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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has loosened restrictions on how much scientific proof is required before possible health benefits appear on food labels. For example, the FDA now allows sellers of certain nuts to claim that "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of some nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

The FDA will not allow all nuts to have labels that they can help prevent heart attacks. They allow almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts to claim heart attack -prevention, while they do not allow macadamia to make the same claim because macadamia nuts contain more saturated fat. Saturated fats in meat, chicken and whole milk diary products have been shown to increase risk for heart attacks, but only when a person takes in too many calories. There is no evidence that saturated fats in nuts such as macadamia nuts increase risk for heart attacks.

Saturated fats are supposed to increase risk for heart attacks, while monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are supposed to decrease risk. However, it's not that simple. Polyunsaturated fats are classified into omega-3s and omega-6s. Eating a ratio of one half of omega-3s to omega 6s decreases risk for heart attacks, while a ratio much greater than that increases risk. There is no proof that certain nuts will prevent heart attacks, while others will not. It makes no sense to discriminate against coconuts or macademia nuts, which contain primarily saturated fats, because nobody has shown that saturated fats in coconuts, macadamia nuts or any other nut increase risk for heart attacks. Saturated fats are broken down into two carbon acetone units that your liver can assemble to make cholesterol. If you do not take in more calories than you need, the two-carbon acetone units are used for energy and will not be used to make cholesterol.

A manufacturer cannot claim that a product prevents heart attacks just because it contains nuts. For example, putting nuts in ice cream will not allow a manufacturer to claim that their ice cream prevents heart attacks.

Sellers of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids will also want to claim that their products prevent heart attacks, but they prevent heart attacks only when a person does not take in too many calories, does not eat too much saturated and partially hydrogenated fats, and DOES eat lots of vegetables and other foods derived from plants. You cannot say that eating nuts prevents heart attacks, but you can say that eating nuts as PART OF A HEALTHFUL DIET helps to prevent heart attacks.

Checked 5/3/07

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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