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Laura Gardner

Cholesterol-lowering snack chips

Professor K.C. Hayes and colleagues develop method to fry chips in oil spiked with healthy plant ingredient without sacrificing taste

WALTHAM, Mass. (Jan. 31, 2005) -- Brandeis University biology professor K.C. Hayes and Senior Research Associate Andy Pronczuk at the school's Foster Biomedical Research Laboratory, in collaboration with Brandeis Senior Scientist Daniel Perlman of the Physics Department, have discovered a way to produce chips and other snack foods that can actually lower your cholesterol while you eat them -- without having any impact on taste.

"This could have a major impact on public health," said Hayes, who has studied the effect of dietary fats on cholesterol for 35 years. He has previously collaborated with Dr. Perlman, who has expertise in materials science, chemistry and patent law, in creating and patenting the fat blend in Smart Balance, a trans-fat free margarine.

The Brandeis research team found that soybean-derived phytosterols (natural sterols that occur in plants) helped block cholesterol uptake (present in animal fat). When added to the cooking oil used to prepare snack chips and other foods, these natural sterols lowered LDL (the so-called "bad" cholesterol).

In a clinical study chronicled in the American Society for Nutritional Sciences' Journal of Nutrition, the Hayes team followed 10 subjects who achieved a 15 percent decrease in their LDL cholesterol and a 10 percent drop in total cholesterol after eating two one-ounce servings of phytosterol-enriched tortilla chips each day over a four-week period. "If you have a really high LDL cholesterol, it would likely decline even more," Hayes said.

While the health benefits of fatty acid-modified phytosterols have been known for years -- both the National Cholesterol Education Program and American Heart Association have recommended the addition of phytosterols to the diet to help reduce cholesterol -- their use in everyday foods has been limited largely to margarines and salad oils because of cost and for technical reasons.

Researchers had previously failed with a variety of foods to develop a method for adding unmodified (and more cost-effective) natural phytosterols in a physical state that would also be biologically active. With frying oil for snack foods, for example, Perlman discovered that fat-borne phytosterols, after adequate heating and then cooling, recrystallize in a unique mixed crystalline BTRPB form. This form was shown to effectively block cholesterol absorption. Commercial applications of the research are being protected by patent applications filed by the university.

In fact, the team's clinical study revealed that the benefits of phytosterols in tortilla chips was similar to, or even slightly better than that observed when phytosterols were provided solubilized directly in the dietary fat.

"Phytosterols block cholesterol uptake as you eat foods containing cholesterol," Hayes said. "When you're consuming cholesterol is when you want to eat the phytosterols."

"It is anticipated that use of the TRP phytosterols will be expanded beyond fried snack foods such as potato and tortilla chips, to include sauces, condiments, baked goods, nutritional supplements, processed cheese, margarine and salad dressing," Perlman said.