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FDA: Oats good for hearts, and boxes can say so

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January 21, 1997
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Oat bran was ubiquitous in the '80s -- cropping up in muffins, cookies, even donuts -- as people fought their personal battles with cholesterol.

Then the craze lost steam as new studies showed other foods could help lower cholesterol. But now, oat bran and oatmeal could make a comeback.

In response to a request by Quaker Oats, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that food with a lot of oat bran or rolled oats can carry a label claiming it may reduce the risk of heart disease, when combined with a low-fat diet.

FDA graphic

"There is scientific agreement soluble fiber from oat products when added to a low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease," said the FDA's Ed Scarbrough.

This is the first time the FDA has allowed a health claim for specific foods such as oat products, instead of a broad category of foods such as those low in fat.

Quaker Oats, the nation's leading maker of oatmeal, says it's good news for consumers.

Quaker Oats

"For so many years, consumers have been getting messages about what foods not to eat," Steven Ink of the Quaker Oats Company said. "This FDA announcement is about a positive message, namely, eat oatmeal and it will help you reduce your risk for heart disease."

Other cereal makers will benefit, too: General Mills is preparing to relabel original Cheerios and other brands.

Low-fat diet part of deal

Under the new regulation, companies can claim that eating foods made from rolled oats, oat bran and oat flour that contain enough soluble fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease -- as long as they're part of a low-fat diet.

But not every oat-containing product qualifies, the FDA warned, but only low-fat products -- those that have 3 grams or less of fat per serving. General Mills can't put the label on Apple-Cinnamon or Frosted Cheerios because they don't contain enough oat bran.

A nutrition watchdog group says the message is misleading, because consumers may not realize they can get a similar benefit from fruits, vegetables and beans as well.

"It sets a bad precedent to focus on one food, as if it were a magic bullet," said David Schardt of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "What this will do is encourage people to stuff themselves on oat bran products or oat products at the expense of some other good food."

Schardt's group says people may also be unaware they have to eat up to four servings a day of oat products to get a health benefit.

Clinical trials show people need 3 grams of soluble fiber a day to help lower their cholesterol, the FDA said. To qualify for the health claim, oat-containing foods must provide at least three-fourths of a gram of soluble fiber per serving.


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