Nut case

Nut Case

Even when the FDA watchdogs get close to getting it right, they seem to choke at the last minute. That’s what happened earlier this month when they announced the shocking news that – are you sitting down? – nuts can be healthy for your heart.

For HSI members this isn’t news, of course. For years we’ve been telling you about the different ways that nuts can help keep you healthy. But now, FDA officials have finally caught up with the real world, announcing that the producers of some nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts) and nut products will be allowed make this claim:

“Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Oh come on, guys! Just come out and say it: Nuts are good for you!

But before you take their qualified, carefully worded “endorsement” to heart, you should know there are four nut varieties, that didn’t make the cut. According to the FDA, cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts have too much saturated fat. So does that mean that these four outlaws are unhealthy?

Don’t you believe it.

Fat chance

During America’s low-fat mania of the 80s and 90s, nuts got a bad rap. “Too high in fat,” went the thinking. And the over-simplified, flawed logic followed: fat intake raises cholesterol, cholesterol causes heart disease, therefore; nuts contribute to heart disease. Verdict: Nuts are bad for you. Case closed.

The irony is that anyone who paid attention to that misguided advice was rejecting a natural method to help prevent heart disease, and an excellent source of fiber, protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Fortunately, long-term studies were underway that would eventually dispel the nonsense. Research from the Iowa Women’s Study (more than 40,000 postmenopausal women followed for eight years) showed that subjects who ate nuts on a regular basis reduced their heart disease risk by 40 percent. And in the similar Nurses’ Health Study, those who ate five or more ounces of nuts each day had a 39 percent lower risk of a fatal heart attack than women who never ate nuts at all.

These are just two of many studies that refuted the idea that fat content automatically upped the risk of heart disease.

In his Real Health newsletter last summer (August 2002), William Campbell Douglass, M.D., summed up the situation, stating, “It is simply wrong to blame fats for degenerative conditions. The scientific research and the historical data of tribal eating habits simply don’t support the saturated fat/atherosclerosis theory of heart disease.”

And addressing nuts specifically in the same newsletter, Dr. Douglass said, “What the nutrition experts won’t admit is that nuts keep you slimmer because they’re ‘fattier’ than other snacks. Their fat content fills you up on much less than you would eat of other foods like pretzels.”

Dr. Douglass’ recommendation: “Forget the past 30 years of nutritional hogwash: fat does NOT make you fat! So go ahead, eat all the nuts you want.”

The carb issue

As is typical of the mainstream, the tunnel vision focus of nuts has been on fat.

Sowhat about carbohydrates?

Because nuts have good fiber, carbohydrate content isn’t a serious issue (unless you’re on a zero-carb diet). But if you’re trying to curb the carbs, the nut to avoid is the cashew. One ounce of cashews (about a handful) contains 9 grams of carbs, but only one gram of fiber. That’s 8 net carbs, and no other nut comes close to that amount. The next highest in the carb category is the pistachio with 5 net carbs. Most of the others have only two or three net carbs.

The lowest on the carbo-meter is the pecan, with just 1 net carb per ounce.

The good stuff

Last week, in the e-Alert “The Fix is In” (7/22/03), I told you that walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. But walnuts also deliver vitamin B-6 and folate. And this packaging of multiple nutrients is typical among all the nuts.

If you want more calcium in your diet, almonds are a good source. They also deliver magnesium, which helps the absorption of calcium. Good amounts of vitamin E are found in both almonds and hazelnuts. Pecans have copper and potassium (as do hazelnuts). The ubiquitous peanut contains good amounts of niacin, folate, vitamin E, and a rich combination of minerals. And in several e-Alerts I’ve mentioned the high selenium content of Brazil nuts, which also deliver linoleic acid and zinc.

So spread the word: the dark age of nuts has ended. Not because they’ve received a half-hearted FDA seal of approval, but because the evidence of their health benefits has become irrefutable.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

Sources:

“Qualified Health Claims: Letter of Enforcement Discretion – Nuts and Coronary Heart Disease” Food and Drug Administration, Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, 7/14/03, vm.cfsan.fda.gov

“FDA Approves the First Qualified Health Claim – Tree Nuts and Heart Disease Prevention Takes the Lead” International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation, Press Release, 7/15/03, biz.yahoo.com/prnews

“FDA OK’s Nutty Heart Health Claim” Jennifer Warner, WebMD Medical News, 7/17/03, my.webmd.com

“Should You Give Up Nuts, Steak – or Both? Try Neither!” William Campbell Douglass, M.D., Real Health newsletter, 8/1/02

“Nutrients in 1 Ounce of Tree Nuts and Peanuts” USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15, August 2002, nuthealth.org