Practical Practice / Stop the Presses

Barley is In, Whole Grains are Out?

Health Canada has concluded that scientific evidence exists in support of the therapeutic claim linking barley grain products to a reduction of blood cholesterol.”

Two nutrition-related health claims have recently been evaluated by Health Canada – barley was approved for its role in lowering cholesterol, though the link between whole grain consumption and heart disease was insufficient to warrant a health claim. Here’s a summary of these recent yay and nay reports.

Barley and cholesterol – supported

History (July 2012): Based on a review 13 studies, Health Canada found sufficient evidence to approve the claim linking intake of barley grains (more specifically beta-glucan) to cholesterol lowering.

Allowed Claim: “[serving size] of [name of food] supplies/provides X% of the daily amount of the fibre shown to help reduce/lower cholesterol” where “daily amount” is equal to 3 g of beta-glucan.

e.g., “125 ml (1/2 cup) of cooked pearled barley supplies 60% of the daily amount of the fibre shown to help lower cholesterol.”

Primary Criteria: food item contains at least 1 gram of beta-glucan from barley grain products per serving.

Whole grains and heart disease – not supported

History (July 2012): Based on a meta-analyses of 17 studies, Health Canada found insufficient evidence to approve the claim linking intake of whole grains (including oats, barley, rye, and wheat) to a reduced risk of coronary artery disease. While there was a link between whole grain consumption and cholesterol lowering, the systematic review results indicated that such benefit was largely due to grains containing beta-glucan, such as oats and barley. As such, Health Canada ruled that generalizing to “whole grains” as a group, and specifically whole grain wheat, was unwarranted.

No Baloney’s advice. Just because there is insufficient evidence to support the link between whole grains and lower risk of heart disease, doesn’t mean whole grains are not associated with heart health! Other claims have been rejected in the past too: based on literature reviews, the evidence for a link between cancer risk and both dietary fat and dietary fibre was deemed insufficient for health claims in either case.

Nutrition-related health claims are assessed based on a high standard of evidence… but that doesn’t make them infallible. Just like with the health check symbol, meeting the Health Canada nutrition claim criteria does not guarantee a food is healthy or is something you should strive to increase in your diet. Here is a perfect example, courtesy of Weighty Matters – plant sterol-fortified potato chips, complete with front-of-package health claim!

There are new claims being forwarded for approval all of the time, but some manufacturers don’t exactly wait before making their own claims…

As part of healthy eating, low fat Special K* cereals and portion controlled snacks (excluding cracker chips) can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.”

Sounds an awful lot like an unapproved health claim from Kellogg’s Special K products…

Have you seen nutrition-related health claims plastered on less-than-healthy foods? Leave them in the comments!


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