by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Nuts

Jul 22 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Walnuts

Replacing Saturated Fat With Walnuts or Vegetable Oils Improves Central Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids in Adults at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease: A Randomized Controlled‐Feeding Trial.  Alyssa M. Tindall, et al. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8:May 7, 2019.

Conclusions: “Replacing saturated fatty acids (FAs) with 57 to 99 g/d of walnuts for 6 weeks reduced central diastolic blood pressure compared with a diet similarly low in saturated FAs but with lower α‐linolenic acid content…This study represents a feasible food‐based approach for replacing saturated FAs with unsaturated FAs (including α‐linolenic acid) from walnuts and vegetable oils, demonstrating that relatively small dietary changes can reduce cardiovascular risk.

Funding: This study was funded by the California Walnut Commission…The California Walnut Commission provided funds for the research conducted. The commission’s staff was not involved with any aspects of conducting the study, analyzing the data, or interpreting the results reported in this article.

Comment: Walnuts, like pretty much all other nuts and seeds, contain healthy fats and other nutrients.  When substituted for unhealthier foods, they would be expected to demonstrate improvements.  This study contributes no new information and there is only one reason to do it: marketing (as I discuss in Unsavory Truth).  The California Walnut Commission wants you to eat more walnuts.  Trade associations or producers of pecans, macadamia nuts. pistachios, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and any other nut you can think of have the same goal.  Do they all have to do this kind of research?  Apparently so.

Mixed nuts, anyone?

Jun 17 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: this time, Pistachios

Pistachio consumption modulates DNA oxidation and genes related to telomere maintenance: a crossover randomized clinical trial.
Silvia Canudas, Pablo Hernández-Alonso, Serena Galié, Jananee Muralidharan, Lydia Morell-Azanza, Guillermo Zalba, Jesús García-Gavilán,1Amelia Martí, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, and Mònica Bulló.  Am J Clin Nutr 2019;0:1–8.

Conclusions: “Chronic pistachio consumption reduces oxidative damage to DNA and increases the gene expression of some telomere-associated genes. Lessening oxidative damage to DNA and telomerase expression through diet may represent an intriguing way to promote healthspan in humans, reversing certain deleterious metabolic consequences of prediabetes.”

Funding: “The Western Pistachio Association( USA) and Paramount Farms [which grows pistachios and is owned by POM Wonderful] supported the trial… None of the funding sources played a role in the design, collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data, or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.”

Comment: I love pistachios.  Like other seeds and nuts, pistachios provide healthy fats and other nutrient along with their calories.  POM Wonderful is notorious for spending fortunes on research to prove the health benefits of the nuts and fruits it produces.  These are, of course, high on the recommended-for-health list.  Therefore, as I discuss in Unsavory Truth, such studies are about marketing, not science.

Jan 21 2019

Industry-funded request of the week: prove peanuts healthy

Peanuts are delicious when freshly roasted—I always keep some on hand—and they are highly nutritious, despite their calories.

But the peanut industry must not think sales are high enough (oh those sales-inhibiting peanut allergies).

Its trade group, The Peanut Institute, has issued a Call for Research Proposals.

We are currently requesting human peanut nutrition research proposals with an emphasis on the effect of consuming peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products on: (1) cognition/brain health, (2) chronic disease risk and outcomes, (3) diet quality, and (4) gut microbiome in various populations. Other research areas that increase the understanding of peanut consumption and human health are encouraged. All novel and noteworthy proposals that advance the health and wellness message of peanuts will be reviewed [my emphasis].

The Peanut Institute is not interested in funding open-ended research exploring the effects of peanuts on health.

Instead, it intends only to consider proposals designed to prove benefits.  This is marketing research, not basic science.

As I demonstrated in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, the basic observation is this: industry-funded research almost always favors the sponsor’s product.

I discuss similar requests from other trade groups in that book.  Guess what.  The funders usually get what they ask for.

Dec 17 2018

Industry-funded study of the week: Hazelnuts

My most recent book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, provides many examples of industry-funded studies with results favorable to their sponsor’s marketing interests.  This “funding effect” shows up mostly in the framing of the research question.

Here is this week’s example, one so explicitly designed to sell hazelnuts that you can guess the funder from the title.

The study: Alexander J Michels, Scott W Leonard, Sandra L Uesugi, Gerd Bobe, Balz Frei, and Maret G Traber.  Daily Consumption of Oregon Hazelnuts Affects α-Tocopherol Status in Healthy Older Adults: A Pre-Post Intervention Study. J Nutr 2018;148:1924–1930.

Methods: Subjects consumed ∼57 g hazelnuts/d and were asked to refrain from eating all other nuts, seeds, and many vitamin E– and magnesium-rich food items.

