FDA Approves the First Qualified Health Claim: Tree Nuts and Heart Disease Prevention Takes the Lead

DAVIS, CA, July 15, 2003 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved the first qualified health claim for a food for immediate use on package labels. The claim states, “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. [See nutrition information for fat content.] ” This FDA announcement comes in response to a petition filed by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF) in August 2002.

“More than 30 studies have shown that including nuts in the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease regardless of the individual nut studied,” said Guy Johnson, Ph.D., nutrition consultant to INC NREF and author of the INC NREF health claim petition. All tree nuts are good sources of “healthy” unsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, and contain a variety of other potential cardio-protective components such as vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, copper, potassium, betasitosterol and omega-3 fatty acids. Moreover, the evidence strongly suggests that simply including a handful, or one and a half ounces, of nuts per day in the typical American diet, without any other changes, will have a significant benefit to public health.

“Nuts not only taste great, but they’re convenient and they can easily be included in any meal plan,” explained Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and Nutrition Coordinator for INC NREF. Nuts are also filling, which can be useful in weight control. Since each nut has its own nutritional benefits, choose from any of your favorite nuts. A 1½-ounce portion can be eaten as a snack, or enjoyed throughout the day in main dishes or sprinkled on yogurt, salads, soups or pasta. “Portion size is very important,” explains Ternus, “and this health claim can be used as an educational tool to help individuals incorporate nuts into a heart healthy diet.”

“We’re very pleased that FDA has acknowledged the important role that nuts can play in reducing the risk of heart disease,” said Doug Youngdahl, Chair of INC NREF. Heart disease remains the number one killer in the U.S. Research suggests that eating just 1½ ounces of nuts per day has the potential to reduce the incidence of CHD in this country by as much as 30-50%. A 30% reduction in CHD incidence could save 138,000 lives, prevent 600,000 hospitalizations, and reduce direct health care costs by $16 billion per year. “A claim such as this can help empower people to make smart choices when it comes to diet and health,” said Youngdahl.