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Is That Right? Silk Soy Product Lowers Cholesterol

Silk Soymilk is in the process of launching a new product called Silk Heart Health; you can read about it on the Silk Web site.

The beverage carton notes that the product is "Clinically shown to reduce cholesterol 7%."

Hmmm. That sounds like a drug claim to me -- the same kind that got General Mills in hot water with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a few weeks ago. The FDA faulted the cereal company for featuring a claim on Cheerios boxes that the cereal can lower cholesterol 4 percent in six weeks. The FDA didn't quibble with the science behind the claim but instead pointed out that a measurable health outcome such as that can only be attributed to a drug, not a food. The Cheerios package bore its cholesterol claim for two years before the FDA issued its warning.

The new Silk product contains soy protein and phytosterols, both of which the FDA recognizes as being generally healthful for your heart. The company cites a recent study showing that "People who enjoyed three servings of Silk Heart Health per day for four weeks, as part of a sensible diet, lowered their cholesterol by 7%." They also provide information about studies supporting the notion that soy protein and phytosterols may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Sounds fine. But Cheerios has science to back its claims, too. I asked the folks at Silk what the difference was. Sara Loveday, marketing communications manager at WhiteWave Foods (the company that makes Silk), provided this statement in an e-mail: "As always, Silk is committed to sharing accurate information about our products with consumers consistent with all applicable laws and regulations, and we stand behind the science. SilkĀ® Heart Health soymilk breaks new ground in dietary approaches to lower cholesterol by combining soy protein and phytosterols - two clinically proven heart-health ingredients - in a single, delicious product."

As with Cheerios, I have no cause to doubt the science behind the claims. And I want to believe both: Wouldn't it be nice to know for sure that a bowl of Os topped with Silk could help keep your heart healthy?

But I'd like assurance that those (and other) food-package claims are accurate and have passed FDA scrutiny. When I asked Loveday (via a publicist) whether the FDA had granted Silk some special dispensation to print this apparent drug claim, she responded, "We believe our products are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."

What do you make of this?

Holiday Note: The Checkup is taking the day off on Monday, May 25, to commemorate Memorial Day. Please come back on Tuesday, when Jennifer will show how to make mayonnaise at home. Have a safe and happy holiday!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 22, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Next: My Own Mayonnaise


A dishonest headline. On the front page, it says "Soy milk lowers cholesterol," but when one comes to the real story one is greeted with really, is that so?

Posted by: Fenelon | May 22, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

As you long as you don't remove "as part of a sensible diet", it sounds fine to me. I think everyone knows that if you drink soymilk with 3 pounds of fried porkchops, you're still going to get that heart attack. It's more a matter of common sense to me. I don't need the FDA to help me choose between an apple and a pack of Twinkies.

Posted by: dcp1 | May 22, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I see you changed the promo headline on the home page - the one I objected to in the first comment above. Thanks.

Posted by: Fenelon | May 22, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I think it's possible that the FDA has its head up in a dark, warm, moist place here. If the science is sound (or even reasonably well supported), then it seems insane to demand that soy milk producers (or Cheerios producers) should have to classify their product as a "drug" in order to share the news of the science.

Plenty of studies indicate that social support & properly applied educational techniques can cut down on the number of trauma deaths & injuries amongst the youthful folk in many neighborhoods. Should educators & social workers who share this knowledge with the public be required to submit their curricula to the FDA for approval as a therapeutic regimen?

Posted by: bobsewell | May 22, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

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