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Almonds get the FDA nod of approval

Go Nuts

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, and we have evidence that the FDA actually found a nut (both literally and figuratively) when agency officials gave almonds a nod of approval.

In a 2003 “Letter of Enforcement Discretion,” companies that supply products made of five varieties of nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts – were given the OK to 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.”

Fast-forward to March 2005: A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports on a trial of 16 adults who consumed three controlled diets; a diet without almonds, a diet in which 10 percent of the calories were supplied by almonds (low-almond diet), and a diet in which almonds accounted for 20 percent of the calories (high-almond diet).

When blood levels were checked for tocopherol (vitamin E), researchers found that levels of the vitamin were increased by nearly 14 percent by the low-almond diet, and nearly 20 percent by the high-almond diet. Those in the high-almond group also had a 7 percent drop in the LDL cholesterol level.

Of course, HSI members have known for years that nuts provide good nutrition. But what about those other nuts (cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts) that the FDA says have too much saturated fat? Are these four outlaws unhealthy?

You’d have to be nuts to 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 Daily Dose newsletter, William Campbell Douglass II, 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.

So what 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 carb-o-meter is the pecan, with just 1 net carb per ounce.

The good stuff

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. If you’re not an almond-lover, you can choose hazelnuts to boost vitamin E levels.

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.

“Almonds in the Diet Simultaneously Improve Plasma Alpha-Tocopherol Concentrations and Reduce Plasma Lipids” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 105, No. 3, March 2005,
“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,
“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,