Substituting tree nuts for proteins high in saturated fat may help reduce the risk of heart disease, according to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark B. McClellan.

That is good news for producers of almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamias and hazelnuts.

FDA recently announced a new framework to better inform consumers of science-based information about foods is good news for those who try to eat healthfully by including almonds and other tree nuts in t heir diets.

McClellan said that nutritional qualities of nuts is a key area in which the FDA plans to provide more information to consumers, as the body of research continues to grow regarding nuts' role in reducing the risk of heart disease.

“With such an overwhelming amount of nutrition information out there for consumers, it's terrific that FDA is pledging to be a faster-acting, reliable, definitive resource,” said consumer trend-watcher and “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert. “And its focus on tree nuts' heart-related benefits is a great start, as great news for consumers who mistakenly think nuts are a food to avoid.”

Protein benefits focus

The FDA also will focus on communicating the benefits of getting protein in the diet from certain foods such as almonds. California is the only state in the nation where almonds are produced. This year California producers are expected to harvest their second, consecutive billion pound crop. It is expected to fetch even higher prices for growers than last year's first even billion-pound crop.

It is one of the most profitable crops in the state, driven by double digit growth in demand worldwide. The health benefits of eating almonds is a key factor driving that demand.

Almonds are among the only good sources of protein that are also an excellent source of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, the most potent form of vitamin E. Almond also supply magnesium, fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron in just 164 calories. In addition, nearly 70 percent of the fat in almonds is healthful monounsaturated fat, which research shows helps maintain a healthy cholesterol level.

Moreover, almonds and other nuts contain phytochemicals — plant components that may provide powerful protection against heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases.

In addition to their nutrition, almonds are also recognized for their role in maintaining heart health. For example, two recent studies demonstrate the cholesterol-lowering effects of almonds. A study published in September 2002 in the American Heart Association's publication Circulation reconfirms a growing body of research that almonds may lower “bad” cholesterol levels and help reduce risk of heart disease.

Toronto clinical trial

The clinical trial conducted at the University of Toronto, found that women and men who ate about one ounce (a handful) of almonds each day lowered their LDL cholesterol by 4.4 percent from baseline. The study showed an even greater decrease of 9.4 percent in LDL cholesterol in those who ate about two handfuls of almonds a day, indicating that almonds' effect increases with increased consumption. The study also found that all of the people in the study, regardless of how many almonds they consumed, maintained their weight.

Another study, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also showed almonds' dose-dependent results on cholesterol levels. The study from Loma Linda University placed participants in one of three groups — a high-almond diet, a low-almond diet, or a no-almond diet, and discovered after four weeks an inverse relationship between the number of almonds they ate and their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and other blood lipids. These findings are consistent with a body of research conducted on the role nuts play in heart health.

“Almonds have long been recognized as America's favorite tree nut, and this news provides yet another reason to enjoy their taste, crunch and versatility,” said Craig Duerr, director, global marketing communications for the Almond Board of California.

“We support the FDA in its direction to provide important nutrition information to consumers.”