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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Peanuts - A health food or not?

The peanut is really a legume - same as a bean or pea. Peanuts originated in Brazil and spread to Asia, Africa and India. It was introduced to the USA from Africa.

Peanuts are high in protein and fat (mostly monounsaturated fats) and have about 16 grams of carbohydrate per 100 gram serving.

The niacin in peanuts is effective in raising HDL “good” cholesterol and apparently protects against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Peanuts also contain vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. All nuts, including peanuts are high in a bioflavonoid also found in red wine, called resveratrol. These bioflavonoids are believed to help prevent plaque from forming in the arteries. Perhaps that is why the French suffer fewer heart attacks - because they drink so much red wine? Studies have shown that peanuts which contain magnesium, folate, fiber, copper, vitamin E, and arginine are heart-protective. Peanuts are as rich in antioxidants as many fruits.

Peanut butter is one of the most caloric foods one will find in the kitchen, however, it has its uses even when trying to drop unwanted pounds. Maybe it is because peanut butter satiates the appetite as well if not better than eggs. In fact, once upon a time in a bookstore I noticed a book entitled: “The Peanut Butter Diet”. Amusing, but I bet it could work for some folks.

A study published in the Journal, Obesity, involved 8865 adult men and women in Spain and was carried out during a 28-month period where the subjects who ate nuts at least twice a week were 31% less likely to gain weight (> 5kg) than the others. I think this is only true of people who have control over how many nuts they consume. Some people cannot maintain portion control and for those people nuts are not a diet food, but can actually sabotage weight loss efforts, in my opinion.

In a test conducted during 20 years, on 80,000 female subjects by the Nurses' Health Study, it was observed that women who eat at least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones.

Natural and more unprocessed peanut butter is preferable and that which contains little to no hydrogenated fats. With that in mind, I will provide a recipe to make your own peanut butter in my next post. I think it is less expensive to make your own peanut butter.

- some things to consider: Some people are highly allergic to peanuts. Always warn people if something contains nuts, just in case. This allergy is very serious as it accounts for over three-fourths of all deaths related to food allergies each year. Peanuts often have traces of aflatoxin, a substance found in a mold that grows on the nuts. This toxin is known to cause cancer in high enough amounts. Buying peanuts that come from arid areas like Arizona will not have that toxin. The safest peanuts are USA peanuts, which are subject to meaningful checks and testing; the least safe are probably South East Asian and Asian peanuts. Everything in moderation, right?

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