Dairy producers have been given the green light to make health claims relating to ingredients that reduce the risk of heart disease.

This week plant stanol esters a key ingredient in Benecol were confirmed as having cholesterol-lowering qualities under EU health claims regulations.

This is the first time a disease risk reduction claim has been authorised for foods. The announcement means Benecol will be able to make the health claim on packs and in advertising.

"Approval of the disease risk reduction claim is an exciting step in helping consumers make an informed choice about which foods are proven to have a positive impact on health," said Benecol marketing manager Esther van Onselen.

The British Heart Found­ation says coronary heart disease, which can be caused by high levels of cholesterol, is the most common cause of death in the UK.