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Just Say No to Walnuts

It’s easy to feel superior reading stories of our ancestors buying worthless potions from snake oil salesmen.  But a stroll though the aisles of any warehouse style store proves that nothing much has changed.  Every other end cap features a small TV making a pitch for some magic pill or potion that’s long on hype and short on effectiveness.

I don’t keep close track of health woo, but it appears to run on fads just like pop music. A while ago Melatonin was the Britney Spears of their psudo-science.  Acai berries are now Lady Ga Ga.

The ingredients change but the claims remain the same.  On a recent trip through BJs Wholesale club I was subjected to videos claiming some secret combination of herbs and spices would:

  • Melt away belly fat.  Nonsense.  You can burn fat, but you can’t target specific areas.
  • Cleanse and flush your system.  I think this “works” by making people feel miserable for days.  When it’s over they feel great because they’ve stopped taking the crap that was making them feel lousy.  It would be cheaper, and just as effective, to go to the tool section, buy a hammer, and repeatedly whack yourself in the head with it.  When you were finished at least you’d have a hammer.
  • Slow the aging process.  The only way to do that is by accelerating to near light speed, which is difficult to do with pomegranate juice.
  • Run fast, jump high.  Oh, wait, that was sneakers, about a million years ago.

I find this nonsense more amusing than upsetting, figuring that a fool as his money were lucky to get together in the first place.  The law on supplements tells the FDA to ignore these clowns as long as their packaging contains a disclaimer buried somewhere in the tiny print saying that the claims aren’t verified.  So the FDA ignores these blatant charlatans to go after dangerous stuff like walnuts.

Yep, walnuts.

The FDA notified Diamond Walnuts they’ve classified their nuts {insert your own juvenile testicular joke here*} as a drug.  Diamond made a few true statements about the health benefits of walnuts on their website (not on their packaging), which got the FDAs undies in a bunch.  Among them:

“Studies indicate that the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts may help lower cholesterol; protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers; ease arthritis and other inflammatory diseases; and even fight depression and other mental illnesses.”

“The omega-3s found in fish oil are thought to be responsible for the significantly lower incidence of breast cancer in Japanese women as compared to women in the United States.”

Note the careful working – studies indicate, may help, are thought to be . . . unlike bold claims on the modern day snake oil.  Even without the careful weasel wording the statements are true.

But the FDA says those true statements transforms walnuts from tasty snack into a drug.  I feel I need to repeat that, because it’s so ridiculous and stupid you might think I was joking the first time.

So if you want to sell ridiculous crap like this on a web site that doesn’t contain a single true statement, you have nothing to worry about.  But if you want to talk about the real benefits of your real healthy food, you better watch your nuts.

*I figured I’d save you the trouble.

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5 Comment(s)

  1. You do realize, of course, that the ad that appears in the top right hand corner of this page is for product that claims to cut down on belly fat? Anyway, good post.

    Tom | May 8, 2010 | Reply

  2. The first ad I saw, right after I posted this, was for Omega Berry, which is obviously much better than that old Alpha Berry.

    Google’s choice of ads is often entertaining. Whenever I post “Things Atheists Didn’t do,” lists of current atrocities done in the name of religion, which always contain a share of Muslim evil, ads for Muslim dating sites come up. Those articles always contain a few stories of women being murdered and/or mutilated for The Religion of Peace, so an ad for Muslim dating site is both funny and tragic.

    Hittman | May 9, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’d have to agree with the FDA. Either the walnut guys refrain from these claims, or they stand by them and be regulated as a drug that actually helps if you have these diseases. If they don’t step in, everybody will make health claims on their products. That can’t happen either.

    Eur van Andel | May 9, 2010 | Reply

  4. Just like your similar post about Cheerios, I’ll have to disagree with you here.

    Without scientifically proven evidence, you cannot make medical claims about your product. Unfortunately the dietary supplement industry (who are undoubtedly snake oil salesmen) have been able to buy off enough lawmakers to carve out exceptions for themselves.

    Is it fair? Not at all. Are walnuts safer for you than most of the dietary supplements out there? Most likely.

    However, just because one group has been able to skirt the law, doesn’t mean you should throw out the law completely for everyone. Else, you’ll have Billy-May’s successor trying to tell you about all of the heath benefits of Oxy-Clean on late night TV.

    John | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  5. I don’t know If I disagree with the health claims of the walnut manufacturers. We do know, that nuts are healthy but the specifics may be debatable. While nuts are addictive, they are not drugs. The FDA will have a field day, when they study the abortifacient quality of certain fruits and herbs.

    Mary Stack | May 13, 2010 | Reply

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