On November 19, 2018, the FDA announced a new qualified health claim for food package labels for edible oils containing high amounts of oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that has heart health benefits when it replaces foods high in saturated fat. A qualified health claim is supported by more limited scientific evidence than an authorized health claim, which is based on a large body of significant scientific agreement. Qualified health claims must also contain a disclaimer that informs consumers about the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim.
The wording for the new qualified health claim is:
“Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1½ tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The claim also includes language to make it clear that to achieve health benefits, using oils high in oleic acid should replace fats high in saturated fat without increasing daily calories.
Which oils are high in oleic acids?
According to the qualified health claim, oils must contain at least 70% oleic acid to offer possible benefits. Oils that meet this criterion include: high-oleic sunflower oil, high-oleic safflower oil, high-oleic canola oil, olive oil, and high-oleic algal oil.
Some of these oils were developed as alternatives to partially-hydrogenated oils which are known to contain harmful trans fatty acids that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These oils do not degrade when heated to high temperatures and can be used in baking and frying. Oils high in oleic acid are popular in the food industry, because this type of fat is more shelf stable.
Olive oil is naturally high in oleic acid; in fact, oleic acid is named after olive oil.
It’s important to note that not all sunflower, safflower, canola or algal oil is high in oleic acid. Look for the specific wording “high in oleic acid” on the front of the package to be sure you’re purchasing a product that meets the qualified health claim. Because the qualified health claim is so new, expect to see oils with the claim in the near future in your local grocery store.
What does the science say about oleic acids?
Because this is a qualified health claim, there is not yet a large body of science that shows a strong relationship between consuming oleic acid and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the FDA evaluated the results from seven small clinical studies, and six of the studies found that people who replaced fats and oils high in saturated fat with oils high in oleic acid experienced a modest decrease in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). One study showed no significant effect.
Fats and oils high in saturated fat include: palm oil, coconut oil, lard, shortening, and butter.
It’s important to note that the only benefits were seen in replacing saturated fat with oils high in oleic acid. Simply consuming more oils high in oleic acid without making changes in saturated fat consumption has no proven benefits.
Use these suggestions to replace foods high in saturated fat with foods that contain higher levels of oleic acid:
- Choose high-oleic sunflower oil, high-oleic safflower oil, or high-oleic canola oil at the grocery store and use these oils instead of other types of oils or fats in cooking.
- For example, instead of sautéing vegetables in butter, margarine, or regular canola oil, choose one of the high-oleic oils with the new qualified health claim on the front of the package.
- Olive oil is naturally high in oleic acid, which means that you can use olive oil to replace any other type of oil in cooking and in making salad dressings.
- Replace butter or margarine in baked goods with high-oleic sunflower, high-oleic safflower or high-oleic canola oil.
- Instead of putting butter or margarine on toast, cooked vegetables, or cooked potatoes, drizzle olive oil on these foods.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on a new qualified health claim for consuming oils with high levels of oleic acid to reduce coronary heart disease risk. https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm626210.htm Published 11-19-18. Accessed 12-4-18.
- North American Olive Oil Association. What is high oleic oil? https://www.aboutoliveoil.org/what-is-high-oleic-oil published 8-23-17. Accessed 12-5-18.
- Heart-Healthy Oils: They're Not All Created Equal by Judith C. Thalheimer, RD, LDN Today's Dietitian Vol. 17 No. 2 P. 24
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Types of Fat. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/ Accessed 12-9-18.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
Printable Infographic: Replace Saturated Fats with Oleic Oils
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.