That’s Not Just Peanuts
~ October 2003 No.172 ~
Many people do not believe peanuts have a place in a healthy diet. Peanuts have not had a healthy image. Peanuts and beer, salted peanuts and peanut butter all suggest images that do not fit well into a healthy diet. Peanuts are high in oil and so are packed with calories. Recently developed varieties of peanuts however, have had the composition of their oil changed so now peanuts can carry a USDA health claim.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are not actually in the nut family but are actually legumes, What differentiates them from other edible legumes is their pods grow under the soil instead of on the vine. The peanut is a nitrogen-fixing plant; its roots form modules which absorb nitrogen from the air and provides enrichment and nutrition to the plant and soils. Peanuts do best during a long, hot growing season.
There are four basic market types: Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia. Each of the peanut types is distinctive in size, flavour, and nutritional composition. About one-half of all edible peanuts produced in the United States are used to make peanut butter and peanut spreads.
Peanuts like red wine and grapes, have been shown to contain resveratrol. Resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and can reduce the oxidation of bad cholesterol in the arteries. Antioxidants like resveratrol and vitamin E - also found in peanuts, are believed to reduce the risk of cancer as well as heart disease.
Researchers at United States Department of Agriculture and Texas A&M University have developed peanuts that have a high content of oleic acid. This change in the type of fat in peanuts has boosted their nutritional status. The increase in oleic acid in the new peanuts has also led to a reduction in saturated fatty acids in peanuts. Consumption of saturated fats is a well known cause of artery clogging Oleic acid or more properly 9-Octadecenoic acid is a fatty acid containing 18 carbons and only one double bond. It is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid that is less susceptible to oxidation than polyunsaturated fatty acids.
One of the best known sources of oleic acid is olive oil. Olive oil is known for its positive impact on cholesterol metabolism and many types of cancers. It is thought that the oleic acid in olive oil is responsible for part of the beneficial effects of olive oil. So peanuts, like olive oil, can be part of a healthy diet.
- Qualified Health Claim Permitted for Peanuts in the United States
- Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Peanut Institute