Published: November 2, 2004
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 - The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that
producers of olive oil could say on their labels that there was "limited and not
conclusive" evidence that people could reduce the risk of coronary disease by
replacing saturated fats in their diets with olive oil.
It is only the third time that the agency has approved such a qualified
health claim for a food label. The other two foods approved for such health
claims were walnuts and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna.
Until last year, the only health claims that food producers were permitted to
make were those for which there was "significant scientific agreement," like
calcium's role in preventing osteoporosis.
Producers will now be able to say on their labels: "Limited and not
conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two 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."
Scientists have also found that polyunsaturated oils and other
monounsaturated oils, besides olive oil, can reduce the risk of heart disease.
But the agency said that only olive oil producers had asked the government to be
able to make that claim.
Dr. Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard
School of Public Health, said the decision showed the agency had adjusted its
opinion about healthful diets.
"In the past," Dr. Stampfer said, "they declined to give any cardiovascular
health claim for anything that was not low fat. Now they are recognizing that
the idea that fat is bad as guidance for health is a concept that we should have
moved away from long ago."
"We always have to think about diet as replacement," he added, "the basic
idea of healthy, relative to something."
But Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the
Public Interest, a group that often criticizes the government and food
companies, said, "The way the regulations are written, they allow too much
saturated and trans fats in a food that will be marketed as good for your
In addition, Ms. Liebman said, qualified health claims will confuse people.
"People will not understand what evidence that is 'limited and not conclusive'