"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."
That's the claim that will now start appearing on packages of almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts, thanks to a new Food and Drug Administration ruling that allows products to make health claims even when the supporting evidence is not crystal clear.
The FDA ranks claims on a scale from "A" (scientifically proven) down to "D" (almost no evidence). The nut claim received an FDA ranking of "B" (promising evidence).
Actually, my own understanding was that nuts have indeed been proven to help prevent heart disease. According to the book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, written by Dr. Walt Willett with the Harvard School of Public Health (this is my personal nutrition bible, and I suggest you adopt it as yours, too--get more info at The Center for Personal Health Coaching Book Shop), several of the largest long-term health studies have shown that eating a handful of nuts several times a week is linked to a 30 to 50 percent reduced risk of heart disease.
Nuts have plenty of protein and plenty of "good fats." They also have lots of calories, so the ideal strategy is to use them as a replacement for less healthy snacks. Certainly, be wary of their allure and... don't go nuts with them.
Consumer groups worry that the eased restrictions on health claims add to consumer confusion. Based on what we've seen so far, I disagree. In fact, I think that consumers have been confused about whether nuts are a healthful food, and the new claims--especially since they include a serving-size guideline (1.5 ounces, or about a handful)--provide much-needed clarification and guidance. As for activists' concerns that claims receiving less than an "A" rating may someday be proven to be wrong, I have some news (I've tried to make this point many times in this newsletter): Even Grade-A health claims that have been found to be unequivocally documented by scientific research...also are sometimes proven to be wrong.
There are no guarantees.