The New Miracle Foods
For Your Heart
First there was oat bran, added to everything from cereal to potato chips.
Now there are tons of enhanced foods promising to promote cardiovascular health
(even such unlikely candidates as eggs and mayonnaise). With thousands of baby
boomers turning 50 every day, food companies are seeing, well, a boom market
Products containing plant sterols or stanols
On the shelves: These natural plant substances are added to Benecol
and Take Control spreads; Minute Maid Premium Heartwise Orange Juice; Nature
Valley Healthy Heart Chewy Granola bars; Corazonas tortilla chips; Right
Direction cookies (which also contain four grams of heart-healthy soluble
Claims: Foods that contain plant sterols (and follow government
guidelines for sodium, fat, and other ingredients) can boast an FDA-approved
claim, such as "lowers cholesterol" or "may reduce the risk of
Evidence: Extensive research shows that both plant sterols and
stanols, as well as soluble fiber (such as oat bran), can lower elevated LDL
cholesterol by about 10 percent.
Shopping advice: Choose products that are also low in saturated fat,
sodium, and cholesterol. Keep in mind that these foods, which can be pricier
than their non-enhanced counterparts, help only if you already have high
cholesterol. Also, plant sterols must be eaten twice a day and at separate
meals — you can't just slather your morning toast with Benecol and be done with
it if you want to reap the heart benefit.
Watch out for: Calories! One chocolate chip cookie fortified with
plant sterols has the same 150 or so calories as an ordinary chocolate chip
cookie. It makes sense to use these products only if they are substitutes for
less healthy versions.
Products containing omega-3s
On the shelves: Odwalla Soymilk; Omega Farms Omega-3-fortified dairy
products (including milk, cheese, and yogurt); omega-3-fortified eggs; and many
other enhanced foods, from bread to mayonnaise.
Claims: Most of these products haven't gotten the FDA stamp of
approval, so manufacturers need to tread more carefully. You're likely to see
vague promises like "helps maintain a healthy heart" or "promotes
Evidence: Most or all of the omega-3s in these enhanced products is
in the plant form (called ALA), which is healthy — but doesn't have any proven
heart benefits. To get those benefits, you need the type of omega-3s that are
found in fatty fish (EPA/DHA). True, a few fortified products do contain
EPA/DHA, but they don't supply enough to make much difference.
Shopping advice: Go fishing. The American Heart Association
recommends that everyone eat at least two servings of fish (particularly a
fatty type like salmon or lake trout) weekly. A 3-ounce serving of salmon
averages 1,450 mg of EPA/DHA, compared to only 75 mg in an 8-ounce serving of
Omega Farms Milk.