Results: Hazelnut consumption increased concentrations of the urinary α-tocopherol [Vitamin E] metabolite…In addition, hazelnut consumption increased serum concentrations of magnesium.

Conclusions: Consuming hazelnuts improves a biomarker of vitamin E status in older adults…thus, hazelnuts should be considered as part of a healthy dietary pattern.

Funding: Supported by the Oregon State University Foundation (to BF) and the Hazelnut Marketing Board of Oregon (to BF).

My Comment: I love hazelnuts for their crunch and how they taste.  They have nutrients.  If you don’t eat anything else with vitamin E or magnesium, eating them will of course increase your consumption of those nutrients, and you don’t need a clinical trial to prove it.

That’s why I think studies like this are more about marketing than science.  A news account—although it reads like a press release–-quotes co-author Alex Michels:

Not that we think Oregon hazelnuts are much different than other sources…but now the booming crop that we have in this state finally has science behind it. Perhaps other benefits of Oregon hazelnuts are awaiting future study.

Jul 23 2018

Burning question: are almond and soy “milks” milk?

Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the FDA, says his agency will take up the vexing question of what to call “milks” made from soy, almonds, and other legumes and nuts.

If you look at our standards of identity, there is a reference … to a lactating animal,” Gottlieb said during an interview at the POLITICO Pro Summit. “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess. So the question becomes, ‘Have we been enforcing the standard of identity?’ And the answer is probably not.”

The dairy industry does not want these products called “milk” (see discussion of the “war over soy milk,” in the New Republic).  It argues that they do not meet the standard of identity for milk, but also that they are less nutritious.

The Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-based meat, dairy and egg substitutes, petitioned FDA to set some rules for this.  Its view is that manufacturers of dairy alternatives have a First Amendment right to describe their products as they like (also see the Institute’s letter to the FDA).

Gottlieb says the FDA will soon open the question up for public comment.

If these products cannot be called milk, what can they be called?  On this, I defer to The Onion.

As for whether almond milk is milk, here is the ingredient list for the Almond Breeze product:

ALMONDMILK (FILTERED WATER, ALMONDS), CALCIUM CARBONATE, SEA SALT, POTASSIUM CITRATE, SUNFLOWER LECITHIN, GELLAN GUM, NATURAL FLAVORS, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D2, D-ALPHA-TOCOPHEROL (NATURAL VITAMIN E).

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Aug 7 2017

FDA allows Macadamia Nuts health claim: will they use this?

Since I don’t want to be accused of making things up, I herewith reprint the FDA notice in its entirety.

FDA Completes Review of Qualified Health Claim Petition for Macadamia Nuts and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

July 24, 2017

After conducting a systematic review of the available scientific data, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now intends to exercise enforcement discretion over the use of a qualified health claim characterizing the relationship between consumption of macadamia nuts and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The claim, which manufacturers can use immediately, reads:

“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces per day of macadamia nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and not resulting in increased intake of saturated fat or calories may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. See nutrition information for fat [and calorie] content.”

The qualified health claim was in response to a petition filed by Royal Hawaiian Macadamia Nut, Inc. Qualified health claims are supported by scientific evidence, but do not meet the more rigorous “significant scientific agreement” standard required for an authorized FDA health claim. As such, they must be accompanied by a disclaimer or other qualifying language so that the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim is accurately communicated.

For More Information

For the record, I love macadamia nuts.  Will this sell them?  Can’t wait to see.

Apr 7 2013

The Mediterranean diet: a delicious way to prevent heart disease?

In my April (first Sunday) Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle, I catch up with the Mediterranean diet study first published online on February 25 (and widely publicized), and just now in print in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Q: I read about a study (New England Journal of Medicine, April 4) claiming that Mediterranean diets prevent heart attacks. Does this mean I can stop worrying about eating pasta?

A: That study, alas, was not about pasta. It wasn’t really about Mediterranean diets, either. Instead, it was about the benefits of supplementing healthy, largely vegetarian diets with olive oil or nuts.

We usually think of Mediterranean diets as offering lots of vegetables and fruit, some fish or poultry, small amounts of pasta, olive oil as the main fat, everything cooked wonderfully and accompanied by wine.

For years, studies of such diets have shown them to be associated with much lower rates of heart disease than are typically found in groups following “Western” diets. Studies of the effects of individual components of Mediterranean diets, however, have not always yielded such consistent results.

Used a control group

In the study you are referring to, investigators in Spain advised two groups of participants to follow a Mediterranean diet, but a control group to eat a low-fat diet. Advising people to eat in a certain way does not necessarily mean that they will. To make sure the diets differed, the investigators divided the Mediterranean diet advisees into two groups.

