Walnuts Make History with the FDA
A Healthnotes Newswire Opinion
For the first time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to allow a qualified health claim to be printed on a food label, to appear on packages of walnuts. Previously, the FDA’s strict guidelines, which required almost definitive proof, prevented manufacturers from communicating health benefits of foods to consumers, even when the evidence supporting a health claim is fairly strong. This in turn has prevented consumers from making more healthful nutrition choices. The FDA’s new direction in labeling will allow the public to more easily learn about reasonably demonstrated health benefits of foods
In a statement released in March 2004, the FDA announced that it will permit labels on packages of whole and chopped walnuts to state that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts every day might reduce the risk of heart disease. This claim will be qualified with the statement that the scientific evidence of walnuts’ protective effect is supportive but not conclusive, and a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol without increased overall calorie intake is necessary in order for walnuts to benefit health. Although the FDA considers the evidence for this claim to be inconclusive, it made the decision to allow the claim in order to help consumers make more informed and healthful dietary choices.
The qualified health claim for walnuts is the first of its kind approved under the FDA’s “Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements,” issued in July 2003. This document outlines the conditions under which permission will be granted to manufacturers who want labels that make health claims supported by clinical trials, but have not been proven definitively. The wording of each qualified health claim depends on the findings of a panel of experts who evaluate the quantity and quality of the evidence.
In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that people who eat nuts are healthier than people who don’t. Studies have consistently shown that eating walnuts, in particular, can protect against heart disease. Blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides decrease when walnuts are added to the diet, while levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol increase. At least seven controlled trials have demonstrated these specific effects, and several others have found that making healthful dietary changes, which include eating walnuts, can lead to similar benefits. There is no evidence that eating walnuts has any detrimental effects—not even weight gain. Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, as well as other healthful nutrients such as antioxidants, fiber, and folic acid, that might contribute to their protective effects.
The decision by the FDA to allow this qualified health claim for walnuts is likely to help dispel the mistaken perception that all fatty foods are bad. By allowing a more reasonable level of scientific proof to determine labeling claims, it also sets an excellent precedent that will result in a better informed—and, therefore, presumably healthier—public.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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