FDA Allows Foods Containing Psyllium to Be Labeled as Heart-Healthy Creating Some Dispute
Last week, FDA ruled that manufacturers may label foods containing soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk (PSH). Manufacturers are now permitted to claim that these foods, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
The soluble fiber of psyllium comes from the dried husk of a seed and is primarily cultivated in India. It also is known as blond or Indian psyllium. Currently it is being used in breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Bran Buds and in a variety of dietary supplement products promoted for increased fiber intake and as weight loss aids. Because some foods containing PSH can be difficult to swallow, foods carrying the psyllium health claim also must have a label statement advising of the need to consume the food with adequate amounts of liquid and to avoid eating the food if one has difficulty swallowing. FDA says certain foods that do not pose such a choking risk may be exempt from this requirement.
The new health claim, the result of a petition submitted by the Kellogg Company, is effective immediately. A spokesperson of Kellogg’s functional foods division called the decision “a dawn of a new era, enabling consumers to confidently select foods containing nutrients that do more than just meet basic nutritional needs.” Also in agreement with FDA’s decision, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) welcomed the approval of the fiber ingredient saying consumers need to know that strong science backs their foods and that certain foods can help prevent disease.
While the cereal industry and food associations applauded the approval, one consumer group worried that FDA’s endorsed claim will give consumers the wrong message. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) believes that many other foods like fruits and vegetables, not just breakfast cereals, also can reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The group called the “promotion of so-called functional foods a fad within the food industry, and Kellogg is trying to capitalize on this trend.”
Another point of contention was the possibility of companies in the future influencing health developments and claims with the agency. The consumer group said with this decision FDA is trying to respond to congressional and industry critics who say that the agency’s health claims policy is too restrictive, CSPI feels this policy goes too far in the opposite direction. Yet, GMA contends that food manufacturers have extensive research programs underway and consumers will see many new products in the near future that taste good while having health benefits. “As the FDA moves forward to approve legitimate health claims,” the association said, “it is up to individual companies to decide what products will feature specific health benefits to consumers.”
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