At no cost to participants, they gave one group a liter of extra virgin olive oil a week, with instructions to use at least 4 tablespoons daily. They gave the other Mediterranean diet group an ounce of mixed nuts a day to eat at least three times a week. They measured biomarkers in the participants’ blood to confirm that they really ate the supplements.

The results were impressive. Although there were no differences in overall mortality in nearly five years, the two supplemented-Mediterranean diet groups displayed about a 30 percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks and strokes as compared with the group advised to eat a low-fat diet.

But, because they did not find much change in the participants’ dietary patterns, the investigators concluded that the extra virgin olive oil and nut supplements must have been responsible for the observed health benefits.

What does the Mediterranean dietary pattern have to do with these results? Extra virgin olive oil and nuts are components of this pattern. Both contain “good” fats, largely unsaturated or polyunsaturated, and both are high in certain phenolic antioxidants.

These features have been recognized for decades. The Mediterranean diet came to public attention in America in the early 1990s as a result of efforts of the International Olive Oil Council, a trade group established by the United Nations.

The council recruited a group in Boston, Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, to promote olive oil to American chefs, nutritionists and food writers. If, they said, we ate diets similar to those followed by the Greeks and southern Italians since ancient times, we might also achieve similar levels of health and longevity.

The council and Oldways based this idea on the results of research initiated soon after World War II. In the late 1940s, Rockefeller University sent investigators to the island of Crete to find out why its people, although living in extreme poverty, were so healthy. Once past infancy, people on Crete displayed the highest longevity in the world, rivaled only by the Japanese.

Subsequent Seven Countries studies conducted by Ancel Keys and his colleagues appeared to confirm the health benefits of Mediterranean dietary patterns.

Olive oil, nuts critical

Olive oil or nuts seem critical to these benefits. Besides their fat and phenol content, both are wonderful to eat. Olive oil tastes good by itself and it makes other foods, particularly vegetables, taste delicious. Nuts enliven any dish. So research on Mediterranean diets brought good news. You could eat delicious food – and it would be good for you.

The Mediterranean diet took hold. In the early 1990s, you had to search hard for a decent bottle of extra virgin olive oil; now almost any supermarket carries several brands, many of high quality. Except during the sad, but blessedly brief, low-carb era, the Mediterranean diet became mainstream.

But let’s be clear about what the Mediterranean diet is and is not. It is a model of the largely plant-based dietary pattern recommended by health agencies in the United States and worldwide. It does not mean supersize bowls of macaroni smothered in cheese.

Olive oil and nuts, for all their virtues, are loaded with calories. The Spanish study’s 4 tablespoons provide 400 calories. An ounce of mixed nuts is about 200. Include them in your diet by all means, but most definitely in moderation.

I think the best reason for following a Mediterranean diet is that its foods are terrific to eat. Pasta, vegetables, a fish, some good bread, and a glass of wine? Sounds good to me, any time.

Marion Nestle is the author of “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” as well as “Food Politics” and “What to Eat,” among other books. She is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University, and blogs at foodpolitics.com. E-mail:food@sfchronicle.com. 

Aug 22 2012

Entertaining nutrition research: “nutrifluff”

I consider the results of studies showing remarkable health benefits attributed to single foods or single nutrients to be “nutrifluff”—fun, but not necessarily meaningful unless you are eating a healthy diet anyway.

Here are four recent examples:

Dark chocolate reduces heart disease risk: Everybody loves this one—an excuse to eat chocolate (but only the dark, bitter kind, alas).  This comes from a Cochrane meta-analysis of studies on the role of flavonols in blood pressure.  It concludes that chocolate eating is associated with a small reduction in blood pressure of 2 to 3 mm Hg—but only in short-term trials.  How many of the studies were sponsored by chocolate companies?  The report doesn’t say.

Apple peel extracts reduce blood pressure: Apples also have flavonols.  These were test-tube studies.  Note: Eating fruits and vegetables in general is associated with lower blood pressure.

Walnuts boost semen quality: Here’s a fun one.  Eat 75 grams of walnuts a day, and you improve your sperm vitality, motility, and morphology, at least if you are age 21 to 35 (and male).  This one was sponsored by the California Walnut Commission.  One report on this study has the best title ever: “Nuts for your nuts.”

Goji berries promote immune function in the elderly: This one, done by researchers working for Nestlé  (no relation), tested daily supplements of “lacto-wolfberry” on immune responses to influenza vaccine.  I’m assuming Nestlé must be planning to market this supplement.

What does all this tell us?  These kinds of studies confirm that eating fruits and vegetables is good for health (I think we might have known that already).

But the main (perhaps only) reason for doing such studies is for marketing purposes, which is why food companies sponsor them.