By STEVE KARNOWSKI
Associated Press Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Locked within each grain of barley is something that can help keep a heart healthy.
Backed by research showing that it can cut cholesterol, Cargill is rolling out a new ingredient it's touting as the next big thing in functional foods, a fiber product made from whole-grain barley that can hide in foods and beverages without adding unpleasant texture, taste or bulk.
A pear-merlot juice blend from Bolthouse Farms this month will become the first consumer product to hit grocery stores containing Cargill's Barliv barley betafiber. The labels bear a statement approved by the Food and Drug Administration saying it can help promote a healthy heart. Cargill says other Barliv products are likely to come out soon, including waters, snacks, cereals and bakery goods.
Barliv is the Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant's latest foray into foods that promote health or prevent disease. Its Corowise cholesterol-lowering plant sterols have been available for a while in products such as Centrum Cardio vitamins, orange juice and milk. Barliv also follows Cargill's recent launch of Truvia, a natural zero-calorie sweetener made from the stevia plant that's sold as a tabletop sweetener and in the new Sprite Green and some Odwalla juice drinks from the Coca-Cola Co.
Barley betafiber is a source of beta-glucan soluble fiber, the same fiber that gives oatmeal its well-known cholesterol-cutting power, but Barliv is much more concentrated. That lets manufacturers slip it into a wider variety of foods, Cargill officials say.
"When you eat a bowl of oatmeal you know you're eating a bowl of oatmeal," said Bill Rock, Cargill's brand manager for Barliv.
The pear-merlot drink tastes of those fruits, with a pink rose color, smooth texture and a slight natural viscosity that comes from the fruit, not the Barliv. The FDA-approved health claim on the label says the risk of heart disease may be reduced by diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 3 grams daily of beta-glucan soluble fiber.
Bolthouse Farms hopes it might lead to a full line of heart-healthy juices if consumers embrace it, brand manager Clay Gruenstein said.
The juice company's research found that heart disease was the top concern of U.S. consumers, more than weight, cancer or diabetes, so he said the Bakersfield, Calif.-based company wanted to offer a drink that addressed that. Merlot grapes were already associated with heart health benefits, so Bolthouse paired them with pears to create a more "sophisticated" blend, he said.
Bolthouse expects the new juice will be in 60-65 percent of the country's grocery stores within the next four months.
The FDA approved the label's claim based in part on Cargill-funded research at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Joseph Keenan. Keenan, a specialist in preventive cardiology before his retirement last year, still works for Cargill as a spokesman for Corowise.
Keenan said it's long been known that if you reduce your LDL cholesterol — the bad kind — by 1 percent you can reduce your heart attack risk 2 percent. His research found that 3 grams a day of barley beta-glucan as part of a healthy diet can lower LDL cholesterol 9 percent to 10 percent, cutting the heart attack risk about 20 percent.
"In terms of public health this is huge," he said.
Keenan said soluble fiber works by trapping cholesterol both from meals and from bile as it passes through the digestive tract. The cholesterol and soluble fiber ferment in the large intestine, where some breakdown products from the fiber also suppress production of more cholesterol in the liver, he said. Soluble fiber also slows absorption of energy from foods, slowing the rise of blood sugar, he said.
Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Barliv might lower cholesterol enough for some people. But she said people with high cholesterol shouldn't assume it's as effective as a statin drug.
"You're not going to get that bang for your buck, but it's worth a try," Liebman said. "Then go back and get your cholesterol checked."
On the Net:
Cargill Inc.: http://www.cargill.com
Cargill's Barliv site: http://www.barliv.com
Bolthouse Farms: http://www.bolthouse.com
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
By STEVE KARNOWSKI
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