Ads claiming Unilever’s Flora Cuisine cooking oil provides “45 percent less saturated fat than olive oil” can stay on the air after United Kingdom advertising watchdog findings they are unlikely to mislead viewers.

The product – a blend of sunflower, linseed and rapeseed oils – is promoted as heart healthy for frying, roasting and baking.

The ads feature English TV presenter Vernon Kay and show his mother Gladys pouring the oil into a frying pan. He says “What’s that?” and she replies, “Flora Cuisine, 45 percent less saturated fat than olive oil.”

In a decision published on August 15, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said a viewer had challenged whether the saturated fat claim was misleading and the comparison flawed

But the ASA dismissed the complaint “because we considered that consumers would replace the amount of olive oil they ordinarily used with the same amount of Flora Cuisine and because the end result would be that switching from olive oil to Flora Cuisine would still reduce the saturated fat content by 45 percent overall.”

In a separate adjudication published on August 8, the ASA addressed the concerns of six complainants over the same lower saturated fat claim and the mother telling her son “I’m looking after your little ticker”.

The complainants felt these claims incorrectly implied that Flora Cuisine had health benefits for the heart that olive oil did not and were therefore misleading and unable to be substantiated.

But their case was not upheld by the ASA for reasons including that Flora Cuisine’s Omega 3 fatty acid content and role in reducing saturated fat intake “contributed to the normal functioning of the heart.”

In its finding, the ASA included information from Unilever’s response including what the company said was an extensive study of the saturated fat content in a wide range of olive oil products in the UK.

“They provided documentation which showed that the lowest saturated fat content of any competitor’s olive oil product surveyed contained 13g of saturated fat per 100ml, compared to Flora Cuisine which contained 7g per 100ml.”

The ASA also noted in its finding that under European Commission Regulation (EU) No 432/2012, non-specific health claims – such as the ad’s “I’m looking after your little ticker” – must be accompanied by an authorised specific claim as of December 14.

The ads have sparked consumer debate on the merits of the different oils with questions and comments in forums and blogs including over at “the food lover’s diary” where it’s stressed that among the factors in olive oil’s favor are its antioxidants, such as hydroxytyrosol, and higher proportion of monounsaturated fat.

Meanwhile, the organization that advises the EC on food health claims, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), recently reassessed its earlier finding that evidence put to it was insufficient to establish a cause and effect relationship between the consumption of olive oil polyphenols (standardised by the content of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives) and maintenance of normal blood HDL cholesterol concentrations.

In an opinion published on August 7, EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies said “no data were submitted which would require a reconsideration.”

“In the framework of further assessment nine human intervention and four animal studies were provided. The Panel notes that none of these studies allowed conclusions to be drawn for the scientific substantiation of the claim owing to the fact that the content of hydroxytyrosol or its derivatives (e.g. oleuropein complex) in the olive oils administered in the studies was not reported, that studies showed major methodological limitations, and that results from rat studies could not be extrapolated to humans because of differences in lipid metabolism between these two species.”

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