New Claim Approved by Health Canada Has U of G Tie

March 06, 2012 - News Release

A new health claim advising consumers to replace dietary saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats to reduce cholesterol has connections to the University of Guelph.

David Ma, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS), was asked to serve as the scientific adviser for the application by the Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada.

The claim — three years in the making — was approved by Health Canada in late February. It’s the ninth claim to be accepted by the federal agency since the process became formal in 2003.

The claim may now be included on food labels and other packaging to communicate health benefits to Canadians.

“It is certainly not a radical health claim in any regard, but it fills an important void,” Ma said. “It provides an educational message regarding what to consume as opposed to what not to consume.”

Previous health claims approved in Canada warn consumers to lower their saturated fat intake but do not offer alternatives, he said. “This tells people to replace saturated fats with healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated such as olive, canola and soybean oil. The potential beneficial effect is the reduction of blood cholesterol.”

High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, and more than 40 per cent of Canadians have high cholesterol.

Health Canada concludes that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet reduces LDL-cholesterol by 0.4 to 2.8 per cent for every gram of fat replaced.

“This is significant because each one-per-cent replacement of saturated fat by unsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease by about two per cent,” he said. The effect is swift. “In the studies we reviewed, benefits to individuals appear after just two weeks and in some individuals may have effects rivalling those on statin drug therapy, which achieve up to 20-per-cent reduction in blood cholesterol.”

Ma was chosen for the project because of his research and expertise in how fats influence health and disease. “It was very exciting to be involved because this was an applied project and very different than the work I typically do.” Currently, he is looking at the role of dietary fatty acids in breast cancer for potential prevention and treatment.

As part of the claim process, Ma reviewed hundreds of scientific studies with help from HHNS professors Alison Duncan, Amanda Wright, Lindsay Robinson and Bruce Holub, and U of G food scientist Alejandro Marangoni. Graduate students Brennan Smith and Colin Garrioch were also involved.

“The health claims in Canada are evidence-based; there must be very good science behind them to support a claim,” Ma said. “It’s a rigorous process and rightly so, to ensure the health and safety of Canadians.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, or

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