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But how does it taste?
I've written several times recently about functional foods and how they can contribute to a healthier diet (Bites 11/08/0610/27/06). You might wonder, however, how good they actually taste. Researchers in the United Kingdom (Nutr J) noted that country's fondness for biscuits (in the United States: cookies) and attempted to design a functional food biscuit....

More Functional Food News
Recently I wrote about a cookie containing plant sterols that effectively improved cholesterol profiles in healthy, overweight volunteers (News Bite 10/03/06). Researchers at the University of California at Davis recently reported the findings of a similar study they performed on the effectiveness of a plant-sterol-fortified orange drink (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:756-61).

Is it really 'clinically proven'?
More and more such claims as "clinically proven" are being found on food products. This is due to a wave of "functional foods" that are hitting the market. In some cases these can be great products with cholesterol lowering properties. In other cases the claims made are dubious.


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"Functional Foods" to help lower cholesterol; or, can cookies be good for you?

Chocolate Chip Cookies on a cooling rack

In a study performed jointly between the University of Connecticut, Medicus Research LLC (in Northridge, California), and Liposcience Inc., of Raleigh, North Carolina, scientists tested whether a combined supplement of soluble fiber (in the form of psyllium) and plant sterols would reduce serum cholesterol levels in healthy adults. (J Nutr 2006;136(10):2492-2497)

Thirty-three men and women were recruited to participate in the study whose Body Mass Index was between 25 and 35 and were otherwise healthy and free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and were not on cholesterol-lowering medication. This was a placebo-controlled, crossover study, in that the participants were provided with a daily cookie: either two test cookies, containing added soluble fiber and plant sterols, or two placebo cookies, which tasted the same and had essentially the same amount of fat and calories, but without the plant sterols or soluble fiber.

The participants ate two cookies a day for a month, while continuing with their normal diet and exercise regimen. After a month there was a 21-day "washout period" in which the subjects were not given supplemental cookies, then for another 30 days they were given the other type of cookie. Neither the scientists nor the test subject knew which cookie (with plant sterols and soluble fiber or without) the subjects were getting.

Before and after the test periods the subjects' blood was tested for cholesterol levels. After treatment with the plant sterol and soluble fiber-enriched cookies, the participants' total cholesterol was reduced by 7%, while their LDL cholesterol was reduced by 10%. Just by an average daily intake of 3.8 grams of soluble fiber and 1.3 grams of plant sterols! Interestingly, the participants did not gain or lose any weight.

What this means for you:

There are a lot of "functional foods" that are coming on the market which contain plant sterols, which may help you reduce your cholesterol. One example is a tortilla chip by Corazonas that contains similar plant sterols. Another is Take Control® Spread, which you'll find in the dairy aisle next to the margarines. Use it as a spread instead of butter, or worse, regular margarine, which contains trans-fatty acids.

First posted: October 3, 2006