Did You Know Walnuts Are Illegal Drugs?

It seems absurd. Yet thanks to the regulations set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, any food that makes a non-FDA approved health claim is advertising itself as a drug, not a food. Of course, if the food is actually a drug, then it suddenly becomes subject to all the laws, testing, and requirements of regulated drugs. Translation: foods as benign as walnuts are regulated like illegal drugs.

For years, the FDA has been using this reasoning to target companies that market foods using health claims. In general, I’m of a mixed opinion about such targeting. On the one hand, it’s good to hold food makers responsible for the claims they make when marketing food. We wouldn’t want Cocoa Krispies to advertise itself as an effective way to keep your kids from contracting the Swine Flu, would we? (O Wait! You mean they did that already?)

But on the other hand, where’s the harm in a walnut distributor’s website linking to studies found in scientific journals that demonstrate that eating walnuts can lower LDL cholesterol?

I grow particularly upset when I see perfectly normal, healthy, whole foods targeted by these regulations. Recently, the FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Foods, Inc. — a distributor of walnuts — warning them to remove the scientifically substantiated health claims about walnuts on their website. Here are a few choice excerpts from the FDA’s letter:

“Based on claims made on your firm’s website, we have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.

“Because of these intended uses, your walnut products are drugs within the meaning of section 201 (g)(1)(B) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(B)]. Your walnut products are also new drugs under section 201(p) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(p)] because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced conditions. Therefore, under section 505(a) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 355(a)], they may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.

“Additionally, your walnut products are offered for conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners; therefore, adequate directions for use cannot be written so that a layperson can use these drugs safely for their intended purposes. Thus, your walnut products are also misbranded under section 502(f)(1) of the Act, in that the labeling for these drugs fails to bear adequate directions for use [21 U.S.C. § 352(f)(1)].”

Rather than facing fees amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as the seizure and destruction of their entire inventory of walnuts, Diamond Foods did what any business would do. They removed the health claims from their website.

I grow even more upset when I see the FDA approving health claims for radically unhealthy, industrial foods. You know which foods I’m talking about. One walk down the snack food aisle of the grocery store is enough to do the trick. How many times have I gagged when seeing a bag of “heart-healthy” Frito-Lay potato chips?

Frito-Lay’s own website reads like one giant health claim:

Frito-Lay snacks start with real farm-grown ingredients. You might be surprised at how much good stuff goes into your favorite snack. Good stuff like potatoes, which naturally contain vitamin C and essential minerals. Or corn, one of the world’s most popular grains, packed with Thiamin, vitamin B6, and Phosphorous – all necessary for healthy bones, teeth, nerves and muscles.

And it’s not just the obvious ingredients. Our all-natural sunflower, canola, corn and soybean oils are considered to be healthier oils by the FDA because they contain good polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which help lower total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and maintain HDL “good” cholesterol levels. They also contain <20% of the bad saturated fat, which raises LDL, cholesterol and 0g fo trans fat. Even salt, when eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet, provides sodium which is essential for the body.

Why, after reading that spiel you’d think we should all be eating this heart-healthy food in huge quantities to stave off heart disease!

What kind of world do we live in where it’s okay for a junk food maker to market their so-called “foods” made from industrial waste products as “heart-healthy,” but it’s not okay for a walnut distributor to link to actual scientific studies demonstrating that walnuts are a healthy food?

I get the most upset, however, when I think about the implications this has for our food supply.

I like how William Faloon put it in his August 2011 Life Extension magazine article on this topic:

For the FDA to allow Frito-Lay® to pretend there are heart benefits to ingesting their unhealthy snack products, while censoring the ability of walnut companies to make scientifically substantiated claims, is tantamount to treason against the health of the American public.

The combined sales of the companies attacked by the FDA are only a fraction of those of food giant Frito-Lay®. Yet some of these companies are fighting back against the FDA’s absurd position that it is illegal to disseminate scientific research showing the favorable effects these foods produce in the body. The makers of pomegranate juice, for example, have sued the FTC for censoring their First Amendment right to communicate scientific information to the public.

As a consumer, you should be outraged that disease-promoting foods are protected by the federal government, while nutritious foods are censored. There is no scientific rationale for the FDA to do this. On the contrary, the dangerous foods ubiquitously advertised in the media are replacing cigarettes as the leading killers in modern society.

