The FDA has confirmed the qualified health claim linking whole grain barley to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, which could help raise awareness of the grain amongst heart health-conscious consumers.
An interim ruling granting the claim, which is an extension of the health claim permitted on products containing soluble fiber from oats, was originally made in December 2005. Although manufacturers could start making the claim immediately, confirmation was subject to a 75-day period to allow for public comments.
The government agency said last week that it has received no comments that merited amending the interim ruling. Companies that may have been sitting out the 75-day period on the off-chance that there were any changes, to avoid the necessity of making costly changes to packaging twice, should now have the confidence to embrace it.
To qualify for the health claim, barley-containing foods must provide at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving.
A typical claim allowed under the decision would state that "soluble fiber from foods such as [name of food], as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of [name of food] supplies [x] grams of the soluble fiber necessary per day to have this effect".
The decision is likely to benefit companies making new barley fiber ingredients such as Cargill, Cevena and Polycell.
In the past, health claims have had a considerable impact on sales of foods they relate to. Since the claim linking omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease was extended from supplements to foods n September 2004, consumer awareness has skyrocketed - and omega-3 containing foods have been coming to market every which way you turn.
The barley/soluble fiber claim is positively worded compared to some unwieldy claims that have gone through in the past year. For instance, the claims for chromium picolinate and insulin health and tomatoes, tomato sauce and a reduced risk of certain cancers were couched in negative terms that would be difficult for manufacturers to put on packaging - not only because of space issues but also because they may actually put consumers off.
Research released this week by the Natural Marketing Institute shed light on the market for heart healthy foods: in its recent survey 45 per cent of adults questioned said they are concerned with preventing heart disease and more than half of these are defined by the institute as 'heart managers' - that is, people who are actively managing heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Eighty-six percent of these 'heart managers' said they have used products marketed as heart-healthy in the past year - a finding that should further encourage manufacturers.
Coronary heart disease kills almost 500,000 Americans each year, according to FDA. Risk factors for the disease include high cholesterol levels which research suggests can be lowered by barley fiber.
"FDA is pursuing new initiatives to help consumers improve the choices they have for healthy and nutritious diets," said FDA Deputy Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD.
"We firmly believe that one of the best ways to encourage healthier eating habits is to help consumers get truthful, up-to-date, science-based information about food products so that they can make choices that are based on a better understanding of the health consequences of their diets."