It seems like spring is coming. We’ve set the clocks ahead (how I hate losing that hour of sleep!), the weather is a little warmer, and I can see the beginnings of crocuses popping up in my garden.
Last week, I mentioned that March is National Nutrition Month. It also got me thinking a little about what else March might be “famous” for, nutrition- or food-wise, and I discovered that March holds the honor of also being National Peanut Month. And, to top that off, March 1 is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day (not National Peanut Day — that’s September 13). So this week is about peanuts!
Reasons to Eat Peanuts
Peanuts sure are popular in the United States. According to the American Peanut Council, we eat more than six pounds of peanuts and peanut products every year. Yet, despite the name, peanuts aren’t really nuts. They’re actually a legume, making them close cousins of beans, peas, and lentils. Peanuts start off as a flower that eventually ends up growing underground, where they mature into pods of two or three kernels or “nuts.” These tasty legumes have much to offer in terms of nutrition:
- Heart helper. Peanuts are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that can help to lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Also, studies show that eating peanuts and nuts can lower the risk of having a heart attack. Peanuts also contain an antioxidant called resveratrol. You may have heard of this especially in relation to grapes and red wine. Resveratrol may help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thereby heading off heart disease. And resveratrol is thought to stop platelets in the blood from clumping together and possibly forming a blood clot. Finally, peanuts are naturally low in sodium, making them a good choice for those who need to cut back on their salt and sodium intake.
- Diabetes diverter. If you don’t have diabetes but are at risk, you’ll be happy to know that eating peanuts can lessen that risk. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that people who eat a serving of peanuts (or other nuts) at least five times a week lowered their risk of diabetes by roughly 20%. Eating peanut butter also helps with diabetes risk reduction, too.
- Cancer fighter. A study of 24,000 people conducted in Taiwan showed that eating peanuts often may help prevent both colon and rectal cancer. Eating peanuts twice a week may lower the risk of colon cancer by 58% in women and by 27% in men. Not bad. We can thank resveratrol once again, along with other compounds in peanuts, like phytic acid and phytosterols.
- Gallstone buster. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study (involving more than 80,000 women) showed that women who eat at least one ounce of peanuts or nuts every week are 25% less likely to develop gallstones than non-nut eaters.
- Fat fighter. Nuts do contain a lot of calories, so it may be hard to understand this one, but research shows that people who eat peanuts and other nuts at least twice a week are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t eat nuts.
Peanuts are a nutrition powerhouse, but unless you’re actually trying to gain weight, go a little easy with how much you eat. One peanut contains six calories. Do a little bit of math and you’ll see how quickly the calories add up.
Ten peanuts (one fat serving) contains: 60 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fat, 2.4 grams of protein, 1 milligram of sodium, and 0 milligrams of cholesterol.
By the way, peanuts are also rich in vitamin E, niacin, folate, potassium, magnesium, and copper.
While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, about 3 million people in the US are allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts. Obviously, those people allergic to peanuts must be extra careful to avoid peanuts, peanut butter, and any other food that comes in contact with peanuts. Peanuts also contain oxalates, which are natural substances that occur in food. Some people who are prone to a certain type of kidney stone may need to limit their oxalate intake.
Peanuts make a great snack, especially because they are fairly low in carbohydrate (which means less of an impact on blood glucose). But these little legumes can do more than just sit in a bowl. Sprinkle some on your morning cereal. Chop some up and stir them into yogurt. Throw a handful of peanuts into your stir-fry dish. Don’t overlook peanut butter, either, which is great not only with jelly but also spread on celery or apple slices for a filling treat. So our hats go off to peanuts during this National Peanut Month!