November 26, 2018
It’s pretty up in the air as to what the “healthiest” cooking oil is at the moment – coconut, avocado or olive? – but we know those three top the list.
Regardless, the United States Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will allow all olive oil bottles to carry a new “qualified health claim” on their labels. With this, manufacturers can choose to advertise their product as a heart-healthy alternative to animal-based fats, like butter and lard, for cooking and food preparation.
The FDA-approved health claim is as follows: “supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1½ tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb also stated that the claim will need to make it clear that to achieve this benefit, these oils “should replace fats and oils higher in saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
In addition, certain types of algal, canola, safflower and sunflower oils will be allowed to carry the qualified claim. In fact, all oils must contain at least 70 percent of oleic acid to meet the criteria for the health claim.
The science behind the new qualified health claim for oleic acid, while not conclusive, is promising, Gottlieb assured. The FDA evaluated results from seven small clinical studies that evaluated the relationship between consumption of cooking oils containing high levels of oleic acid and improved cholesterol levels, which indicates a reduced risk for coronary heart disease. Six of the studies found that those who were randomly assigned to consume diets containing oils with high levels of oleic acid as a replacement to fats and oils higher in saturated fat experienced a modest lowering in their total cholesterol and heart-damaging cholesterol levels compared to those who ate a more Western-style diet that was higher in saturated fat.
"Consumers should have access to clear, transparent food labels that enable them to make smart choices that benefit themselves and their families," Gottlieb wrote. Further, this oil label update comes as a part of the FDA's new strategy to modernize and prioritize health claims on food labels. They also aim to make labels more understandable to consumers. Plus, establishing an industry framework encourages manufacturers to inform consumers of the nutritional attributes of their products to support healthier choices across the board.