The heart health foods of the future will have to address multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease instead of simply focusing on cholesterol reduction, Unilever bosses have predicted.
Speaking at Life Stage Nutrition 2008, a conference organised by Food Ingredients, Health & Nutrition magazine, Unilever scientist Dr Mark Cobain said: "Cholesterol is an old message. Most cases of cardiovascular disease occur when people are below 'at risk' levels of cholesterol, which suggests that high cholesterol alone is not actually a great predictor for heart disease."
Other risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking were equally relevant, he said. "The pharmaceutical industry is already addressing this fact with products that contain a combination of ingredients including statins, ACE inhibitors, folate and aspirin."
However few functional foods or drinks took this more holistic approach, and typically focused on one risk factor such as blood pressure, blood flow or cholesterol reduction, he said.
While Unilever had recently withdrawn its blood pressure-reducing Flora pro.activ mini drinks containing dairy peptides from the European market following dismal sales, it was not about to abandon the concept altogether, said Cobain, hinting that we might see products containing several active ingredients on a heart health platform. "Blood pressure is still on our radar."
As for communicating risk to the public, the concept of 'vascular age' - the biological age of your heart - was something that consumers were starting to buy into, as opposed to generic warnings about high cholesterol, said Cobain.
Consumers can discover their heart age by going to http://www.floraloveyourheart.nl or http://www.floraloveyourheart.ie and answering questions about their lifestyle and history, said Cobain. "Our research suggests that people get this. Telling a 30-year old that he has a vascular age of 40 is a pretty potent message. People stop and think when there is a big discrepancy between their chronological age and their vascular age."
His comments were echoed by Coressence, a UK firm developing bioactive ingredients from apple varieties under the Evesse brand boasting "higher concentrations of polyphenols than green tea and cocoa"
Coressence chief executive Richard Wood said: "Vascular age is something we will all be talking about far more in future. Arteries become damaged, stiff, and fur up, increasing the risk of heart disease or stroke. The stiffness of arteries is directly related to age and after consuming drinks containing Evesse, people's arteries become significantly more supple."