Canadian and Chinese approvals boost cholesterol-lowering market

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Plant sterols, Nutrition

Major plant sterol suppliers say recent food-use approvals in Canada and China will “clear the way” for expansion of the cholesterol-lowering category.

Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Cargill and Cognis have all responded to Health Canada’s May approval for phytosterols and stanols in a number of food categories.

“These types of health claims point further to plant sterols’ ability to reduce or help lower cholesterol, thereby helping to reduce the risk of heart disease,”​ said Dr Luis R Mejia, ADM’s director of regulatory and scientific affairs.

“The ‘Novel Foods Approval’ for plant sterols in Canada was simultaneously issued to several food manufacturers, including Cargill, in mid-May,” ​said Cargill in a statement.

Global approvals

ADM added that it is benefitting from Novel Foods approval issued by China’s Ministry of Health in March, in addition to longer-standing Food and Drug Administration GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval in 19 food categories dating back to 2006. was unable to attain further details about the Chinese approval at the time of publication.

Plant sterols and stanols are nutrients that possess strong scientific backing for their ability to reduce cholesterol, and in 2009 become one of only a few non-essential nutrients to have health claims authorized in the European Union.

Booming sales?

But sales of milks, juices, spreads, pastas have remained at niche levels with category-leading brands – Unilever’s pro-activ and Raisio/Benecol/McNeil Nutritional’s Benecol – notching only marginal growth in North American and European markets in recent years.

These companies have continued to launch new products and develop marketing strategies including a major push from Benecol brand owners to target younger consumers with heart health concerns in the UK. That meant 45-55 year olds rather than the previous target market of over-55s.

The ingredients companies are highlighting that consumers with genuine heart health concerns go far beyond the elderly demographic.

Health Canada in its notice of approval noted that 50 percent of the Canadian population is moderately to highly hypercholesterolemic.

In approving phytosterols, Health Canada said: “Consumption of these foods results in the lowering of total blood cholesterol as well as LDL-cholesterol levels, while having no detrimental effect on HDL-cholesterol levels, resulting in overall improvements in the blood lipid profile.”

The approved claim can be used on products containing at least 0.65 of phytosterols or stanols and doesn’t breach other healthy food criteria such as fat and salt thresholds:

“[serving size from Nutrition Facts table in metric and common household measures] of [naming the product] provides X% of the daily amount of plant sterols shown to help reduce/lower cholesterol in adults.”

That can be backed by supplementary statements that read:

  • “Plant sterols help reduce [or help lower] cholesterol.”
  • “High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.”

"We think Canadians are more willing to try functional foods ​(than their US neighbors). We compare Canada to Australia – both have similar sized populations who like to take control of their own health​," Laura Troha, marketing manager at Cognis Nutrition & Health, told last month.

Related topics: Regulation

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