We’ve all heard about how a steady diet of Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal can help lower cholesterol. Of course, just eating a certain type of cereal as a remedy alone is too easy to be true. In a warning letter to General Mills last month, the FDA objected to the health claim that the cereal can reduce “bad” cholesterol 4% in six weeks, and “eating two 1.5 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol, when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” The FDA letter states the cereal’s claims mean for it to prevent, treat and mitigate hypercholesterolemia, which turns it into an “unapproved new drug” that “is not generally recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease.” The letter goes on to say that General Mills cannot continue to market Cheerios without a new drug application. The FDA gives the company 15 days to respond with its plan to correct the violations.

It seems the new administration’s promise to get tough on food quality and clarity of information regarding foods is starting to take shape. However, if the American public expects to be healthier just by eating more oat cereal, then they need a lot more education than anyone realizes. For example, the link between exercise and cholesterol reduction has been repeatedly proven, yet that message is not as well established. Even the FDA’s letter to General Mills states there is no need to confuse the public any further: “The claim on your website leaves out any reference to fruits and vegetables, to fiber content and to keeping the levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet low. Therefore, your claim does not convey that all these factors together help to reduce the risk of heart disease and does not enable the public to understand the significance of the claim in the context of the total daily diet.”

While I agree that the FDA is right on the money about consumer education, perhaps the agency does not have to be as tough on Cheerios as it has been. It’s hard to watch a revered institution undergoing such intense scrutiny. In many families, Cheerios is the first food babies eat, and many consumers, including me, trust its “goodness” implicitly. We know it can be healthy for us to eat it; however, I don’t think most of us were looking for it to be a magic solution to gain good health. pf