Released last week, the proposal comes in response to a petition from PepsiCo's Quaker Oats Company, which said that some low-sugar oat products are ineligible for the claim.
Under current FDA regulations, products low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in soluble fiber are able to claim that they reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The fiber contained in whole oat is called beta-glucan soluble fiber, and is found in oat bran, rolled oats and whole oat flour.
However, although Quaker Oats' unmodified instant oatmeal products are eligible to bear the heart health claim, the firm's flavored, reduced sugar products are not because they do not meet the nutrient content requirement for 'low fat'.
But according to the company, these products only have a higher fat content because by reducing sugar, the products contain more whole oats - and fat from whole oats.
The firm therefore petitioned the FDA to amend current regulations so that the 'low fat' eligibility standard would not be applicable to foods exceeding this standard due to the total fat inherent in whole oat sources.
According to Quaker Oats, this would encourage food manufacturers to create products that are lower in added sugar while still retaining the heart-protective qualities of these whole oat-based foods. It would also enhance consumer's ability to incorporate beta-glucan soluble fiber into their diets while reducing their sugar consumption.
The petition also stated that the additional level of inherent fat in whole oats would not have a negative impact on the benefit of the oat beta-glucan health claim.
The FDA said it agrees with the petition, and "tentatively" concluded that for purposes of the oat beta-glucan health claim, it is appropriate to exempt foods that exceed the 'low fat' criterion due to fat contained in whole oat sources from oat bran, rolled oats and whole oat flour, as well as oatrim.
The agency is now calling for comments on whether or not whole oat food products that contain sources of fat other than whole oat sources should be exempt from the 'low fat' requirement and, if so, how much and what types of fat contributed by these sources would be acceptable.