Love Your Heart: Give It Good Nutrition
- Peanuts have a qualified health claim that says, Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Peanuts and peanut butter are nutritious foods that fit into a heart healthy lifestyle.
Heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans and health professionals continue to stress the benefits of eating right for heart health to adults and kids alike. But sometimes, healthy food doesn’t rack up points for tasting good. So it’s nice to know that two perennial favorites can be included in a balanced diet: peanuts and peanut butter.
Loving your heart includes eating a nutritious diet, including adequate physical activity and avoiding smoking, as well as managing stress. The American Heart Association encourages a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and good-for-you fats, like the unsaturated fats in peanuts.
A Growing Body of Science Links Nut Consumption to Heart Health
There was a time when fat was the enemy and all nuts were considered “bad” – it wasn’t until the 1990s that health professionals noticed a link between nut consumption and a reduced risk for heart disease. As with most preventive health studies, the first identification of the role of nuts* in a heart healthy diet was through large population studies.
The Adventist Health Study was first to identify a link between heart health and nut consumption (Fraser, 1992). Participants who ate nuts five or more times a week showed a 48 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction (MI) and a 38 percent reduction in risk of death from coronary heart disease (CHD) than those who ate nuts less than once a week. A later study showed a 12 percent reduction in lifetime risk of developing CHD in the group eating nuts five or more times per week (Fraser, 1995). Likewise, the Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard uncovered a link between nut consumption and a reduced risk for heart disease and a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes – a recognized risk factor for CHD (Hu, 1998) (Jiang, 2002).In addition, as a supplement to the 2006 British Journal of Nutrition, a paper by Dr. John Kelly and Dr. Joan Sabaté of Loma Linda University reviewed a collection of epidemiological research on nut consumption’s effect on heart health. The summary of studies surmised that coronary heart disease death risk was reduced by 8.3 percent for each serving (30g) of nuts consumed weekly. While further research is needed to specify the protective effect, the authors concluded that health professionals can encourage nut consumption, especially among patients with increased risk of heart disease (Kelly, 2006).
Connection between Peanut Consumption and Longevity
A study¹ by the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and other noteworthy institutions examined the association between consumption of nuts – including peanuts – and the risk for most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases.
The 30-year observational study tracked 119,000 men and women, and found that those who ate nuts most often (seven or more times per week) had a 20 percent lower death rate than those who never ate nuts. Participants who consumed nuts more frequently were also leaner, less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and more likely to use multivitamin supplements as compared with those who consumed nuts less frequently.
Given the observational nature of this study, it is not possible to conclude that the observed inverse association between nut consumption and mortality reflects cause and effect. However, the data is consistent with a wealth of existing observational and clinical-trial data in supporting the nutritional benefits of peanut consumption.
Peanuts Support Heart Health
A new study² by Jones, et al and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (A randomized trial on the effects of flavorings on the health benefits of daily peanut consumption) helps provide evidence that peanuts can have a positive impact for those with cardiovascular risk.
Participants included 151 individuals who received daily peanut snacks (1.5oz/day) of either a combination of three differently flavored peanuts or only a single flavor of peanuts. Participants ate the peanuts over the course of 12 weeks and anthropometric measures (weight and lean and fat body mass), blood pressure, and heart rate were measured biweekly, while cardiovascular disease risk factors (serum lipids, insulin, glucose, and cortisol) were assessed monthly.
Researchers found that for a single flavoring, participants who were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease benefited from eating peanuts. Those with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol benefited most. Consumption of a variety of flavors led to greater weight gain compared with individual flavors alone, but increases in fat and lean masses were not significant. Regardless of flavoring, peanut consumption offered significant benefits to participants with elevated serum lipids and blood pressure. This is the first study that looked at the impact of flavorings on the nutritional benefits of eating peanuts, so more research is needed to confirm the findings.
* Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
In many of these studies, all nuts and nut butters were considered as a collective group. USDA survey data shows that peanut consumption is 2.5 times greater than all tree nuts combined (Jones-Putman, 1999).
Peanuts Shell out Heart Helping Nutrients
A growing body of research into the health benefits of nuts has linked a variety of nutrients including fiber, vitamin E (an antioxidant) and magnesium to a reduced risk of heart disease.
- In a 2007 supplement to the Journal of Nutrition, Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton and her colleagues summarized a review of four U.S. epidemiologic studies with the following statement: “The evidence to date is convincing that including nuts in a heart-healthy diet extends cardioprotective effects beyond those deﬁned for a contemporary heart-healthy dietary pattern. Importantly, these effects target multiple CVD risk factors and mechanisms, which help explain why nuts so potently reduce risk for CVD (Kris-Etherton, 2007).” The study discovered an approximately 35 percent reduction in heart disease risk for the group that ate the most nuts. Lifestyle, such as smoking cessation and exercise, and diet factors are also important contributors to reducing the risk of heart disease.
- For more details about research on peanuts and heart-health, visit our Healthcare Professional page about heart health.
Many nutrients may play an important part in promoting good heart health. Including peanuts and peanut butter in as part of a well-balanced diet can increase consumption of these important nutrients.
Key Recommendation: Include peanuts and peanut butter in your daily routine
Try out these delicious and easy snacks and meals – each idea provides a serving of peanuts or peanut butter to help your heart today.
- Mash two tablespoons of peanut butter with one quarter cup of blackberries and spread on half a whole wheat bagel for a snack that packs five grams of fiber (20% of your Daily Value.)
- Sprinkle one ounce of crushed peanuts over one cup of chilled carrot soup for a refreshing lunch.
- Mix dry roasted peanuts with bite sized dried fruit for a quick and portable snack (remember GORP?!).
- Spread peanut butter on apples for a filling mid-afternoon snack.
- Blend peanut butter into a smoothie for added creaminess and a boost of energy.
- Fraser, G. (1992). A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine , 152, 1416-1224.
- Fraser, G. (1995). Effect of risk factor values on lifetime risk of and age at first coronary event. The Adventist Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology , 152, 746-758.
- Griel, A. (2006). Tree nuts and the lipid profile: a review of clinical studies. British Journal of Nutrition, S68-78.
- Hu, F. (1998). Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal , 317, 1341-1345.
- Jiang, R. (2002). Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Journal of the American Medical Association , 288, 2554-2560.
- Jones-Putman, J. (1999). Food consumption, prices and expenditures. USDA, Food and Rural Economic Division.
- Kris-Etherton, P. (2007). The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. Journal of Nutrition, 138, 1746S-1751S.
- Kelly, J. (2006). Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. British Journal of Nutrition , 96, S61-S67.
- King, D. (2007). Effect of a high-fiber diet vs a fiber supplemented diet on C-reactive protein level. Archives of Internal Medicine , 502-506.
- Kris-Etherton, P. (1999). Nuts and their bioactive constituents: effects on serum lipids and other factors that affect disease risk. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 504S-511S.
- Salas-Salvado, J. (2008). The effect of nuts on inflammation. Asia Pacific Journal of Nutrition, 555-558.
- Wells, B. (2005). Association between dietary arginine and C-reactive protein. Nutrition , 125-30.
¹ Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. New England Journal of Medicine, 369, 2001-2011. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1307352.
² A randomized trial on the effects of flavorings on the health benefits of daily peanut consumption Am J Clin Nutr 2014 ajcn.069401; First published online December 18, 2013. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.