WASHINGTON Manufacturers of corn oil and foods containing the fat can now promote their products as a way to possibly reduce the risk of heart disease, U.S. health regulators said in a letter released on Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration, responding to a request from ACH Food Companies Inc., said there was enough evidence to support such a qualified claim, as long as consumers were not misled.
ACH Food Companies, a division of Associated British Foods, asked the agency last year to allow corn oil and related products to carry the heart benefits claim. Its products include Mazola corn oil, Karo light corn syrup and Argo corn starch.
"Based on FDA's consideration of the scientific evidence submitted with your petition, and other pertinent scientific evidence, FDA concludes that there is sufficient evidence for a qualified health claim, provided that the claim is appropriately worded so as to not mislead consumers," the FDA said in a March 26 letter to the company.
The FDA allows food manufacturers to make health claims on certain products when scientific studies support them.
When there is less evidence available, companies can make so-called qualified health claims that are more limited. While the industry says such claims can help inform consumers, critics contend they are based on slim data and can lead consumers astray.
To qualify for new corn oil claim, the agency said products must be low in cholesterol and saturated fat, among other criteria. Pure corn oil as well as vegetable oil blends and spreads, salad dressings, shortenings and certain baked goods containing the oil are eligible for the claim.
Those that meet the criteria can say that "very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil" the FDA said.
The claim must also say that "FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim. To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day."
More than 25 million Americans, or 12 percent, are diagnosed with heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. It is the nation's No. 1 killer.
Heart disease encompasses a number of possible conditions, according to the CDC. It can include heart attack-inducing coronary heart disease as well as hypertensive heart disease and congestive heart failure.