low in saturates and have no trans fats, he adds.

Perfect match

Although dietary supplements can offer an avenue for consuming heart healthy nutrients, technology continues to ensure that beverages also remain an option for consumers.

“Consumers have shown a growing tendency to prefer to receive their functional ingredients via foods and beverages for certain benefits, including those found in heart healthy products,” says Sam Wright IV, chief executive officer with The Wright Group, Crowley, La. “Dietary supplements have a place, but in this realm, foods and especially beverages are king.”

Wright adds that beverages are a good delivery system because from a taste standpoint, the use of sweeteners, flavors, stabilizers and other ingredients can mask unpleasant notes in beverages. Technology also ensures proper formulation.

“Solubility, stability, reactivity and organoleptic considerations are present with many ingredient systems, but they can be managed via formulation development,” he says.

The Wright Group uses multiple technologies, processing conditions and shell materials necessary to provide microencapsulated, micronized and other value-added ingredients to eliminate any problems, Wright states. He also notes that microemulsion is another technology that could allow for inclusion of fat-soluble components such as fish oil in clear beverages.

Hearty future

Given the vast number of Americans who have been afflicted with heart disease, experts suggest that the market for heart healthy products will continue to grow. Cargill’s Lowry says that according to Business Insights’ November 2011 report “Future of Heart Health Food and Drinks,” the heart healthy food and beverages market is forecasted to grow a compound annual growth rate of 7.5 percent and reach $10.5 billion by 2015.

 “Accordingly, formulators have been working hard to incorporate heart health ingredients into great-tasting foods and beverages,” she says. BI