Peanuts, a dietary outcast during
the fat-phobic 1990s, have made a comeback, with consumption
soaring to its highest level in nearly two decades and more
doctors recommending nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet.
When peanut butter and snack
peanuts plummeted as Americans switched to lowfat diets,
the peanut industry responded with studies showing the health
benefits of peanuts. Total consumption of peanuts jumped
last year to nearly 1.7 billion pounds, compared to 1.5
billion pounds the year before.
The amount of snack peanuts
eaten climbed to 415 million pounds in the 2003-2004 crop
year, the highest since the mid-1990s. And peanut butter
consumption soared to 900 million pounds, from a low of
about 700 million in the '90s.
"Mothers gave us peanuts
and peanut butter. Now, we've figured out that Mom was right.
But it took a lot of researchers and universities to figure
that out," said Don Koehler, executive director of Georgia's
The federal government's
latest dietary guidelines say peanuts, which contain unsaturated
fats, can be eaten in moderation.
"Now we know that the type
of fat found in peanuts is actually good for us," said Lona
Sandon with the American Dietetic Association. "It doesn't
clog our arteries like saturated fat. It helps keep the
But that's only if you don't
overdo it, and that's the part that often trips up peanut
lovers. There are 14 grams of fat in one serving of peanuts,
which is only one ounce. A handful can have up to 200 calories.
"The problem is that the
portions need to be low so you don't overconsume the calories
that's where the public has a disconnect," said Madelyn
Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "It's a well-spent
200 calories if you can limit it to that. The problem is
volume. It's very hard to have a small serving of peanuts,
meaning a small handful."
When peanuts were out of
favor in the last decade, American consumers seemed to overlook
the respectable list of nutrients vitamin E, niacin,
thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and minerals such as copper,
phosphorous, potassium, zinc and magnesium. They also are
a good source of fiber and protein.
Peanuts also have a small
amount of resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine that
has been linked to the "French Paradox" a low incidence
of heart disease among the French, despite their love of
cheese and other high-fat foods.
Research at several universities
suggests peanuts may help prevent heart disease, that they
can lower bad cholesterol and that they can help with weight
loss, possibly by making people feel satisfied so they eat
less overall. One Harvard study showed an association between
peanut butter consumption and a reduced risk of diabetes.
Even the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration has authorized a qualified
health claim for peanuts and some tree nuts. Producers can
say they may reduce their risk of heart disease by eating
1 1/2 ounces daily.
Anna Resurreccion, a University
of Georgia food scientist, has focused her research on the
resveratrol found in peanuts. By subjecting the nuts to
stress slicing the kernels, or subjecting them to
ultrasound the resveratrol level greatly surpassed
that found in red wine, she said.
This development opens the
door for new products, such as enhanced peanut butter that
could offer even more health benefits and serve as a way
to get resveratrol into children's diets, she said.
"Young children can't very
well drink wine," Resurreccion said. "But most of them love
peanut butter and peanut snack foods."
The Peanut Institute: http://www.peanut-institute.org/