Cheerios and Cholesterol
Does Cheerios, or does it not, lower cholesterol levels? Well, maybe, but don’t go making claims on the box. That’s what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told General Mills three months ago when they warned them to stop making specific cholesterol-lowering claims on the Cheerios package and website.
It's the law!
The FDA will allow this claim:
“Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber may or might reduce the risk of heart disease.”
But this propaganda crossed the line:
“Did you know that in just six weeks, Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of 4 percent? Cheerios is… clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1½ cup servings daily of Cheerios reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” (The research was reported at the Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in April 2009.)
The FDA said the claim made Cheerios seems like a drug that could treat a disease. If Cheerios wants to be a drug, then they need to file a new drug application with the FDA.
I guess Cheerios made a prompt correction because that language is no longer on their website. It seems to remain on boxes in my locale, but they should be gone soon. Funny that Cheerios had gotten away with the language for 12 years. But now the FDA has more power to act on faulty health claims. The Federal trade Commission (FTC) is keeping closer watch on national advertisers too.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I think Cheerios are swell (but then, I’m a sucker for foods that have been around for more than 50 years). And what’s not to like? Cheerios is a whole grain, low in sugar, and free of artificial flavoring and coloring. For Pete's sake, Cheerios are fed to babies! (I'm not talking about Honey Nut, Berry Burst, or the others - just plain old Cheerios.)
The soluble fiber in oats does help to lower blood cholesterol and, as such, reduce the risk of heart disease. Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol absorption in the gastrointestinal track and signals the liver to produce less cholesterol as well. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oatmeal, oat bran, barley, dried beans and peas, apples, strawberries, and other fruit. On a cholesterol-lowering diet you should consume at least 5-10 grams (and ideally 10-25 grams) of soluble fiber per day.
The Bottom Line:
Food manufacturers should not even think about making unauthorized health claims. While the science behind Cheerios’ claims might be strong, General Mills did not play by the FDA’s rules. In the Wall Street Journal, the director of FDA’s food safety center said the agency has noticed a tendency by the food companies to cross the line into the drug category. Where will it end? Right here, I guess.
Are you confused by health claims on food packages? Should the FDA tighten up or lighten up?