WASHINGTON – Manufacturers of olive oil or other foods containing the fat can now claim their products may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, U.S. health officials said Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration (search) said food makers can tell consumers that evidence shows replacing saturated fat with olive oil -- without increasing the total number of calories consumed -- may lead to possible heart benefits.
"It is a public health priority to make sure that consumers have accurate and useful information on reducing their risk," said Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford.
Heart disease is the No. 1 one cause of death for adults in the United States. More than 64 million Americans in 2001 had some form of heart disease, which led to nearly 40 percent of all deaths, according to the American Heart Association (search).
The new advertising claim limits the benefits to 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily.
So-called "qualified health claims (search)" are allowed after the FDA reviews available data and decides how strongly it supports a health benefit, according to the agency. For olive oil, the agency said evidence showing a link to heart benefits was "limited and not conclusive."
But some consumer groups have said the labels mislead consumers about the health benefits of food and are based on weak evidence.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (search) and Public Citizen (search) sued the agency last year over rules to allow such claims. The case was dismissed, but Public Citizen said it plans to file a new suit now that the FDA has started issuing specific claims.
"We're planning to do it," said Allison Zieve, a lawyer for Public Citizen's Litigation Group, adding that she could not say when the complaint would be filed.
Earlier this year, the FDA allowed similar types of health claims on certain nuts and some fatty acids found in oily fish.