Peanuts are “heart healthy” — maybe

Today I noticed this text on my jar of peanuts:

Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat & cholesterol & not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Got that?

The phrasing might make one think that peanuts are also low in saturated fat. But according to my jar, 1.5 ounces of them provides 3 grams of saturated fat, or 15% of your US RDA. So as long as that handful of peanuts is only 1/6 of your daily fat consumption, does that count as “low”? Notice you are also not permitted any increase in calories consumed, so if you add the peanuts, you have to take away 260 calories of something else. Or maybe not.

The Peanut Institute (yeah) goes further, calling peanuts “cardioprotective”. Potentially biased sources aside, there does seem to be a pile of studies out there connecting peanut “and tree nut” consumption to decreased heart risk factors (here’s just one). But the waffly nature of the wording struck me as odd.

Although I just noticed it, the FDA approved this “qualified” notice for peanuts in 2003. From the University of Nebraska’s Food Reflections newsletter:

A “qualified” health claim means FDA evaluated the data and determined “though there is scientific evidence to support this claim, the evidence is not conclusive.” A qualified health claim is issued by FDA when it is determined that consumers will benefit from more information on a dietary supplement or conventional food label concerning diet and health even though the claim is based on “somewhat settled science rather than just on the standard of significant scientific agreement, as long as the claims do not mislead the consumers.”

“Somewhat settled science”? Does this mean that there are studies that found different outcomes? I wasn’t able to find any in a quick search of google and google scholar. However, searching for “FDA” and “peanuts” alerted me to a 2009 salmonella outbreak in peanut butter.

I’m also annoyed by the phrasing “most nuts, such as peanuts,” given that peanuts are legumes, not nuts. It *does* seem to be the case that they’re associated with tree nuts in the relevant studies, but still, it’s irritating to see this miscategorization deliberately perpetuated. Would it have been so hard to say “most nuts, as well as peanuts”?