By Sheryl Kraft
Known to most as a nut, a peanut is really a legume—packed with lots of health benefits.
With all the ongoing debate about healthy school lunches, I can't help but think back to my childhood. My nose still stings when I remember that pungent aroma (awful to me, but perhaps inviting to others) and the heaps of steaming, mass-produced slop (unappealing to me, but perhaps scrumptious to others) that appeared daily in the cafeteria. "You're so picky," my friends chided me, as I bypassed the lines and made a beeline for our table, lunch box in tow. "You're so boring," my friends joked as they watched me unwrap yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Peanuts and I parted ways for a few years when I was in my 30s, struggling to lose the 40 pounds I put on with each pregnancy. Back then, I thought of anything that contained calories and fat as the enemy. But once I finally lost the weight and started feeding my two boys peanut butter, I couldn't resist the occasional finger-in-the-jar swipe. It brought me a certain comfort I hadn't had in years (and the weight didn't come back to haunt me).
Since then, we're friends again, the peanut and I. How did I tackle the high-fat content and calories? Moderation, of course. That's easy to do, since it doesn't take a lot to satisfy; peanuts' fat and fiber content makes them very filling. And their fat—mostly of the monosaturated kind—is heart-healthy fat (not a reason to eat a LOT of it; just a reason to feel OK about eating it at all).
I say it's a good thing peanuts are back in my life, because there are so many health benefits associated with eating them:
- Protein and fiber. Peanuts improve satiety and help maintain weight loss. Several studies have found that eating small amounts of nuts helps dieters lose weight; when nuts were allowed in their eating plans, they did not feel deprived.
- Nutrients. Peanuts are abundant in the vitamins niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, choline, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E and rich in minerals like magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese and selenium.
- Disease control. Studies have found eating peanuts five times a week decreased heart disease and reduced the risk of diabetes, gallbladder disease and colorectal cancer. Peanuts and peanut butter are included on the DASH diet eating plan, which helps lower blood pressure.
- Antiaging. Peanuts have been found to contain the potent antiaging molecule resveratrol, the same phytochemical found in red wine and grapes. Studies have shown that resveratrol can fight the proliferation of fat cells and improve the uptake of sugar from the blood. The resveratrol in peanuts is found in the seed itself and the skin.
- Cholesterol. When postmenopausal women with high cholesterol were fed a low-fat diet that included healthy fats from peanuts, their cholesterol improved. The phytosterols that peanuts contain have been shown to reduce cholesterol.
Another interesting tidbit: The health benefits are not limited to just the peanut itself. Peanut oil and fat-free peanut flour have been shown, in hamster studies, to significantly lower cholesterol and have heart-protective effects.
This Matters: You don't need a lot to get these benefits. Just a daily handful or peanuts—or a tablespoon of peanut butter—will do it.
For more information on peanuts, click here.
For my most favorite recipe in the world that includes peanut butter, click here.