Biology professor K.C. Hayes with help from senior research associate Andy Pronczuk and senior scientist Daniel Perlman said that when soybean-derived phytosterols were added to cooking oil, it was possible to produce tortilla chips that lowered LDL or 'bad' cholesterol.
Moreover, the process had no effect on the taste of the food, according to researchers.
The health benefits of phytosterols have been known for years, but the team from Brandeis is claiming this is the first time scientists have succeeded in developing a method to add phytosterols to frying oil.
"Many people have shown that they lower the bad LDL cholesterol, but we have demonstrated a newapplication and how it can be applied to snack food with relatively lowfat content (comapred to margarine where most are currently applied)," Professor Hayes told FoodNavigatorUSA.com.
The researchers discovered that fat-borne phytosterols, after adequate heating and then cooling, recrystallize in a form that effectively blocks cholesterol absorption.
The study - published in the Journal of Nutrition - 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 daily over a four-week period.
The team states, moreover, that the study revealed that the benefits of phytosterols in tortilla chips was similar to or even slightly better than that observed when phytosterols were provided in the dietary fat directly.
"If you have a really high cholesterol, LDL would likely decline even more," said Hayes, who belives these findings could have a major impact on public health.
The benefits of phytosterols could be expanded beyond snack foods, such as French fries and chips, to include breads and cake mixes, according to Hayes.
Commercial applications of the research are being protected by patent applications filed by the university.
Both the National Cholesterol Education Program and American Heart Association have recommended the addition of phytosterols to the diet to help reduce cholesterol but their use in everyday foods has been limited to margarines and salad oils, largely for technical reasons of incorporation.
Phytosterols are found naturally in plants, fruits and vegetables and demand for the products has increased since sterol enhanced foods received a health claim from the FDA.
It is estimated that by 2008, global demand for phytosterols will top 10,000 tons, a figure that represents a potential market value of between $200 and $250 million.