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Protein, Fats and Fiber
Protein, fats, and fiber are the major components that make up peanuts. The good news is that these major components are all the healthy types when it comes to peanuts. The protein is plant-based; the fat is unsaturated, and the fiber is the main type of complex carbohydrate in peanuts. It makes sense that three healthy components come together in peanuts considering all that is known about the benefits of eating them when one considers chronic disease and weight management.
Peanuts have been recognized as a protein source since peanut butter became sought after at the time of World War II when meat was not readily available. A one-ounce serving, about a handful, is considered an excellent source of protein by the Food and Drug Administration and provides 7 grams to your diet. Peanuts are actually a legume and have more protein than any other nut with levels comparable to or better than a serving of beans.
Since the protein in peanuts is plant-based, it carries with it additional components that have positive health benefits like fiber and unique bioactives, unlike animal protein. Peanuts are high in arginine, and amino acid, which is one of the building blocks of protein. This amino acid is a precursor to nitric oxide, a compound that expands your blood vessels. It has been thought to help in decreasing blood pressure.
In fact, in one study called the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OMNIHeart) (Appel, 2005), three diets were compared to determine the effects on blood pressure as well as the optimal diet pattern for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (Swain, 2008). The first diet was based on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which emphasized carbohydrates. The second diet had a higher fat level from healthy unsaturated fats. The third diet had higher protein levels; over half of which were from plant sources, including peanuts and peanut butter.
The study showed that in addition to the benefits of substituting healthy fat for carbohydrate in the DASH diet, substituting healthy protein also further reduced blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Adding peanuts to your diet is a way to add healthy protein. And with that, you will be adding key nutrients and bioactives like arginine that can contribute to improving your blood pressure, chronic disease risk, and to promoting longevity.
Healthy Fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat
When you think of healthy fats, you can think of peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil. That is because at least half of the fat in peanuts is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil and avocados. And over 30% is polyunsaturated fat; another good fat important in a healthy diet.
For the first time, a Key Recommendation in the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines says to consider the protein package that brings good fats along with it by putting emphasis on eating more plant-based proteins such as peanuts, because they contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and other important nutrients. How exciting to know peanuts are a food recommended for health and that taste great too.
At Pennsylvania State University, a human study was conducted that fed diets including peanuts and peanut butter or peanut oil as sources of high monounsaturated fat and compared them to 1) a low-fat diet higher in carbohydrates, 2) an olive oil diet also high in monounsaturated fat, or 3) a traditional American diet high in saturated fat. Compared to the American diet, subjects following the high monounsaturated fat peanut diets lowered their total cholesterol by 11% and bad LDL cholesterol by 14%, while their good HDL cholesterol was maintained (Kris-Etherton, 1999). The benefits of the peanut diets on cholesterol were comparable to the olive oil diet. In addition, the peanut diets reduced triglycerides, whereas they were increased in the low-fat diet.
Emerging data clearly shows that the amount and type of fat we eat can impact health in various ways (Kris-Etherton, 2002; Harris, 2009). Choosing peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil will help you to take in more healthy fats, the type best for heart health.
Bad Fats: Saturated and Trans Fat
Simply stated, knowing peanuts are high in healthy fats, tells us that they are low in the so-called bad fats; the ones science has found that may not be as favorable to our health. Saturated fat is found most often in animal products, whereas trans fat comes from the processing of partially hydrogenated oils.
Peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil are all low in saturated fat. Peanuts and their oil naturally do not have any trans fat and although a small amount of partially hydrogenated fat is used as a stabilizer to make peanut butter creamier, a US Department of Agriculture study tested 11 commercial brands of peanut butter and found that in all brands, levels of trans fat were not detectable (Sanders, 2001). In fact, the amount of trans fat in peanut butter with 2% stabilizer is 156 times less than what is needed to reach the 0 g trans fat cut-off on food labels (Sanders, 2001). Major health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the Institute of Medicine also recommend keeping saturated fat low and trans fat as low as possible.
Scientific studies shown that when bad fats are substituted in the diet with healthy ones, our risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced (Hu, 1997). The risk of other types of chronic disease as well as inflammation in the body may also be improved by healthier choices. Peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil are natural options that can help you keep with the guidelines and add more healthy fats to your diet. Since peanuts are a plant food, they also do not have cholesterol.
When you think of fiber, you may think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But did you know that a serving of peanuts is also a good source of fiber, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Fiber is a healthy carbohydrate and eating it provides various benefits to our health. Fiber is commonly known for its ability to regulate the digestive system. It adds bulk to our diets helping us to feel full and can slow the absorption of certain foods so that blood sugar is better controlled. Studies have shown that diets high in fiber also can contribute to lower total and bad LDL cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease.
Over a third of the carbohydrate in peanuts is fiber. This may contribute to the fact that peanuts have a low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) (Foster-Powell, 2002). On a 100-point scale, the GI of peanuts is 14, and the GL of peanuts is one. What this means is that when they are eaten, the fluctuations in our blood sugar and subsequent insulin levels are smaller than with foods that can make our blood sugar rise and fall quickly like certain refined grains or sugar beverages, for example.
The 2010 Guidelines highlight fiber as one of the main nutrients lacking in the typical American diet. Consuming more plant-based protein sources, such as peanuts and peanut butter can help you stay fuller longer. But America’s comfort food can bring more than just feelings of contentment; fiber, in addition to the number of other nutrients in peanuts, is improving our health with each handful.