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Cheerios Helps Lower Cholesterol 4%; No, Make that 10%; Do I Hear 20%?

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.

cheerios4    cheerios10

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 [1998] 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 [2009] 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 How about paid for and co-authored an as yet unpublished study?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.

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10 thoughts on “Cheerios Helps Lower Cholesterol 4%; No, Make that 10%; Do I Hear 20%?”

  1. I always suspect product claims when they do their own testing. However, as some one diagnosed with high cholesterol a couple years ago I have brought those numbers down considerably by adding a lot of whole grain foods to my diet (including but not limited to Cheerios)

  2. So, it’s true if you (1) have high cholesterol to begin with, (2) are overweight or obese, (3) go on a diet eating 500 fewer calories per day than you need to maintain a healthy weight, (4) exercise, (5) eat 3 cups of Cheerios a day (300 calories + whatever you put on it, like milk. So with 1% milk that’s 600 calories. So, you’ve got about 900 calories for the rest of the entire day’s food.), (6) don’t eat a Twinkie for breakfast (low fiber control foods).

    I think I’ll stick to my bowl of oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Cheaper & less processed. Cheerios is better than Fruit Loops though. It’s just a shame that health information is controlled by the highest bidder.

  3. I think most studies to support most products are paid for by the company that markets the product. They have the most vested interest in doing the research, so it makes sense that they would be most willing to pay for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the science is bad. Sometimes it is. Most of the time it isn’t. I don’t know the details of this study, although it does sound a little weird.

  4. Does anyone else find it interesting that the claim comes with the caveat “as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” If the people this ad targets were already eating “low in saturated fat and cholesterol diets they wouldn’t need to lower there cholesterol or care about the claims made by General Mills.

    Regarding the study itself a friend sent me this a few months ago: “An exciting new study was released today showing that students who chew gum in class score 3% higher on their math tests than their gumless classmates. It is believed that chewing gum reduces stress as the students were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” This completely unbiased study was funded by the Wrigley Science Institute. In a related study, the Hershey’s Department of Health and Well Being announced findings that eating large quantities of dark chocolate will make you more attractive to the opposite sex and the Pepsi Truth Institute found that copious amounts of carbonated beverages prolong erections in men and increase breast size in women.

    Obviously Pepsi and Hershey haven’t funded those imaginary studies but I wouldn’t put it past them.

  5. If you really want to add whole grains to your diet,
    visit your local health food store. Cereals are way over processed!

  6. Sometimes to attract the attention costumer and influence them to buy, some companies do the same as that done by the cheerios. But usually there is valid data that support the recognition so that can prove to the customer if there is a complain on their statement

  7. As a person who does this for a living, I just have to say: For a cholesterol test, the range of error between test days and times for the same person (!) is over 30%. Anything that claims less change by using a product or doing an activity does not actually matter. Notice they say lowers it 10%, but compared to what exactly?

  8. Im with Frank! Besides, How satisfying can 3 servings of cheerios, everyday, for a month be? Its not its all that healthy for ya anyway.

  9. Most processed foods have very minimal nutritional value if any. Some of these manufacturers are removing the actual “bran” or coat, which is sifted and seperated out during processing the flour used in the cereal. The bran is the ingredient that can reduce LDL cholesterol. After reading your blog, I read the ingredients on the box, and they claim “(includes the oat bran)” after the lead ingredient, “Whole Grain Oats”. At least it’s better than some of the alternatives available. I often wonder if these claims on packaging are really true and is anyone checking them?
    I enjoy your blogs!

  10. Unfortunately, the person responsible for marketing in this company forgot that people keep tabs on such issues. Anyway, I know that whole grain cereals reduce cholesterol because of their high soluble fiber. So don’t concentrate on how many days it takes to lower cholesterol, as that is just campaign, look at the ingredients.

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