Peanuts can be part of a healthy diet

March 21, 2000

Which spread is better for your heart: butter, margarine, peanut butter, cream cheese or jam? In the past, the answer would have been jam or none of the above. Jam is the only one that's fat-free.

Recent evidence, however, points to peanut butter as a better choice.

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Why? Because of the type of fat, and possibly the type of carbohydrates and fiber, found in peanuts.

Although 72 percent of the calories in peanuts comes from fat, much of it is monounsaturated, not saturated fats. Saturated fats are the ones most associated with increased risk of heart disease. In the past, monounsaturated fats were thought to have a neutral effect on heart disease risk. Today, the more common opinion is that they may have a positive effect.

Penn State University has studied the effect of substituting much of the saturated fat in a typical American diet (34 percent fat) with monounsaturated fat or carbohydrates. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat resulted in a 20 percent decrease in heart disease risk. Replacing it with carbohydrates, to create a diet lower in fat but with the same calories, also reduced heart disease risk - but by only 12 percent. The low-fat carbohydrate diet reduced LDL-cholesterol, but it also reduced HDL-cholesterol, the so-called "good" cholesterol.


On the monounsaturated fat diet, LDL-cholesterol decreased while HDL-cholesterol remained level. During the six-month study, subjects in the monounsaturated group used peanut butter instead of butter on bagels or toast and snacked on peanuts instead of buttered popcorn and high-carbohydrate snacks.

Having the right kind of fats is just one of the nutritional virtues of peanuts and peanut butter. They also are good sources of protein, soluble fiber, vitamin E, folic acid, copper, zinc, selenium and magnesium. A two tablespoon serving of peanuts or peanut butter provides about 20 percent of the protein recommended daily for an adult and as much fiber as a cup of wheat flakes.

Peanuts and peanut butter also are rich sources of calories.

Peanut butter provides 95 calories per tablespoon. A small handful or quarter cup of peanuts contains 210 calories. And who can stop at one handful?

The bottom line: Think substitution rather than addition.

Peanuts can be a heart-healthy part of your diet, particularly when used in moderation and as a substitute for other high-fat and high-carbohydrate spreads and snack foods.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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