The generic health claim, only the fourth to be approved by the Joint Health Claims Initiative, follows a similar one from Swedish authorities and is likely to have a major impact on future European health claims regulation, currently under debate.
A Europe-wide approval of the health claim on oats would give the traditional ingredient, which has seen a decline in sales over recent years, a significant boost from growing demand for healthy foods.
The JHCI claim states: "The inclusion of oats as part of a diet low in saturated fat and a healthy lifestyle can help reduce blood cholesterol."
It can be used for whole oats, oat bran, rolled oats and whole oat flour, that contain at least 0.75g beta-glucan soluble fibre per serving.
The claim is the result of a scientific dossier submitted by the Swedish firm Swedish Oat Fibre and its marketing partner CreaNutrition, which announced the news at last week's Health Ingredients Europe show.
"This is very good news for all of us. People are always looking for something new but oats have been readily available for 2000 years and are 100 per cent natural," commented Ruedi Duss, managing director of CreaNutrition.
The US Food and Drug Administration first permitted such a claim in 1998 but European oat millers have been slow to develop this marketing opportunity.
"The key players have been very quiet on this issue in Europe. We hope they will now realize the potential offered by this generic claim," added Duss.
Functional foods designed to lower cholesterol are gaining significant momentum in Europe, with regulators approving the addition of plant sterols to a number of different applications this year.
The increasing interest in cholesterol-lowering has helped sales at CreaNutrition, one of Europe's largest producers of oat ingredients, says Duess, but there is still considerable work to be done before oats make the same impact in health foods as other ingredients.
"The main focus of our dossier was to bring the oat story to Europe. The claim is really important as it demonstrates clear understanding among scientific experts of the health benefits of oats," continued Duss.
Oats have an advantage over many sterol-containing products as they can be labelled as GM-free. They also contain a number of other nutrients including antioxidants and fatty acids.