Cheerios . . . the wonder drug?
That's what the Food and Drug Administration appears to be wondering.
The FDA has sent a warning letter to General Mills Inc., telling the Minneapolis company that its claims about the health benefits of eating Cheerios "would cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease."
Because Cheerios is a food, not a drug, specific claims that the 68-year-old whole-grain oat cereal lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer violate federal law, the FDA said in the letter sent May 5 and made public Tuesday.
The agency allows health benefits of foods to be advertised within strict limits.
For instance, a company can tout its product while saying that a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber-rich fruit, vegetables and whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease.
"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," the FDA said.
The agency singled out assertions that eating Cheerios can "lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks." The FDA said the cereal must be approved as a drug for General Mills to make such specific health claims.
General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe said the firm would work with the FDA to resolve the issues. "The science is not in question," he said.