The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a qualified health claim on canola oil's potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, owing to its unsaturated fat content.
Canola joins a class of nutritional ingredients and oils such as phytosterols, omega-3 and olive oil that enable finished product manufacturers to advertise their functional benefits on the label. Such health claims from the FDA are coveted in the nutraceutical industry for their potential to inform the public and boost sales.
The US Canola Oil Association (USCA), which submitted its petition for such a health claim in January 2006, is using the development as an opportunity to promote the benefits of canola oil as an ingredient.
“The claim may... encourage food manufacturers and food-service providers to substitute canola oil for other oils with less favourable nutritional profiles," said USCA president John Haas, who also expects that availability of the claim will promote public health by informing consumers about a simple, affordable and convenient strategy to reduce their risk of heart disease.
Canola oil is said to be high in healthy unsaturated fats (93 percent), free of cholesterol and trans fat, and has the lowest saturated fat (7 percent) of any common edible oil.
Thus the functional characteristics of canola lie not so much in any nutrient content, but rather in the fact that it is low in LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or "bad" cholesterol.
What the labels may say
Canola oil bottlers and makers of eligible products will be permitted to state the following on labels:
“Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 1/2 tablespoons (19g) of canola oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in canola oil. To achieve this possible benefit, canola 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 contains [x] grams of canola oil.”
The claim was proposed by an industry association rather than a company, as is often the case. Since health claims tend to give an entire category a boost, rather than just the company that has funded the science and prepared the dossier, some companies have questioned the logic of investing in claims when their competitors benefit too.
In olive oil's footsteps
Canola oil follows olive oil, which also has an FDA heart-health claim. Given that both were granted the claims for their low levels of unsaturated fats, an avenue may open up for groups representing other oils that have relatively low unsaturated fat contents to petition the federal authority.
According to the Canola Council of Canada, safflower oil contains 77 percent monounsaturated fat, compared to olive oil's 75 percent and canola's 61 percent. However, according to the same data, canola oil contains the least amount of saturated fat of all popular edible oils – with 7 percent. Olive and safflower oils contain 15 and eight percent respectively.
"There is ample scientific evidence to demonstrate these benefits from the unsaturated fats in canola oil," said Haas. "By using it in place of other common edible oils, consumers can increase their compliance with the latest dietary recommendations."
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