Olive oil earns FDA qualified health claim

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

?With this claim, consumers can make more informed decisions about maintaining healthy dietary practices,? said Dr Lester M Crawford, acting FDA commissioner. ?CHD is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the US.?

The petition, submitted by the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), included more than 70 clinical intervention studies conducted by scientists around the world. The claim states: ?Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product [Name of food] contains [x] grams of olive oil.?

Olive oil sales in the US are already strong. ?It was just a few years ago that olive oil surpassed vegetable oil as the most popular cooking oil in America,? said Bob Bauer, NAOOA president. ?Olive oil sales in supermarkets were up 16 per cent in 2004 for the year ending October. The sales in 2003 rose six per cent. It?s tough to project exactly how much this health claim will impact sales, but we certainly don?t expect those numbers to come down any, and are confident sales will rise about 20 per cent in 2005.?

Imports hit 473 million pounds of olive oil in 2003. Imports totaled only 267 million pounds in 1993 and 73 million pounds in 1983, the NAOOA reported.

Bauer expects the health claim will best enhance sales of those foods consumers already consider healthy. A good example is baked goods, which first began incorporating olive oil after new ?light? formulations were developed in the early 1990s. With the same nutritional makeup but lighter taste than standard olive oil, light olive oil creates a lighter and fluffier texture than butters and other oils. But for foods not traditionally associated with health, the qualified claim might also be a boon.

?If a company that makes cupcakes can switch to olive oil, enhancing taste and texture in the process, that could help their product grow,? Bauer said. ?If its addition changes the product?s nutritional makeup enough, I?m sure they?d take advantage of that.?

This is the third health claim the FDA has announced for conventional foods since the process for establishing such claims took effect in 2003.

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