FDA labels peanuts as ‘healthy’

By Shelby Jefcoat
University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reevaluating conventional attitudes about fats and asking nutritionists their advice about whether heart-healthy fats, like those in peanuts, should be labeled “healthy.”

In the past, U.S. nutrition policy has linked all fats with weight gain, heart disease, and harmful cholesterol. But experts now are telling people to monitor the type of fat they eat rather than avoid fat altogether.  

Good fats, monounsaturated fats like those found in peanuts and tree nuts provide energy, help bodies absorb vitamins and minerals, and contribute to other functions within the body.  Though the FDA previously used a “fat-free” label to indicate a healthier choice, “fat is a nutrient necessary for your health,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In contrast, foods that contain trans fats do, in fact, impact health in a negative way. Products like commercially baked cookies, chips, and candy are common sources of bad trans fat.  Buttered microwave popcorn, for example, can be high in trans fat, some brands reaching up to 5 grams per serving.

A handful of peanuts for a snack not only avoids these harmful fats, but also delivers a dose of protein and fiber that can satisfy hunger faster and longer. For example, a cup of peanuts (146 grams) contains just 6 grams of sugars, but has 35 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber. On the other hand, three Oreo cookies (25 grams) has 14 grams of sugar, just 2 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. And the peanuts will deliver 29% of the potassium a person needs for the day; the cookies don’t offer any potassium.  

“The marketplace is teeming with rows and rows of foods – some new and some not; some healthier than others. Even for the well informed, choosing what to buy is challenging, especially if you want to choose a healthy diet for you and your families,” said Douglas Balentine, the director of FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling. Modernizing nutrition labels is about helping busy people to see and make informed choices for themselves, but also could push product innovation among food companies, Balentine said.

“We want to give consumers the best tools and information about the foods they choose, with the goal of improving public health. And, we will also engage with industry to explore other ways to encourage companies to change their products to have better nutrition profiles. The end result will be more healthy dietary choices for consumers, and that is a worthy goal,” he said.

To find out more about the FDA’s work to define “healthy” or to leave a comment, go to the agency’s website.

Published on October 20, 2016