(photo by gimmefood)

Print Friendly


  1. Sheree Northcutt via Facebook says

    Some poor walmart farmer or company that processes and sells walnuts either pissed off someone in the FDA or they just didnt have the right amount of money to grease the proper wheels or big pharma got pissed because of the advertising of health benefits of walnuts. I think the fda and big farma are in bed so tight that they cant stand people trying to eat.healthier because then they wont need or take the drugs.

  2. Jill Campana via Facebook says

    And now that we have the president appointing the CEO of Monsanto as the Head of the FDA we can expect more sacred foods to become illegal. Even more absurd.

  3. Lisa Edwards Berteaux via Facebook says

    Nuts are such a great snack. What a waste of decent snacks!! You are definitely asking the right questions! Starting to make me wonder who the real nuts are.

  4. says

    Oh the FDA – funny it can find the time , money, and manpower to worry about this kind of thing and things like raw milk ( horror of horrors) But, can’t do anything about E.Coli tainted meat and produce, or billions of pounds of illegal honey that smuggled ( pretty openly) from China that’s tainted with Lead and chemicals, or Ban BPA ….

  5. Lynna Caldwell Spencer via Facebook says

    If they say this about walnuts then they have to say it about eggs, milk, fruit…….if you look at ads for REAL food-they all have some health benefits claim. I mean really-foods from the Earth are drugs now?

  6. says

    @Lynna — They *have* targeted many of these other foods, too, including coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, grass-fed beef, and a host of others. Basically, once you’re on their radar as advertising health claims with your whole food, you’re pretty much screwed.

  7. Cathy Schoenborn says

    You would think free speech would already be a right which is protected for all. Do you have the text of that act or a link to it?

    • KristenM says

      Hi Cathy, click on the link to the name of the bill in the post. It was broken earlier, but now I fixed it!

  8. says

    Wow…so absurd. It always makes me wonder when intelligent, educated people can get it so backwards. But then I remember the motivator…$$$$….and it makes me very sad. BUT we can at least help spread the word! Thanks so much for this!

  9. Jaytee says

    “Based on claims made on your firm’s website, we have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.”

    Pardon me, but isn’t ALL (good) food intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease, specifically, you know, death? I’m so tired of this gigantic goverment juggernaut that is wedging its way into every aspect of our lives. What is happening to our hard fought freedoms and personal liberty here in the USA? Why are we allowing our goverment to regulate us into serfdom?

    • KristenM says

      Jaytee — That’s yet one more reason that these regulations offend me. Whatever happened to “Let thy food be thy medicine”? The regulations conveniently forget the link between food and health, assuming that any health claim automatically makes the food a drug subject to all the regulations of other medicines. (Except, of course, when they’ve actually approved the health claim, which seems to have more to do with money than science.)

  10. Lisa Maxwell-Wright via Facebook says

    Don’t you know there’s a bagillion dollars to be made (FDA) if we keep the population teetering on sickness and poor health, heavens we can’t be eating beneficial raw foods untouched by anything but what nature intended now can we!!!! This has really gotten out of hand, I’m wondering how long until we see radical changes to food laws here in Oz, next thing we will be getting randomly searched and fined for food possession! Honestly this is so screwed up! Mad much..

  11. chris says

    Resistance is futile… Eat as much real local food as you can. Support the people that do it for the love of it. We cannot change what “they” do.
    3 votes a day, every day.

  12. says

    Peg: Serious about the Aloe Vera?

    Also, not too long ago, they did the same thing to elderberry juice producers. Unreal.

    And yes, I thought we already had free speech. Now we’re going to have protected classes of free speech?

  13. says

    Well…..the FDA has not made the walnuts themselves illegal, only requested that the health claims cannot be made by the producers themselves. Nothing is stopping others from making those claims. I abhor what the FDA is doing too, but lets stay clear on the facts. No one is taking walnuts away from us.

    • KristenM says

      You’re right. No one is taking walnuts away. BUT, the FDA *would have* confiscated Diamond’s entire inventory of walnuts as illegal drugs if they didn’t remove those health claims. Other brands could have kept selling walnuts, but not Diamond, and not if they continued making health claims about them.

