Cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) still remains the number one killer in the United States and Europe. Food manufacturers have responded to the need for consumer's interest in healthier products and reducing their risk of CHD. According to a recent Business Insights report, sales for heart healthy food and beverages are on target to reach $7.7 billion in the United States and Europe by 2010.

One product that is being added to foods is plant sterols. Plant sterols have been shown to have a blood lipid lowering effect on total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) Evidence Analysis Library includes a review of major recommendations for the nutrition management of Disorders of Lipid Metabolism. The ADA suggests in addition to a cardio protective diet, daily consumption of 1.5 to 3 grams of plant sterols can potentially result in a reduction of total cholesterol by 4-11% and LDL cholesterol 7-15%, thus reducing the risk of CHD by 10%.

Plant sterols can found in almonds, avocado, soybeans, corn oil, and olive oil. Foods with added plant sterols include margarines/vegetable based spreads, yogurt, orange juice, and some cereals. More are on the way to be sure. Read the food label for added plant sterols. Plant sterols are also available in supplement form. Check the supplement label for content. Another important point in supplementing your diet with plant sterols is doses greater than 3 gm/day have shown to be of no additional benefit. Plant sterols can be taken in combination with statins and may actually enhance their effectiveness.

Another product being added to food to improve heart health is omega 3 fatty acids. Foods such as margarine, cereal products and the like have added omega 3 fatty acids. Natural sources include fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, halibut, sardines, and mackerel. Fish oil supplements also contain omega 3 fatty acids. There are coated supplements available that help in avoiding a "fishy" taste.

Foods with soluble fiber have been shown to reduce blood lipid levels as well. Sources include apples, beans (such as red, white, black, kidney, pinto, etc.), oats, broccoli, barley, figs, pears, prunes, berries, citrus, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and peas.

One last and important factor that can help lower one's risk of CHD is lifestyle. Exercise can help reduce blood lipid levels along with increasing endorphins. Stress management can also help reduce blood pressure (which is one component of CHD), and improve mental outlook and well being. Discuss all of this information with your healthcare provider prior to dietary consumption/supplementation, along with incorporating any new lifestyle component.

Additional sources:
1.Daniells, S. Blending Cardiology with cooking., June 27, 2008.

2.Bell-Wilson, J. The Power of Plant Sterols in Cholesterol Management. Nutrition and Complementary Care Newsletter, 2007; 9 (4), 60-62.