While we have come to accept that products containing oats may help to lower cholesterol, the claims can be very confusing.
Take Cheerios, for example. On the left is a box purchased a couple of months ago, and on the right is a box purchased last week.
The old one claims that Cheerios can help lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks, while the new one says by 10% in just one month. It further goes on to claim on the front panel that eating three servings of Cheerios a day “may reduce the risk of heart disease.” The products themselves are unchanged. So what’s going on here?
Old box: “A  clinical study showed that eating two 1-1/2 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”
New box: “A new  study proves that Cheerios cereal plus a reduced calorie diet that is low in fat can help lower bad cholesterol about 10% in one month. … Eat two 1-1/2 cup servings [daily] … and cut 500 calories from your diet.”
So basically, Cheerios found a new study that lets them tout a significantly enhanced cholesterol reduction claim. Well, “found” is too strong a word. How about paid for and co-authored an as yet unpublished study? (See abstract of the study, which was published, in a somewhat unconventional journal.)
This is not to say that every study paid for by a corporation is suspect, but it seems a bit unusual that the company also co-authored the study.
General Mills says that 204 overweight/obese adults with high LDL (bad) cholesterol were tested. While General Mills touts Cheerios helps lower (bad) cholesterol 10% on its box and website, the abstract of the study seems to say it was actually lowered only 8.7%.
All of this has not made the FDA happy, so they sent the company a warning letter in May. The letter asserts that the health claims the company is making for Cheerios puts it in the category of a drug, and they have not registered Cheerios as a drug. Interestingly, the letter only refers to the original 4% claim, and not the new 10% one.
Time will tell how this cereal drama plays out, but odds are all their cholesterol lowering claims won’t disappear completely and you still won’t need a prescription to buy Cheerios.