In addition to being every kid’s (and many grownup kid’s) favorite sandwich filling, peanuts pack a serious nutritional punch and offer a variety of health benefits.
Your Heart Will Go Nuts for Peanuts
Peanuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, the type of fat that is emphasized in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Studies of diets with a special emphasis on peanuts have shown that this little legume is a big ally for a healthy heart. In one such randomized, double-blind, cross-over study involving 22 subjects, a high monounsaturated diet that emphasized peanuts and peanut butter decreased cardiovascular disease risk by an estimated 21% compared to the average American diet.
In addition to their monounsaturated fat content, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health. Peanuts are good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese. In addition, peanuts provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine that is thought to be responsible for the French paradox: the fact that in France, people consume a diet that is not low in fat, but have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to the U.S. With all of the important nutrients provided by nuts like peanuts, it is no wonder that numerous research studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study that involved over 86,000 women, have found that frequent nut consumption is related to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Peanuts Rival Fruit as a Source of Antioxidants
Not only do peanuts contain oleic acid, the healthful fat found in olive oil, but new research shows these tasty legumes are also as rich in antioxidants as many fruits.
While unable to boast an antioxidant content that can compare with the fruits highest in antioxidants, such as pomegranate, roasted peanuts do rival the antioxidant content of blackberries and strawberries, and are far richer in antioxidants than apples, carrots or beets. Research conducted by a team of University of Florida scientists, published in the journal Food Chemistry, shows that peanuts contain high concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols, primarily a compound called p-coumaric acid, and that roasting can increase peanuts’ p-coumaric acid levels, boosting their overall antioxidant content by as much as 22%.
Peanuts’ Antioxidants Key to their Heart-Health Benefits
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Blomhoff R, Carlsen MH), which identified several nuts among plant foods with the highest total antioxidant content, suggests nut’s high antioxidant content may be key to their cardio-protective benefits.
Nuts’ high antioxidant content helps explain results seen in the Iowa Women’s Health Study in which risk of death from cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases showed strong and consistent reductions with increasing nut/peanut butter consumption. Total death rates decreased 11% and 19% for nut/peanut butter intake once per week and 1-4 times per week, respectively.
Even more impressive were the results of a review study of the evidence linking nuts and lower risk of coronary heart disease, also published in the British Journal of Nutrition. (Kelly JH, Sabate J.) In this study, researchers looked at four large prospective epidemiological studies—the Adventist Health Study, Iowa Women’s Study, Nurses’ Health Study and the Physician’s Health Study. When evidence from all four studies was combined, subjects consuming nuts at least 4 times a week showed a 37% reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never or seldom ate nuts. Each additional serving of nuts per week was associated with an average 8.3% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Practical Tip: To lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, enjoy a handful of peanuts or other nuts, or a tablespoon of nut butter, at least 4 times a week.
Help Prevent Gallstones
Twenty years of dietary data collected on over 80,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that women who eat least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. Since 1 ounce is only 28.6 nuts or about 2 tablespoons of nut butter, preventing gallbladder disease may be as easy as packing one peanut butter and jelly sandwich (be sure to use whole wheat bread for its fiber, vitamins and minerals) for lunch each week, having a handful of peanuts as an afternoon pick me up, or tossing some peanuts on your oatmeal or salad.
Protect against Alzheimer’s and Age-related Cognitive Decline
Research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like peanuts provides protection against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed over 3,000 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years.
Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer’s disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. One easy way to boost your niacin intake is to snack on a handful of peanuts—just a quarter cup provides about a quarter of the daily recommended intake for niacin (16 mg per day for men and 14 for women).
Eating Nuts Lowers Risk of Weight Gain
Although nuts are known to provide a variety of cardio-protective benefits, many avoid them for fear of weight gain. A prospective study published in the journal Obesity shows such fears are groundless. In fact, people who eat nuts at least twice a week are much less likely to gain weight than those who almost never eat nuts.
The 28-month study involving 8,865 adult men and women in Spain, found that participants who ate nuts at least two times per week were 31% less likely to gain weight than were participants who never or almost never ate nuts.
And, among the study participants who gained weight, those who never or almost never ate nuts gained more (an average of 424 g more) than those who ate nuts at least twice weekly.
Study authors concluded, “Frequent nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain (5 kg or more). These results support the recommendation of nut consumption as an important component of a cardioprotective diet and also allay fears of possible weight gain.”
Practical Tip: Don’t let concerns about gaining weight prevent you from enjoying the delicious taste and many health benefits of nuts!
Spread some nut butter on your morning toast or bagel.
Remember how many great childhood lunches involved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Upgrade that lunchbox favorite by spreading organic peanut butter and concord grape jelly on whole wheat bread.
Fill a celery stick with nut butter for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Sprinkle a handful of nuts over your morning cereal, lunchtime salad, dinner’s steamed vegetables.
Or just enjoy a handful of lightly roasted nuts as a healthy snack.