The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow a qualified health claim linking olive oil to reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

The FDA said there is limited but not conclusive evidence that suggests that consumers may reduce their risk of heart disease by substituting monounsaturated fat from olive oil in place of foods high in saturated fat, while at the same time not increasing the total number of calories consumed daily.

Olive oil is one of the main components of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is high in unsaturated fats from vegetable oil, nuts and such fish as salmon and tuna. Mortality rates dropped by more than 50 percent among elderly Europeans who stuck to such diets and led healthy lifestyles, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September.

"With this claim, consumers can make more informed decisions about maintaining healthy dietary practices," said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, Acting FDA Commissioner. "Since coronary heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., it is a public health priority to make sure that consumers have accurate and useful information on reducing their risk."

A qualified health claim on a conventional food must be supported by credible scientific evidence. Based on a systematic evaluation of the available scientific data, FDA said it is allowing the claim on food labels and the labeling of olive oil and certain foods that contain olive oil.

The agency will permit a health claim along these lines:

Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product [Name of food] contains [x] grams of olive oil."

This claim is the third qualified health claim FDA has announced for conventional food since the process for establishing such claims took effect last year. In March, the agency said "supportive but not conclusive research" shows eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day may reduce coronary heart disease risk. In September, it issued a similar qualified claim for the heart-healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.