The ruling is an extension to the health claim permitted on products containing soluble fiber from oats and is the result of a petition submitted by the National Barley Foods Council in 2004.
A typical claim allowed under the decision would state that 'soluble fiber from foods such as [name of food], as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of [name of food] supplies [x] grams of the soluble fiber necessary per day to have this effect'.
To qualify for the health claim, barley-containing foods must provide at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving of the food.
Insoluble fiber from wholegrains is currently enjoying more attention from consumers and the food industry than soluble fiber but interest in the soluble variety is rising fast, according to a recent report from Frost and Sullivan.
The research shows that although insoluble fiber market was worth $176.2 million in the US during 2004, compared with $16.6 million soluble fiber, growth in this second kind is expected to be increase by almost twice the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of insoluble fiber - 26.3 percent - up to 2011.
The growth is being driven by research showing that soluble fiber can prevent the peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels that is thought to contribute to risk of type 2 diabetes, and also tends to encourage snacking.
Other studies show that soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol levels, a significant contributor to coronary heart disease, which kills almost 500,000 Americans each year, according to FDA.
FDA said in its statement that food manufacturers can use the new health claim immediately through the issuance of an interim final rule. The decision is likely to benefit companies making new barley fiber ingredients such as Cargill and Polycell.
Comments are however still being accepted on the interim final rule, published in the Federal Register, for 75 days. They can be submitted through the agency's website.