Cholesterol-lowering claim approved for oats

The Quaker Oats guy will have something else to grin about he makes some room on the company’s Canadian packaging for an approved new health claim in the new year.

Health Canada on Monday formally confirmed it now has “no objection to the use of a health claim linking the consumption of oat fibre and the reduced risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.”

The federal health ministry said the health claim may now be used for oat bran, rolled oats (that is, oatmeal) and whole oat flour as well as products made of those ingredients. 

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Health Canada said its assessment concludes the consumption of two to four daily servings of oat products that meet conditions specified in the assessment “can help reduce cholesterol if they are regularly consumed.”

PepsiCo Canada, which has owned the Quaker brand since 2001, said Monday it will have the new claim published on the packaging of 11 Quaker oat, oatmeal and cereal products in Canada in the new year.

Foods that carry the claim also have to meet other nutritional criteria, carrying at least certain minimum amounts of vitamins and minerals and staying below certain maximum levels of cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, PepsiCo noted.

“A large body of evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of oat fibre consumption in reducing blood cholesterol,” Dr. Randall Kaplan, director of nutrition science and regulatory affairs for Mississauga-based PepsiCo Canada, said in a release.

Beta-glucan, the soluble fibre in oats, helps reduce cholesterol, PepsiCo said, noting research has shown consuming three grams of soluble oat fibre per day “can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.”

“Health Canada’s announcement means that we can communicate something very tangible to Canadians — eating foods that contain oat fibre, such as oatmeal, helps reduce cholesterol,” Kaplan said.

“Dietary portfolio”

Nutritional scientist Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto said in the same release that the Health Canada approval is “an important step forward in the process of educating Canadians about functional foods that aid in lowering cholesterol.”

Oat fibre is a “major source” of the viscous fibres which according to studies can help lower serum cholesterol, he said, noting U.S. health officials have long since recognized oats, plant sterols, nuts and soy protein for such heart health claims.

“My hope is that all of these foods and food components will soon be officially recognized in Canada for their cholesterol-lowering potential and allow Canadians to be informed which foods they can include as part of an effective cholesterol-lowering dietary portfolio,” Jenkins said, noting plant sterols also picked up Canadian approval this spring for such a claim.

About 10 million adult Canadians have cholesterol levels higher than their doctors’ recommended targets, PepsiCo noted, while almost 40 per cent are classified as having high blood cholesterol levels.

Health Canada’s approval for the oats claim drew fire Tuesday from a former head of the ministry’s nutritional sciences bureau, which oversees approval of health claims.

Mary L’Abbe, who had left Health Canada in 2007, criticized the ministry for not publicly releasing evidence it uses to approve such claims.

If such documentation remains unavailable, she told Postmedia News, researchers won’t be able to evaluate which studies were used and which weren’t.

That, in turn, could make it difficult to evaluate the status of the evidence for such a health claim when or if other related studies are published in the future, she told Postmedia’s Sarah Schmidt.

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