      Furthermore, these restrictions are not just limited to producers. Two years ago the FDA completely shut down the Wilderness Family Naturals (WFN) affiliate program because of health claims affiliates were making about WFN’s foods. According to the FDA, affiliates (who were all bloggers like me) are a paid sales force since they receive a small commission on any sale. So WFN was held legally responsible for all the health claims ANYONE who helped them sell their foods was making.

      In other words, it’s all about how the product is being marketed — whether it’s the producer doing the marketing or an affiliate (even a small time blogger).

  14. Sharon says

    The FDA has lost their minds… here’s some direction for the walnuts as medicine. Crack shell. Throw away shell. Place in mouth. Chew. Swallow. Eat a half cup. Eat a whole cup. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. This “drug” won’t kill you.

  15. says

    I hope we can fix this before the people who enact these stupid laws have to find out that they really miss having walnuts in their brownies (for example).

  16. Meghan Finch says

    I’ve really enjoyed your blog and the information you give. However, it’s difficult for me to read, since in your RSS feed, it only gives the short intro to your posts and I have to clickthru to read the whole thing. Would you consider changing the settings to show the whole post?

    • KristenM says

      I have experimented with that in the past, but always end up regretting it.

      First, it becomes very easy for other websites to simply import my full feed and duplicate all my content. Not only is that stealing/copyright infringement, but it also dings me in search engine results.

      Second, if those of you who follow me entirely in an RSS reader never come to my site, I lose a lot of page views and a lot of ad revenue. That money contributes greatly to the income this blog generates, and it helps pay the (expensive!) costs required to keep the site up and going and serving tens of thousands of individual readers daily.

  17. says

    You’re telling me that in the US of A it’s illegal to claim that *healthy foods* are good for you?

    But it’s okay for Oreo to put out a “healthy” 100 calorie snack pack of cookies?

    It’s hard for me to decide exactly which part of this post is so maddening, that it’s true or that it’s practically impossible to get anything done about it.

    Couldn’t walnut farmers start a lobby or even an advertising initiative using the same unsavory tactics as whoever makes cookies and cereal?

  18. Joyce says

    I understand “BIG PHARMA” funds the FDA in the tune of 350 to 450 million a year to keep them afloat.
    They have been doing that since the FDA was established. It’s called donations for the better-ment of society. It’s not a conspiracy theory – IT IS A CONSPIRACY!! What is Obama thinking when he turns his head to the horrible facts of GMO’s, and puts a Hitler in charge of our food supply? The FDA is the “SS” following the commands. Their headquarters are located at MONSANTO. I ‘m so glad to see so many people are starting to see the conspiracy….

  19. Dave says

    Uh Oh! I just bought a parasite cleanse as a precaution, and it contains black walnut extract. Clearly the FDA thinks this is a drug and it must be pulled from the shelves. Get rid of Obama and all his regulatory czars and much of these problems go away. Just make sure to elect a real conservative, not some flip-floppin’ phoney stuffed suit like Romney.

  20. says

    Dave: It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle they’re on. These agency people have longevity. Our elected officials are temps. The agency people get what they want no matter who’s in office. We need a new strategy.

  21. says

    “I grow even more upset when I see the FDA approving health claims for radically unhealthy, industrial foods.”

    I’m totally with you on that. So many harmful food additives floating around in so called healthy processed foods – most consumers have no idea.

  22. Saat-Rai Amnwt via Facebook says

    This is what happens when people give up their right to choose nature and choose/vote for agencies and regulators!!!

  23. says

    Yeah I agree never underestimate how much big pharma companies are in bed with the gov and how deep their roots run. People think the government runs the country but it’s really all the companies and with secret motives and money.

  24. HollymMead says

    I just calld Rep. Scott Tipton’s office and had a friendly chat with an aide about how ridiculous the whole “walnut as new drug” letter was and she assured me that Rep. Tipton, who has not yet taken a position on the legislation, would support it so long as nothing else aggregious was tacked on to the bill, as so often happens becase he is against the FDA overstepping its bounds such that bureaucracy becomes tyranny!

  25. Katherene says

    I think every food/drink that is out there should should have a health claim on it. What will they do then, take all our food away? All companies need to do it though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>