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The new designation signifies a shift in how we view saturated fats.

Mike Pomranz
July 25, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration has given macadamia nut sellers permission to start using a new qualified health claim, letting consumers know that evidence shows that eating the nuts may be good for your heart. However, health pundits suggest that the decision may have ramifications beyond the macadamia world seeing as these nuts have higher levels of saturated fats than would typically qualify for such a claim. As a result, the FDA’s new decision could indicate a shift in the organization’s attitude toward fats.

The FDA’s ruling comes in response to a nearly two-year-old petition from Royal Hawaiian Macadamia Nut. In that 78 page document, the Hawaiian nut producer provided evidence from 74 publications supporting the potential benefits of its product. In the end, the FDA decided to allow specific wording as a “qualified health claim,” as opposed to an “authorized FDA health claim,” meaning manufacturers still have to include an accompanying disclaimer. The allowed language: “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.” Not exactly slogan material, but it's a start.

As FoodNavigator-USA points out, this determination may be significant beyond the health effects of macadamia nuts. Typically, FDA regulations haven’t allowed products with saturated fat levels above 4 grams per 50 gram serving to qualify for a health claim. With 6.03 grams of saturated fat per 50 grams, macadamia nuts have somehow been able to escape that restriction. To justify this choice, the FDA wrote that “macadamia nuts have a favorable ratio of unsaturated fat to saturated fat (5:1) and contain other potentially beneficial substances such as dietary fiber and phytosterols” so such a claim “might assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices.” In recent years, attitudes toward the negative ramifications of naturally-occurring fats in foods have been shifting. Apparently, the FDA may agree.

Meanwhile, Royal Hawaiian Macadamia Nut called the decision a “milestone” that “marks a significant evolution in the recognition of macadamia nuts as a potentially healthful food, which will positively benefit the entire macadamia nut industry.” Like anyone needed an excuse to eat macadamia nuts.