The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday cleared the qualified health claim that walnuts may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when consumed as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet.
"Today's action by the FDA affirms the body of walnuts research, which began in 1993 with the landmark Loma Linda University study conducted by Dr. Joan Sabate, showing walnuts lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol by as much as 16 per cent," said Dennis Balint, CEO of the California Walnut Commission, the organisation that petitioned the FDA for the claim.
Walnuts, one of the oldest food ingredients known to mankind, are a rich plant source of alpha-linolenic acid, a key essential fatty acid from which omega-3 fatty acids are derived. An increasing body of scientific literature suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids that are present in walnuts help protect people against heart disease.
"Last week the University of Barcelona announced its study published in Circulation which shows a diet including walnuts can reverse artery damage," added Balint.
For the first time Spanish scientists found that a whole food, not its isolated components, demonstrated a beneficial effect on heart health. The small study, conducted at the Lipid Clinic in Barcelona, substituted walnuts for about one-third of the calories from olives, olive oil, and other monounsaturated fats in a Mediterranean diet.
Walnuts were found to increase the elasticity of arteries by 64 per cent, and to reduce cell adhesion molecules associated with hardening of the arteries by 20 per cent.
The FDA move this week to clear the qualified claim for whole or chopped walnuts in a conventional food was based on scientific evidence provided by the walnut industry. FDA's review concluded that 'supportive research shows that walnuts may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when consumed as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet and not resulting in increased caloric intake.'
"While this research is not conclusive, FDA believes that consumers will benefit from having information that may help them improve their dietary health, " said the government body.
As a result, consumers will soon see claims on walnuts stating: "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 oz of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. See nutrition information for fat [and calorie] content."
The claim brings added-value to the ingredient and with it the potential to crank up sales as food manufacturers slice take up the opportunity to slice into the growing health-promoting food market. In the US the California walnut is the number one ingredient nut, representing over half of supermarket sales of shelled cooking nuts, said the US walnut commission quoting statistics from IRI infoscan.