The claim indicates that these products carry the heart health benefit when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Products that will be allowed to carry the claim must contain at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving, and include whole barley and dry milled barley products such as flakes, grits, flour, meal and barley meal.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a global killer responsible for 500,000 deaths per year in the US alone. Risk factors for the disease include high cholesterol levels. And scientific evidence has shown that the consumption of barley could help reduce cholesterol levels.
In a study published in 2003, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service revealed that a diet high in soluble fiber had the greatest effect on reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Levels of HDL (good) cholesterol either increased or did not change, resulting in an improved total LDL/HDL ratio.
And according to researchers, grains such as barley and oats could also reduce risk factors associated with excess weight and type 2 diabetes.
"Promoting health by helping people get better nutrition information about the foods they eat is among FDA's top priorities, because the choices that Americans make about their diet have a great impact on their well-being," said FDA deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs Scott Gottlieb.
He added that the FDA "rewards companies that make healthier products while we enforce the law against companies that appeal to consumers through false and misleading health claims."
The FDA is authorizing food manufacturers to immediately use the health claim for barley and the reduced risk of coronary heart disease through the issuance of an interim final rule, it said in a statement.
According to a recent report, the entire fiber market in the US was worth $192.8 million in 2004, $176.2 million of which is insoluble fiber and $16.6 million soluble.
And Frost and Sullivan predicts the overall market to grow to $470 million by 2011, with the soluble fiber sector expected to increase by almost twice the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) compared to insoluble fiber - 26.3 percent compared to 13.1 percent.
Fiber is edible matter, often from plants, that is not absorbed by the small intestine. When it passes through to the large intestine, soluble fiber, such as beta-glucan from oats and barley, is fermented. It is understood to help slow blood glucose absorption and have a prebiotic effect (stimulate probiotic bacteria in the gut).
American adults are recommended to consume between 28 and 35g of fiber per day, but in practice most people consume only 15g.