The Food That Aces the Heart-Healthy Exam

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Peanuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats—the same kind of fats that make up the Mediterranean diet.Peanuts often get a bad rap—in part because they cause allergies in a fairly substantial portion of the population—but also because they’re thought of as fattening.

Did you know, however, that peanuts are an excellent source of good fats? Yes, it’s true—peanuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats—the same kind of fats profiled in the Mediterranean diet. This diet, as you know, has been heavily promoted to help prevent the sorts of problems that lead to heart disease.

Along with healthy fats, peanuts contain good amounts of folate, vitamin E, and vitamin B3 (niacin). Vitamin E is a fat-soluble compound that acts like an antioxidant. It protects vitamin A and essential fatty acids from oxidation in your body’s cells. It also helps to stop the breakdown of body tissues. As for folate, it helps your body to synthesize and repair DNA and is needed to make healthy red blood cells. Now for niacin—it has been used for some 40-plus years to increase levels of good cholesterol in the blood and has been found to lower the risk of heart events in clinical trials.

Perhaps most surprising about peanuts is that they are equal—or better—than fruits when it comes to antioxidant power. Peanuts contain resveratrol, an antioxidant implicated in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. These tasty nuts also contain polyphenols—including coumaric acid—as well as tocopherols and phytosterols.

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Let’s take a look at some clinical trials that illustrate the beneficial health effects of adding peanuts to your diet. One Spanish study noted that peanuts are particularly nutrient dense and that their consumption is linked to a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease. The research team also found that adding peanuts to the diet caused a drop in the presence of gallstones in both men and women.

The review trial found that peanuts had a beneficial effect on diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and inflammation—not a bad track record! And, more importantly, the researchers also found evidence to show that, contrary to their expectations, most studies and clinical trials suggest that regular nut consumption is unlikely to contribute to obesity and may even help in weight loss.

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This brings us to our next clinical trial, performed at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston. There, researchers set out to determine the association between peanut consumption and weight. Secondary measures that the researchers analyzed were intake of nutrients, high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, LDL levels, and cholesterol.

About 260 sixth grade students were recruited for the study. All the students were enrolled in a school-based weight management program and were divided into peanut and non-peanut eaters by the researchers. Data revealed that children in the peanut group were less likely to be overweight or obese than children in the non-peanut group. The peanut group also had a significantly higher intake of several vitamins and micronutrients (including magnesium and vitamin E), and had lower LDL and total cholesterol levels.

There’s more evidence about the benefits of adding peanuts to your diet, but this is enough to reassure you that eating a handful of peanuts three or four times a week makes good dietary sense. As with any food containing fat, eat peanuts in moderation. Don’t forget that peanut butter is just as good for you and can be used in all sorts of recipes and as a tasty addition to smoothies.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Moreno, J.P., et al., “Peanut consumption in adolescents is associated with improved weight status,” Nutr Res. July 2013; 33(7): 552-6.
Ros, E., et al., “Health benefits of nut consumption,” Nutrients. July 2010; 2(7): 652-82.