Peanuts are Also Good for the Heart

peanut
The lowly peanut. Pete Kratochvil

It has been known for many years that adding nuts to our diet can significantly reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. The relationship between dietary nuts and cardiovascular health has been established in numerous epidemiological studies.

But these studies have generally looked at tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios.

Tree nuts (or, as purists would have it, “real” nuts) have many nutritional benefits. Unfortunately they are relatively expensive to buy, and do not fit into the food budget for many families.

What About the Lowly Peanut?

Peanuts, on the other hand, are cheap and plentiful. But they are not tree nuts.

They are not nuts at all. They are legumes, like lentils or soybeans. Indeed, any decent botanist is scandalized that Planters insists on adding peanuts to their Mixed Nuts products.

So, do peanuts have the same cardiovascular protective effects as “real” nuts?

The Case For Peanuts

While peanuts are not really nuts, most of us certainly think of them as being nuts. And nutritionists tell us that’s OK, because peanuts are very similar to nuts from a nutritional standpoint. It is for this reason (and not just because they are called “nuts”) that several studies have now been conducted to assess whether peanuts confer the same kinds of benefit as real nuts.

The bottom line is: yes, they do.

Several population studies have now confirmed that eating peanuts seems to be associated with the same kind of reduced cardiovascular risk that is seen with tree nuts. The apparent benefits of peanuts are seen in both sexes, in all age groups, in all socioeconomic groups, in all races, and in all countries in which studies have taken place.

These latter three findings were confirmed in an article in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015. Investigators looked at nut consumption (largely consisting of peanut consumption) in 72,000 Americans (2/3 of whom were African Americans) chiefly living under low socioeconomic conditions in southern states, and in 135,000 Asians living in Shanghai. After doing statistical corrections for various risk factors (smoking, obesity, hypertension and diabetes), they found that Americans who regularly ate peanuts had a 21% lower risk of death over 5 years than people who did not eat peanuts. For Asians, the reduction in death was 17%.

How Many Peanuts Are Necessary For Reducing Risk?

You don’t need to gorge on peanuts to get the health benefits seen in these population studies. It appears that a handful of peanuts four or five times per week will do the trick.

The FDA now allows peanuts - along with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios - to be advertised as providing a health benefit.

What About Peanut Butter?

While peanut butter has not been extensively studied for its cardiovascular benefits, it has a fairly high concentration of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, and only very tiny amounts of trans fats.

Eating peanut butter helps to reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and helps to maintain healthy levels of HDL cholesterol.

So if you want to employ nuts as part of your heart healthy diet, following the available science would suggest consuming actual nuts or peanuts. But logic suggests that peanut butter might not be a bad second choice.

Sources:

Luu HN, Blot WJ, Xiang YB, et al. Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; 175(5):755-766.

Bao Y, Han J, Hu FB, et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(21):2001–2011.

Albert CM, Gaziano JM, Willett WC, Manson JE. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 2002;162(12):1382–1387.

Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 1998;317(7169):1341–1345.

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